Two weeks ago, I sat at work, writing about Mistah F.A.B.’s terrible new song that blatantly rips off The-Dream’s “I Luv Your Girl.” Then, the phone rang, and my wife, Liz, calmly told me that she needed to go to the hospital. I set the receiver down, and I looked up at my co-workers.
“Well,” I said to them, “I’m having a baby.”
Ten hours or so later, with Liz exceeding all barometers of awesomeness on a medication-free labor, our baby girl, Lena, was born. It was an amazing and very, very happy experience, and when I held her in my arms for the first time, I instinctually began singing to her the first lines that came to mind: “That perfect night, the night we met / There was magic abroad in the air. . .”
And so it began. I am both purposely and inadvertently going to fill Lena’s beautiful little head with more music than it knows what to do with, and I am going to obsess over the impact it’s having or not having on her life. I mean, It’s kind of cool that when she’s grown up, I’ll be able to tell her that “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” was the first song she ever heard, but honestly, is there really any lasting import to the songs I sing to my kid?
Plenty of parents think so—just look at horrendous crapola like the Mozart Effect, or, on a slightly less nauseating scale, the sincere awe in parents’ eyes when they discover that their small children like Blondie, or Nirvana, or Radiohead, or, gee, I dunno, whatever those parents happen to be playing around the house all the time. I drives me crazy. They’re kids! Of course they’re gonna like it!
Really, parents’ perception of what music their babies like and don’t like is 60% projection, 35% happenstance and only 5% authentic reaction. If parents play the Beatles, the kid is gonna like the Beatles. I play Lil’ Wayne, and the kid likes Lil’ Wayne. I can’t delude myself that Lena actually appreciates the melodic or lyrical nuance of “Money on My Mind” or “Weezy Baby”—I’ve been singing a lot of old barbershop songs to her, too, songs like “The Darktown Strutter’s Ball,” “Huggin’ and Chalkin’,” “Hard-Hearted Hannah.” She likes them. I’ve rapped L.L. Cool J verses to her. She likes it. I’ve sang both Peggy Lee and MDC to her, and she likes it.
What can I say? Kids like music and they’re not that discriminating. The best hard evidence of this is that when she’s crying, I can put on John Coltrane’s Ballads and she’ll wash over with bliss, close her sweet little eyes and stay quiet, but I swear to God the same thing happens when I play Coltrane’s late-era, cacophonous Interstellar Space.
But the most exciting thing is playing certain records and knowing they’re hitting fresh ears for the first time. Charles Mingus, Mingus Ah Um. The Dirty Projectors, Bitte Orca. Jurassic 5, Quality Control. The Cribs, Men’s Needs, Women’s Needs, Whatever. Sam Cooke, Night Beat. Morrissey, Vauxhall and I. A Tribe Called Quest, The Low End Theory, which is the first record I played when we brought her home. Having a baby around the house is like having a close friend who’s never heard every record you love, and getting to experience the magic of them all over again—for the first time.
So thanks to everyone who sent in their good wishes, and thanks to the readers for being patient while I was gone. Thanks also to the dozens of friends who’ve brought us food, helped with building the baby’s room, come over and done the dishes and generally looked out for us. You know who you are; I owe you all chilaquiles.
That said, some things have happened in the last two weeks which bear mention:
1. Rashied Ali, who comprises one-half of the aforementioned Interstellar Space, died in Manhattan at age 74. See a wonderful interview with him here.
2. Les Paul, too. The first Terry Gross interview I ever heard was with Les Paul, and I remember being completely touched by his generosity of spirit. When Gross asked him if it was discouraging, with arthritis, having to adapt to fretting his guitar with only two fingers, he replied with, “What do I do? I just figured out, that if I could do whatever I did then, I just figured out how to do that with two fingers.” (The interview’s here.) For years, he played every week in New York City, and the New Yorker calendar listing always gave him his propers and identified him as “national treasure Les Paul.” Some years ago, the New Yorker calendar editor demoted him to “electric-guitar innovator Les Paul,” which was a tiny little thing that made me sad.
3. This guy, who apparently loves Miles Davis and Nintendo in equal doses, has paid glorious tribute to Kind of Blue by rendering the complete album in 8-bit.
5. I have stopped being irritated that these lists exist, but if you’re looking to get riled up about what other people think, be their guest.