What the Hell is Owl City? The Music Report from Kid Central
So lately I’ve been driving in our messy van with my kids and their buddies, first graders to fourth, and they’ve been browbeating me into punching the radio until we land on a song they like. It’s all very loud. Loud, funny, and kind of unsettling. At each station, with each blaze of notes, they blast the back of my head with group yells of “No!” or “Yes!” and an occasional wintry mix of “No/Yes!” This experience is very Margaret-Mead-in-Samoa for me; the tribe has its ethno-ways, sky-blue obvious to them, but cloud cover to a scorned elder like myself, trying to understand the anthropology of, in this case, their burgeoning musical tastes.
Or maybe it’s not so much Margaret Mead. Maybe it’s more like Shirley Jackson, author of that chilling short story “The Lottery.” Because punishment comes from the majority and it is merciless. If a station plays even a hint of acoustic anything, from Dylan to Travis Tritt, they yell cruelly “No Country!” And I must stone the song to death. If there’s a certain mustiness of sound, they chant “No ’80s Music!” which appears to be a catchall for everything from maybe 1957 to 1999. When I asked one car crew how they knew what was “’80s Music,” my daughter’s friend Adele, age 7, kind of tilted her head, and said in this lugubrious, hokey tone, “It goes Dah. Ta Dah. Dah. Ta Dah. Dah.” All the other kids nodded in agreement. Loser: couldn’t I tell?
Here are some songs that get the “Yes!” shouts (these are all youtube links, g’wan and have a dance party!): Katy Perry’s “Hot N Cold” (sounds like a pounding Pilates class), “Replay” by Sean Kingston (actually quite sweet), Rihanna’s “Live Your Life,” (kind of turgid), Jason Mraz’s “I’m Yours” (I admit it, I love it) and Owl City’s “Fireflies.” (Ubiquitous ear candy and, as the New York Times damns with faint praise “mom-friendly.” Ouch. But true. These are lyrics Tipper Gore could love.)
And then there are a bunch of other songs that filter in and out of my brain that I can only vaguely recreate. The kids know the titles, artists, and lyrics much better than I do, naturally. And my twentysomething friends are probably now laughing at the Old News quality of this post. Um, yeah, we know all these songs. We hear their ringtones like every second. Where have you been? It reminds me of the time my mom, then 65-ish, fresh from a senior citizen exercise class, asked me if I’d heard of this fun group called “The Beach Men.”
Anyway, the blunt truth? I had to google lyrics just now to even pin down the titles of the songs I knowingly, blithely cited in that info-heavy paragraph before last. (Like “Replay”: Is it “Shiny’s Got a Melody?” Or “Chinese?” Oh, it says “Shawty.” Uh, oops.) Then I checked out youtube and wikipedia to make sure I had the artists’ names right. So I will now confess that I never even heard of Jason Mraz or Sean Kingston until twenty minutes ago. I’d heard of Rihanna, vaguely—a supermodel? A star of Lost, which I don’t watch? A one-named chef like Emeril?—but didn’t know who she was until I caught her 2009 New Year’s Eve show.
But, you know, I’m okay with my ignorance. More than okay. In fact, I’m here to sing the praises of my ignorance, my embarrassing lack of knowledge, my paucity of hip. Because, the more I think about it, this lack is another necessary, even classic, role in my life as a parent. My kids need my irrelevance. And this goes out to all you parents out there, even the ones who may know all these songs and are like a dime. (“Like a dime.” It means you’re perfect, a 10. It’s in that song “Replay.” I just looked it up. Margaret Mead in Samoa, remember?)
What was I saying? Oh, yes, this goes out to all you parent people: really, how can our children define themselves without us as foils? They need the generation gap to connect with their friends, have songs to crank at their weddings when everyone is tipsy and past caring, and we must help dig that gap. That gap is part of their infrastructure, a path, a road (block that metaphor, I know!) to their independence, their search for identity. Mom likes Rosanne Cash singing “Heartaches by the Number.” Daughter Likes “If We Were a Movie,” by Miley Cyrus. Dad likes The Doors singing “Break On Through.” Son likes “The Final Countdown,” which for God’s sake is ’80s music, and he and his friends belt it out oaf-in-the-bleacher-seats style, their t-shirts on their heads like pharoah headdressses at sleepovers after they watch Weird Al Yankovic’s “Trapped in the Drive-Thru” on youtube and eat so much pizza they get stomach aches and have to go home.)
But I digress. What I’m trying to say is this: One of the ways we can best raise our kids is to fail, at the right time, in the right way, to be part of their world. Fail in a way that hopefully amuses them as much as it pains them. This allows the next generation that lovely feeling of healthy contempt. It’s the same contempt I felt as my parents listened to those chirpy, soul-wrecking Sing Along with Mitch LPs, when any sane person would have been in tangerine trees with marmalade skies.
Twas ever thus: While I was laundering onesies, and then helping toddlers go up the down slide and then urging my pissed-off preschoolers to Use Their Words, and then teaching them how to pump on a swing, and then reading Bread and Jam for Frances to my kindergartner and then having third-grade teacher conferences and then teaching my son the give-and-go for his rec league basketball team (score!), I’ve missed about a decade of popular culture: 1999-2009, personally, artistically speaking, RIP.
And I missed it all because of you, my sweethearts. So, to my son and daughter, with love: You go on and be “real worldwide, breakin’ all the rules,” like Sean Kingston sings. As for me, I’ll cultivate my cluelessness, while surreptitiously singing one of your Yes! radio songs. Because, to quote Jason Mraz, oh wise young man: “I reckon it’s again my turn to win some or learn some.”
Photo by glogster.com
Photo by mihaivilcubv.glogster.com
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