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Kiddie music: Terrific tunes or torture?

Nancy Trott

"Kid, I love ya, but if I have to listen to that Wiggles song one more time...." Bob Trott and daughter NJ, 2.

So, do you think listening to Bert and Ernie could get you to spill secrets? The folks running Guantanamo Bay  seem to think so – Al Jazeera reports they’ve forced detainees there to listen to loud “Sesame Street” music “for hours or days on end.”

I don’t blame Sesame Street’s composer, Christopher Cerf, for being ticked off. He told Al Jazeera:

“I didn't really like the idea that I was helping break down prisoners, but it was much worse when I heard later that they were actually using the music in Guantanamo to actually do deep, long-term interrogations and obviously to inflict enough pain on prisoners so they would talk."

My sentiments exactly. But the notion of using music to make other people unhappy has always fascinated me (my parents will back me up on that), particularly ever since I read about the military blasting rock and roll as a psyops move to flush Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega out of hiding.

I like a lot of different music and can find something in most all genres that is worth listening to, and that includes children’s music. But just BARELY. The simple tunes, the wacky sounds, the seemingly endless repetition of what sounds to the adult ear like nonsense (but often is teaching my kid how to tie her shoes or something, I know) – I think the interrogator who put “Sesame Street” on “repeat” must have gotten the idea in a minivan loaded with kids.

“Sesame Street” wouldn’t be so bad for me. So far we’ve dodged overexposure to the Street gang, and the stuff we do watch, I like – Feist rewriting “1-2-3-4”  as a counting lesson, or Ernie’s reggae smash “Do De Rubber Duck.” A few days ago, though, my wife said something that sent a chill down my spine:

“You should download ‘Y.M.C.A.’ onto your phone. The Village People.”

She hasn’t been drinking, I thought, and I don’t see evidence that she fell and struck her head. So why would she say that?

“They dance to it at preschool,” my wife explained. “NJ loves it.”

So I did it. Because I love my 2-year-old daughter. And I danced to it with her. I helped her refine her arm movements spelling out Y-M-C-A. And we danced to it again. And again. Now I’m hoping that famous short toddler attention span kicks in, so “Y.M.C.A.” will soon be a distant memory. (And no, not so we can move on to “Macho Man.”)

But I still don’t think listening to the Village People is torture. I mean, you can dance to it. Children’s music, though? Well …

  • My daughter has a battery-power Dora the Explorer guitar, and sometimes I close my eyes, smile big and imagine it shattering, in slow motion, against the basement wall. Dora’s songs kind of make me feel the same way. 
  • The Wiggles, “Fruit Salad.”  “Fruit salad, yummy yummy.” You cannot break me, infidel.
  • Justin Beiber/Miley Cyrus/Selena Gomez/Katy Perry. My daughter and teenybopper pop – it’s going to happen, I realize that. It’s just a matter of … when.
  • One of my favorite college-era bands was Boston’s Del Fuegos, so when I saw that former bandleader Dan Zanes had ended up making children’s music I grabbed a CD for NJ. It’s good stuff, too, but the kid’s not into it yet.
  • The “Rockabye Baby!” CDs of classic rock performed as lullabies. A whole lot of people find these annoying to the point of torture, I’ve discovered, but I swore by them during my stay-at-home dad year. The best part was singing aloud – the twinkly, sleepy baby-friendly sound really makes lyrics like “bodies strewn across the dead-end street” in U2’s “Sunday Bloody Sunday” resonate.
  • NJ will turn 3 years old in a couple of months, and in all the time she’s been on this earth she’s never expressed the slightest interest in Barney. Fingers crossed, everyone.
  •  If I was forced to listen to Raffi, I think I could stick it out for a long time. Heck, “Baby Beluga” sounds like it could have been a Paul song on the Beatles’ White Album.

Along with the Village People, the adult-oriented performers who get NJ going currently are Adele (she’s repeatedly identified “Rolling in the Deep” as her favorite song), Bruce Springsteen (“Bruuuuuuuce,” as she knows him), and the Rolling Stones. And yes, I’m responsible for the last two. I always perk up when she asks “What is this song?” because it’s another opportunity for me to mold her specifically to my tastes.  

Not that it will stick, of course. There’s a node way in the back of NJ’s brain that is already developing her future “Dad has terrible taste in music” position. I’m already cringing at the thought of whatever will be popular amongst tween girls in 10 years. I’m sure it’ll be torture.

Who would your enemies play to get you to talk?

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