Let me make something abundantly clear: it is not my fault that the children love Neutral Milk Hotel songs. Well, it’s kind of my fault. I mean, I exposed them to the music to begin with, but (in my defense) “King of Carrot Flowers Part I” is one of the few numbers I actually know most of the words to. If you’re not familiar, you can hear it here:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LULmbLlPvVk.
Even I was initially uncomfortable with singing the baby the beginning of the second verse which goes: “Your mother stuck a fork right into Daddy’s shoulder/and Daddy threw the garbage all across the floor.” Verse four isn’t much better: “Your Mom would drink until she was no longer speaking/while Dad would sit and think of all the different ways to die,” but the baby loves it. I sing it to him while he’s in the tub, and he splashes joyously about. I’ve tried him on other things with limited success. Neutral Milk Hotel is his jam. He also really likes Harry Belafonte.
In light of this, I decided to learn the words to “In The Aeroplane Over The Sea,” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L7TmF5z6dNw) for nap time. Now, you may think it’s wrong to send children off to sleepy land listening to lyrics like “and one day we will die, and our ashes will fly/from the aeroplane over the sea,” and maybe it is a bit grim, but, hey – “but for now we are young/let us play in the sun/and count every beautiful thing we can see” is about as Elmo as emo gets. What’s a girl to do? I’m seriously considering folksy, acoustic Slayer renditions, but I’m not sure that’s possible. For now, they get Neutral Milk Hotel and my homemade songs which include: “Do The Diedee” (to the tune of “In The Navy” by The Village People – featuring lyrics like: “Do the diedee, I think it’s really neat, DO THE DIEDEE, to see everything you eat”), “Wakey Baby With The Sleepy Head,” and my father’s “Taxonomy of Baby Death” a song that illustrates all the ways the child tries to kill himself on a typical morning (“Drain-o, Drain-o, Drain-o, how I do love you, and also that weird cake thing, that turns the toilet blue”). We’re a twisted bunch.
The thing about it is, these songs about domestic violence, hot sex, and death aren’t functionally any sicker than the songs and nursery rhymes I learned as a kid. If you doubt it, examine the lyrics of “Rockabye Baby,” “Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep,” and “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town.” That’s some pretty fucked up shit right there. I mean, is it worse to be straight forward about “holy rattlesnakes” than it is to inaccurately stab at their existence? Most of Mother Goose has more to do with making fun of the wealthy, commemorating political upheavals, and subverting censorship than it has to do with bells, blackbirds, and shoe ladies. Back then, people were actually trying to compel their children to remember important history that wasn’t taught – in a way that wouldn’t get anybody jailed or killed. Over time, we remembered the rhymes and lost the messages. Things are much more overt now. Instead of letting people make their own associations, we lay it all right out there. An example of this occurred when, as a child, I was forced by PEER PRESSURE to attend after school kid-church style meetings, at which we were asked to sing a song as closure to every session that counted down to the apocalypse in a really welcoming way. I can’t remember the words any more, but the song ended with “8,9,10 Now the world will surely end.” There was a set of puppets that went with it which featured an ascending Jesus looking down over a world of burning cartoon humans. All us kids thought it was really cool. I don’t know if the trend toward the obvious has to do with us being sillier as people, or freedom of speech. In any case, Neutral Milk Hotel is certainly no worse. Right?
This is all very strange to me. A long time ago, I made what was probably a PBR induced vow never to “talk down” to children, loudly espousing my theory that baby talk makes children think that stupidity is acceptable. Yeah, that shit is out the window. Half the time A. and I speak in English, and the other half we speak in baby. “Do you want some leche,” I’ll ask him, and (if his answer is affirmative) he generally replies, “Cheche.” It probably isn’t the best thing to do, but it’s functional. Besides, who says baby speak is any less valid than English? I also have a tendency to use a higher vocal register the more he screams. It’s just been a practical thing. There is nothing worse than trying to de-shittify a screaming baby who is wriggling in his own filth. You kind of have to distract them with fake cheer. In fact, the only way in which I have even marginally been able to keep my vow is by talking to J. in front of A. So far this summer we’ve discussed the solar system, the galaxies and the fascinating vastness of space, particle physics, plant fertilization cycles (or the “We Do SO Need Bugs” speech), bee language, moral relativism (“You Are Not The Arbiter Of Your Own Fate, God Dammit”), and cat anatomy. I keep having to find answers because, while my weird theories are based on actual research, most of the structural elements are just stuff I made up.
I am merely (just like everyone else) basing my actions on what I know. Unfortunately for the kids, I went through a pretty bad emo phase. I hope one day they will forgive me.
One further note: yesterday was Kelly’s (Titz Bandicooter’s) birthday. It should be noted and celebrated for several reasons, not the least of which being that she is one of the best, kindest, funniest, most decent, and sensible people I’ve ever been lucky enough to meet. Additionally, she puts up with my bullshit to the extent that there is much less to be distributed amongst the rest of you. You should all thank her and send her multiple copies of “The Star Wars.” Happy belated B-day, Kells. I sure am glad you lived.
And, for all you nerdages out there, this is a really great speech by China Mieville on art and politics. It’s very funny. Try it. You’ll probably like it, and then have to kiss my ass for telling you about it, but my ass is currently pretty clean, so it will all probably work out all right. Here it is: http://climateandcapitalism.com/2012/07/11/china-mieville-on-art-and-politics/