The following is an excerpt from Chris Kornelis’s book ‘Rocking Fatherhood’ that was syndicated for The Fatherly Forum, a community of parents and influencers with insights about work, family, and life. If you’d like to join the Forum, drop us a line at TheForum@Fatherly.com.
If you’ve spent any amount of time shopping for baby-related items, you’re well aware that there is no commercial prospect left unexploited. Passing over any of them can give you your first feelings that you’re not doing enough for your child.
Music for infants is no exception. A cottage industry has grown around providing infant-appropriate, sleep-inducing versions of popular music. They are, almost without exception, excruciating. In another corner of humanity these discs are used as torture devices.
Wade carefully. Introducing music to your child is a lifelong decision. A smarter man than myself recently put it this way: don’t expose your children to music unless you are willing to hear it a dozen times in a row. This, of course, I can attest to. Yesterday I spent the better part of a half hour listening to Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl” on repeat (again, it’s all good).
Not only is baby music bad, but it’s redundant. Your record collection (or Spotify account) has everything your child needs. Steer clear of music targeted for infants, and just find some mellow jams that you can tolerate. Don’t waste your money on Rockabye Baby! Lullaby Renditions of Radiohead. Just turn on Radiohead. You’ll both be catching up on your sleep in no time. A favorite of mine is Getz/Gilberto. I have sent my babies to sleep many times to the tune of “The Girl From Ipanema.” They lose themselves in the lush tones of Stan Getz’s saxophone. Their eyes roll back, lids close and you don’t have to listen to baby Muzak to get there.
Before I knew about the baby-music misnomer, I started absorbing kid records from time to time. One of the perks of being a music editor was CDs and LPs just showed up at my desk. One, from the indie, critical darling Laura Veirs caught my eye. Tumble Bee, an album of old folks songs for kids, wasn’t campy like the rest of the kiddie crap, so I brought it home.
I, more or less, forgot about it, but Betsy didn’t. And I have many fond memories of her rocking Thomas to sleep to the words “Come on, horsey, hey, hey . . . ” The album isn’t a piece of the infant music marketing machine. It’s an album for kids that — like albums for adults — our family found soothing.
I called Ms. Veirs to say thank you, to ask her what she thought of music for kids and babies, and why she ended up making the album in the first place.
A smarter man than myself recently put it this way: don’t expose your children to music unless you are willing to hear it a dozen times in a row.
“I can’t remember exactly why we made the record,” she said. “My memory has gone out the window since I had kids, that’s one thing. My brain gets used for so many different things, there are certain things I just can’t retain anymore.”
“I think the main reason we did it was I just didn’t want to write at that time. I felt so taxed psychologically, emotionally, and physically after having my son that I was like: ‘I’m just going to do a record for kids, because there isn’t that much great new music for kids out there, and I don’t want to write right now.’”
Since she didn’t want to write, the album is made up almost entirely of covers. Some of the songs are ones her parents sang to her when she was a child. Others are ones that her parents heard when they were growing up. Veirs plucked several of the songs for the album off Peggy Seeger’s Animal Folk Songs For Children, an album with charming numbers about bees and butterflies pecking the eyes out of dead animals. She liked the dark material, and she thinks it’s important for kids to know that we’re part of the cycle of life.
“It was neat to put myself in that flow, that river of old folk music. And not be too pansy about it. And be like: Yeah, we’re going to sing about these real things because we always have. And we shouldn’t just sugarcoat everything for kids.”
For the record, she hasn’t heard Lullaby Renditions of Radiohead, but she doesn’t think it’s a good idea.
“Kids just love music, so we can put on anything and they love it. They don’t need kids’ music.”
Chris Kornelis is a music journalist who has written for pretty much everyone, including the Wall Street Journal, the Village Voice, and Seattle Weekly. If that somehow isn’t enough rock cred for you, the foreword to his book was written by Duff McKagan, one of the founding members of a little band called Guns’N’Roses. He lives with his wife and son, near Seattle, Washington.