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Pop Goes the Kids' Bop

It niggles at me all day long. It’s poking at my poor, feeble cerebrum even as I try to write this column. And if it were something great — if it were Ray Charles or Led Zeppelin or Elvis Costello — I would welcome the distraction.

But it’s not. It’s an artless song about bowling by a bush-league children’s rock group whose name I won’t tell you because I want to say quite a few more rude things about them. Like this: They are to music what Pop-Tarts are to breakfast. A queasying excuse for substance.

Someone gave us the band’s CD, and I made the mistake of playing it during carpool one morning to keep the little ones happy. Now it’s stuck on “random repeat” in my head. (And note that the ability to invade one’s brain does not a meritorious ditty make.)

Kids like it because the lyrics, although clumsy, are quite literal. They enjoy the unremarkable singer’s Disney-esque vocal stylings as she faux-emotes about pizza, dogs, and gutter balls. They’re fond of the kooky, colorful CD cover.

I hate it for all the same reasons. From Mister Rogers to Raffi, from the Wiggles to Barney to those icky spiritual vegetables, the crowded “children’s music” genre echoes with too many preachy, soul-less tunes performed by people whose inexplicable grins are eerily audible as they croon.

Wiggle me this: Why can’t kids just listen to real music?

It’s true that we introduce our kids to reading via children’s books, and we initiate them into the cinema with children’s movies. But we needn’t ease them so gently — so childishly — into the world of music, because music can be appreciated, enjoyed, and even, on some level, “understood,” by listeners of any age or maturity.

Our response to music isn’t intellectual, it’s visceral. And when you flood kids’ virgin eardrums with “Toot Toot, Chugga Chugga, Big Red Car,” you’re really just priming them for dreck.

Not all kids’ bands are awful, of course. I can’t get behind my grown-up friends who listen to Choo Choo Soul and the Laurie Berkner Band when their kids aren’t even around. But I’m fond of Schoolhouse Rock and Trout Fishing in America, both of which — like all good art — affect us in layers.

Music should give us something to delight in right this minute, and keep providing interest each time we hear it — even if the interest on the 43rd listen is just nostalgia for the rhymes, rhythms, harmonies, and metaphors we discovered over the first 42 times.

You want simple melodies and arrangements for your kids? Try the Beatles, Pete Seeger, or “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” You like bright and happy? Play ABBA, the Beach Boys, Jason Mraz, or the soundtrack for Hairspray. For straight-up silly, you can’t beat the Talking Heads, Barenaked Ladies, or Prince’s “Kiss.”

Music is a treasure hunt. Every listen should take you closer to finding that one genre, that band, or even that singular song that synchs up with your psyche and ignites an unnamable joy that starts in your ears and spreads to your head, chest, hips, and toes. It should move you. It should exhilarate you.

And Barney can’t do that.

My oldest son wasn’t three days old before we discovered — out of sheer desperation — that he would stop crying and become utterly, blissfully lost in Kool & the Gang’s “Jungle Boogie.” Now, I’m not saying he’s a better person because of his early exposure to funk. Or because he prefers, to this day, to hear a growly “Git uppa with the git down!” than a perky “Bowling, bowling with you.”

I’m just saying if something has to get stuck in my head …

Published inColumnsParenting

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