Thursday, February 21, 2008

Music and Lyrics

My parents were born three days shy of five years apart from one another. They both celebrated birthdays this past week. That's right - I was raised by two Aquariuses, and somehow survived.

Now five years is not an unheard of gap , but because of my parents' upbringings, they are essentially from two different generations. The primary musical influences on my father in Israel were Elvis and doo-wop artists, whereas my mother's vast record collection spanned the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Jefferson Airplane, and mournful Laura Nyro. It was my father's music that we rolled our eyes to, and my mother's that we idolized.

As the youngest of three kids, I listened almost exclusively to the music everyone else at home was listening to. The first cassette I ever saved up for and bought (I bet you remember yours too) was The Zombies Greatest Hits, because I wanted to have my own copy of Time of the Season. I was eleven, and it was 1990. Needless to say, most of my friends at school didn't relate to this side of me AT ALL.

My oldest brother is seven years older than I am, and was able to drive me to the uncool places I liked to go (like the library on Friday afternoon) while my non-driving mother could not. But there was a caveat. I had to sing the opening lyrics to Led Zeppelin's Immigrant Song, or some equally embarrassing selection of his, before he would turn on the ignition. I was probably around 9, but I could "Aaaaaaahhhhh ahh!" with the best of them.

Those music-linked memories are now becoming those of my own kids. My mother singing Joni Mitchell while she dusted. My now-Breslov brother practicing the same Pink Floyd riff until I burst in yelling, "I THINK you GOT it!" Trying hard, as the youngest, to learn to sing along correctly and keep up on car trips.

When I vacuum, the lyrics to Dylan's Like a Rolling Stone tend to come to mind - "He's not selling any alibis . . As you stare into the vacuum of his eyes" - How many songs can you think of that have the word "vacuum" in them?

[I remember how strange it was back then was when other kids my age, as late teens, 'discovered' classic rock and got into it. All of a sudden, what I'd been pumped with my entire life was considered cool, and all the years of wondering what exactly they loved so much about Debbie Gibson seemed to dissolve into memory.]

I preface with all of this background because what I'm thinking about lately is what my kids are listening to. As the bigger ones get, well, bigger, they become undoubtedly more aware of everything. Conversations I have with RaggedyDad are interjected with Ann's (and sometimes even Andy's!) opinions. And I realize that the music I listen to has to be considered too. I still remember being six years old, hearing about a Madonna song called Like a Virgin and asking my mother, "What does THAT mean?" I think she somehow managed to change the subject.

To be clear, I'm not listening to music with awful, overly suggestive, or violent lyrics, and I don't ascribe to the school of thought that a "rock" sound has something inherently wrong or unholy about it. But there are moments where it's quiet in the car besides the song, and Ann will ask me, "What does THAT mean?" and I second-guess myself.

I struggle with this partly because kiddie music (and we have plenty of it) can get really annoying, and also because I grew up in a household with a continual non-kiddie soundtrack and I don't feel it had a negative influence on me aside from a lot of brain space devoted to a lot of lyrics. For now, I'll continue to listen to the same music I've been into by default since I was a kid, but I can see that as my children get older, things will continue to evolve in this department.


fudge said...

You know it really is interesting. I also grew up in a house where we listened chiefly to the radio and 80's music, but somehow I always had explanations for the lyrics that didn't make sense to me. Oftentimes I recall struggling with how a literal baby fit into the song's storyline, but I always came up with something. Ann and Andy are thinking kids, and you'd be amazed exactly how much imagination can make of limited material - I see why it makes you stop short a little, but I can't help feeling that overall, your taste in music does give them a sense of who you are, who they are, and the seams where Judaism and American culture lie.

Whenever I think of Friday baking, I think of my mother's Billy Joel cassettes.

Diana said...
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Diana said...

Wow, Fudge's comment really made us feel old. My dad ♥s Motown, so we usually listened to that when he was home. Or when he was playing it on the guitar. (Pronounced Gueeeeeee-tar) (Or Dancing Tree)

orieyenta said...

