Children’s Albums Are Bad for Children


In Washington state, where I live, marijuana is legal and sold in special stores. This poses an interesting quandary for parents. Do you: (a) raise pot in the vein of beer when discussing it with your children, or (b) embrace the federal standard and advise that they abstain from it altogether, until its legality is the law of the land?

The answer is (c): Sit your toddler down in her car seat, and let Kacey Musgraves explain.

See also: Kacey Musgraves Makes Country Music You Can Use

Musgraves’ “Follow Your Arrow” is Nashville’s rebel anthem of last year. A simple yet thematically sweeping song, it tackles sexuality, body image, alcoholism, drug abuse, atheism, anarchy and premarital sex, with a chorus that goes like so:

Make lots of noise
Kiss lots of boys
Or kiss lots of girls
If that’s something you’re into
When the straight and narrow
Gets a little too straight
Roll up a joint … or don’t
Just follow your arrow
Wherever it points

In other words, it’s a flaming cocktail of uncomfortable issues that responsible parents are going to have broach with their children at some point. So why not lay it all out for them–with a self-affirming resolution, to boot–at a time in their lives when crapping one’s pants is a perfectly acceptable social behavior?

On the other side of the spectrum, there are actual children’s albums, written and performed by adults who regularly pack community center gymnasiums for 10 a.m. shows. Recess Monkey is one such band, and here’s their first verse of “Knocktopus”:

There’s a little octopus that lives beneath the ocean blue
When his friends get sad, he knows just what to do
He could lend an arm and that would feel pretty great
But he loves to tell a knock knock joke or two
He’s a knock knock knock knock knock knock knocktopus

These lyrics are goofy and harmless; they treat kids with kid gloves. Other songs deal with shoes, bubbles and lunch–important topics to a preschooler, but light as the sack that their sandwiches are packed in. In concert, Recess Monkey puts on an energetic live show that gets kids dancing, and uninhibited physical movement is an undeniably virtuous activity to nurture. Yet there’s no reason better songwriters and musicians can’t elicit the same reaction from a young child; little kids will dance to anything, including a hubcap rolling down the street in some sort of off-kilter rhythm.

This summer, my three-year-old daughter saw her first Lucinda Williams concert, and flailed about giddily. In the car, when we play “Something About What Happens When We Talk,” she quickly identifies it as “mommy and daddy’s song” (we had it played during the first dance at our wedding) and proceeds to sing along to most of the lyrics, which speak of a love fostered solely through intellectual seduction. I double-dare you to come up with a tune which projects a more positive message about gender equality, mutual respect and the importance of emotional foundation-laying in a relationship that’s built to last.

Children’s albums are for parents who heat up pizza rolls for dinner every other night. They go down easy–too easy. Conversely, firing up Musgraves, Williams, Kathleen Edwards, Jason Isbell, Zoe Muth or Dawes–my daughter’s favorite “children’s artists”–gets kids acquainted with the complexities of life at an early age, and sets them up to be way cooler than anyone else in their freshman dorm.

It’s time to replace one with the other.

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This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 7, 2014


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