Monday, March 08, 2004

Child's Play

Inspired by the great Raffi-spoofing "Marge vs. Singles, Seniors, Childless Couples and Teens, and Gays (SSCCATAG)" Simpsons episode that rerun last night, our topic today is children's music. So let's start with Radiohead. How the hell did they get so big? They're overwrought, totally depressing, absolutely impenetrable, and only enjoyed by graduate students—pretty much like every other major artist to come out of Britain since, well, Lord Byron in the 19th century, basically. And dude, they're no fun at all to listen to: because of the endless blowjobs positive reviews of Thom Yorke & Co. that have been published over the years, when you listen to Radiohead you're no longer actually listening to Radiohead—you're listening to critical opinion about listening to Radiohead, as has been noted many times before (namely at the funny East Bay Express).

EBX actually had a great piece several months back where they played choice Radiohead cuts for a classroom of fifth graders and asked them to draw pictures of whatever the music suggested to them. Though the children's artistic abilities far exceed mine, perhaps unsurprisingly, my opinion of (and visceral response to) the band fell almost exactly in line with the little 10-year-olds'. Among other things, the music inspires them to: giggle; grip their heads confusedly; imagine giant asparaguses and depressed dolphins; contemplate suicide (free suicide, no less); cry out "Mommy please come help"; and of course request Sean Paul instead—all things I feel when being forced to endure Thom Yorke's warbly anarchic diatribes.

A similar test—with music from indie darlings like The Strokes, Yo La Tengo, and the Pernice Brothers (a personal fave)—was run multiple times on a gaggle of Brooklyn kindergartners, yielding similar—and no less incisive—critiques. Did you hear that, trucker-hatted Williamsburg clones? Someone in Brooklyn actually has original taste! Seriously, these kindergartners are awesome: the less enthusiastic endorsements range from "it hurts my head like a hundred dogs" (The Strokes) to "this music is making me die" (Kleenex Girl Wonder) to the succinct but devastatingly accurate "barf" (Allen Clapp). The kid who felt vomitous also had this moment of almost Joycean epiphany: "A shadow of a hawk fell over us and then we ran in the ocean and there was the avalanche of big rocks." I don't know what that means, but it sounds like the lyrics from Kid A, innit? But by far the most accurate response was inspired by The Strokes's addictive single 'Soma': "Right away you can tell: it's white people." Ha! Who hasn't felt that way at least once during the course of taking in a rock show?

This all got turned on its head when Gawker editor/my secret fantasy Choire Sicha and others did a piece at The Morning News where they forced adults to listen to children's music rather than the other way around. The torture instruments of choice this time around were the greatest hits of the romper room set, including the quite catchy Beach Boys-in-junior high CD by the Langley Schools Music Project as well as the horrific As Seen On TV Kidz Bop series, where crowds of off-key rugrats warble through Top 40 radio hits. The kiddies' music is treated little better than the kiddies themselves treated Thom Yorke, Joe Pernice, et al., with great quotes about the tunes including "This isn’t Fame. This is Shame" and the timely "This would sound better in Aramaic." The best quip of all, though, came in response to the kid version of Mary J. Blige's 'No More Drama' (that "Don't need no hateration" etc. song): "In my opinionation, singerating with the childrification is all crunk until you viewify their standardized test scores." Does No Child Left Behind need a theme song?

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