Interesting thoughts. I actually was just thinking about this the other day because there was a "dance" at LO's school and all the kids knew the song lyrics and the accompanying dances that went with them (some of those dance moves were a little suggestive for my taste - especially in a group of 4th graders!) Meanwhile - LO knew none of it. She just smiled and chatted with her friends rather than to partake in the party. I guess I've made her a musical dork - she loves to listen to Broadway showtunes and The Moshe Skier Band and wouldn't know a song from the radio if she tried - oy what will her therapist say about that later on in life?

PsychoToddler said...

Wow, it's funny, isn't it? When the kids were very small we thought nothing of listening to regular rock (whatever that is) on the radio or cassettes (or CDs).

As they got older, there were times when it got a little tricky.

Thinking back to my own youth, I grew up with rock, and frankly, unless the lyrics were particularly clever (think Squeeze or elvis costello) I mostly ignored the words and focused on the music.

I didn't even begin to think about what the words meant until recently when I started driving my teenagers around more. Suddenly, I have to skip through virtually every Zeppelin song.

Well, I guess that's why I went into Jewish Rock. Tastes great, less filthy.

BTW try Aaron Razel.

Yoni said...
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Yoni said...
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Jack said...

I haven't had to worry about lyrics yet. I just know that my kids love to listen to virtually anything I listen to, classic rock, grunge, classical etc.

Scraps said...

My parents were extremely uncool and only listened to the classical music (bluegrass on Sundays) station and the news/talk station. The only songs I know from my childhood are the ones I heard at the roller skating rink and in other people's cars.

The thing is, I'm the kind of person who really listens to the lyrics of songs, so a lot of popular music doesn't appeal to me because the lyrics turn me off.

RaggedyMom said...

Fudge - I figured this would make a lot of sense to you. If they grow up to be anything like you, I'll know that I did a lot right.

Diana is referring to RaggedyDad cracking us both up immeasurably when he tried to sing the ABBA song that he thought (I'm serious) was called "Dancing Tree". And he likes Motown a LOT too.

Orieyenta - I totally know what you mean about suggestive moves. It gets to be a problem around here too, from what I've heard, at bat mitzvah parties and the like. We are looking for a much, much tamer existence. It helps to pray.

PT - My mother brought a CD over by an artist called Meir Banai (Shema Koli) that I think you'd like.

Sometimes if I know a problematic song pretty well, I can talk loudly over a particular word or line, or momentarily lower-and-raise the volume. Of course, listening to your music or something like Aron Razel (will have to try his music) is a lot safer.

Comment Deleted - Is this like a Parental Advisory for Explicit Lyrics??

Jack - I bet you'll have no trouble passing down your love of all music to your kids in a fun way.

Scraps - RaggedyDad's favorite composers are Shostakovich and Prokofiev. Whew, my throat is totally cleared now.

I hear you about the lyrics. I wonder if it is a male-female thing. RaggedyDad hardly absorbs lyrics (foreigners!), and PT said he wasn't much into them either, whereas, like you, the words and meaning are totally my thing. The music I listen to very much becomes the soundtrack to my life, so I've got to consider what I want that soundtrack to be.

Yoni said...

I'm a boy and also listen to the lyrics (which might be why I listen to my music very quietly, so that it doesn't get bled out in the speaker phones.)

and I just deleeted the comment because it was very long and not very relevant. thats all.

Gila said...

My Dad loves the oldies--I grew up listening to that. I only started listening to popular music when I was 10--I think I got a radio or something similar.

First album--Hall & Oats.

"what does THAT mean" moment--you know that song Afternoon Delight? And the line "Skyrockets in flight-afternoon delight"? I remember singing along with that when I was about six or so. The line stuck with me--it only struck me about ten years later what they were actually referring to. Up to that point, I thought it was a song about the Fourth of July. :)