During long car rides with my kids, we listen to the carefully-curated iPod playlist I created for them back when they were little. As each tune shuffles to the top, my 10-year-old son and his twin 7-year-old sisters vote to “play” or “skip” the song. In addition to a vote, each kid gets a single powerful veto, which they covet like found pennies.
(Now well-versed in the democratic process, they routinely form voting blocks, make quid pro quo deals, and stage emphatic filibusters.)
The musical hit list — a manically cheerful, perhaps seizure-inducing sonic soup of Dan Zanes, Jessica Harper, John Lithgow, Laurie Berkner, Carole King and others — has been the soundtrack of their lives ever since they first learned to kill time.
For me, listening to my kids’ music was always a chore. I craved harder, edgier, sexier music — songs with teeth. But some unwritten law says my children had to be protected from toxic influences like the wail of an electric guitar, a mumbled verse, or a rap about anything other than food groups and proper hygiene.
To be fair, many kids are exposed to The Beatles at a young age. This seems perfectly reasonable until, like me, you encounter a 4th grader weakly strumming an electric guitar and warbling “Come Together” at a school talent show. Then it all seems terribly wrong. We can all feel his disease.
And so it was during one outing, after a long stretch of unanimous “skips,” I suddenly realized my children’s tastes had matured. They were rejecting the clap-friendly, crisply-articulated songs of their youth. Gone were “Froggie Went a-Courtin,” “(Don’t Give Me That) Broccoli,” and “Sunny Old Sun”.
I wanted to help wean — no, tear — my kids from their music, but feared the siren songs of Disney’s manufactured teen pop stars would waste no time filling the void. Moving from Dan Zanes to Miley Cyrus is hardly a trade-up.
So I made a major, radical intervention.
Muting my conscience, I exposed the kids to my highly-eclectic, highly-uncensored, 80’s-drenched personal playlist.
As each song played, I checked my kids’ reactions in the rear view mirror. No one’s head exploded; no one’s mouth foamed; no one’s innocence lost. They patiently listened and voted. I took careful notes.
Almost every song with a hard beat and a catchy chorus got their thumbs up — “Groove is in the Heart,” “Centerfold,” “Back in Black,” “Bust a Move,” “Just What I Needed,” “Jessie’s Girl,” “MmmBop,” “Sure Shot”, and “Poker Face” (Yes, those last two are from Beastie Boys and Lady GaGa — it wasn’t like I was going to excite them with Barry Manilow.)
I know what you’re thinking: Put together, these songs are about sex, porn, lust, addiction, succotash wishes, and… uhhh… mmmbop. But it’s thrilling to finally be able to listen to music with my kids without wanting to drive into a tree.
Too often, parents martyr their own happiness for the sake of their children, but my kids and I genuinely enjoy the music together (as opposed to, say, spending an afternoon at Chuck E. Cheese). Nothing makes me happier than to hear, from the back row, “Dad, can you stop singing, please?”
We rarely bond over 3D movies or trips to family-friendly restaurants, but my children and I are all right there with Rick Springfield as he painfully pines for his bud’s girlfriend. Why can’t that nice boy find himself a woman like that?
Yes, the themes are not always PG-13, but by the time my children are old enough to decipher adult lyrics, it’ll be too late to save them from creepy songs like “Birthday Sex” anyway. So, no offense to Mr. Zanes and Father Goose, but we won’t be comin’ round the mountain anytime soon. Instead, we’re taking the Highway to Hell, singing at the top of our lungs the whole time.
And if anyone really wants to shut me up, it’ll cost a veto.