I live with the music police

I love music, and I listen to all kinds of different music. I love loud music, and rock and roll drum beats, and complicated songs, and edgy songs, and sappy bubblegum pop from my parents’ era (or my own) that makes no sense whatsoever. I have a weakness for emo music, which makes me very, very happy. I call it my “haha, I’m not in my 20s and my life does not suck” music, and it cheers me up tremendously. (Yes. I know. There’s clearly something wrong with me.) I love music with complex lyrics, and layered melodies, and allusions, and story. I secretly love a lot of country music, with its ridiculously over-the-top lyrics. (My favorite is a song that I heard by chance about a girl who finally got a beautiful dress of her own- not a hand-me-down, only to discover that her mother bought it for her in preparation for pimping her out on the street corner. I mean, really, who writes songs like that?) I love novelty songs, especially if they are extra-ridiculous and/or filled with double entrendres and puns. I love ABBA. (I know I am not supposed to confess this publicly, but come one, everyone has at least one ABBA song they love, right?)

Music is great, and has many positive effects that range from memory associations to mood elevation to improved health. So what’s the problem? The problem is that I am terrible with lyrics. I will love a song for the bouncy tune and the three words of the refrain that I actually know, and be blissfully unaware that the song is about drugs, or rape, or murder, or whatever. (Except for “The Rake’s Progress” by The Decembrists. Even I know that is about a man who murders his children one by one because they get in the way of his rakish lifestyle. But that doesn’t stop me from liking the song.) Lyrical cluelessness is not a particular problem for an adult, but I also have a six year old. Who loves music. Who we raised on good “grown-up” music, rather than sappy kid stuff that would bore us to tears. (Lest you think I am cruel, he does have all 4 sound tracks to the “Truck Tunes” DVDs, and uses them to fall asleep every night. I am frequently humming silly songs about car carriers and fellerbunchers and bulldozers. But otherwise, he listens to grown-up music.) And he listens to lyrics. Really listens, with the kind of concentration you have when you are seriously trying to figure out the world, and that you cannot muster when you are navigating traffic, telling someone not to stick their arms out of the windows and asking what that ominous sound from the backseat is. (Did you spill the goldfish crackers all over the floor? No? Because it sounded like you just poured a box of goldfish crackers all over the floor. Yes, I do have eyes in the back of my head. No, I won’t tell you where I keep them. It’s a mom trade secret. No, the reason you cannot see them is that they’re invisible. Children cannot see them.”) My son also asks questions, lots of them, because he wants to know everything about anything, all the time. I suddenly have to be very careful about what I listen to, and a lot of things are off the table now.

Vampire Weekend’s “Oxford Comma,” is off the metaphorical turntable because really, no one wants their six year old to burst out singing “Who gives a fuck about an Oxford comma” in the middle of first grade, no matter how catchy the tune is. This is an obvious one. Others are not so clear-cut.

“Shut Up and Dance” by Walk the Moon has been banished after I got lectured every time it came on. “Mommy, this song has bad words. It says “shut up” and that is bad words and it is not kind and you have to turn this song off RIGHT NOW!”

Anything by Lana Del Rey is verboten because my husband is shocked by the lyrics. In fact, he is so concerned that our son will hear the shocking shocking lyrics that I have yet to hear the album in its entirety. I have not even gotten the opportunity to be shocked! But, whatever it is that she sings, I. have. been. warned. And my husband listens to it at the office, where our son is not.

When “Sex and Candy” came onto the radio recently, I nearly drove into a curb while hurling myself at the volume knob to turn it down.

This afternoon, I thought I would try Mumford and Son. I mean, yeah, they have the song that includes “I really fucked up this time”, but honestly, I cannot hear the difference between the “expunged radio version” and the E version that is on my iPhone. So maybe we could slide that past the 4 foot tall music policeman. I never even got that far. My little listener put down his drawing pencil and told me that I needed to listen to the song and then tell him what it meant. I listened for a second, and told him that it sounded like he was singing that a person could make all the decisions they wanted, but he did not care, because he was free. Maybe he had gotten out of a bad relationship. (Like that was going to make sense to my 6 year old.) He listened more and said, “Mom, this song makes me feel bad. It says bad things.” I asked what bad things it was saying, and why on earth it would make him feel bad. He said “He sings ‘I let you choke on the noose around your neck’ and that makes me feel bad.” Well, what do you know. He does kind of sing that in “The Cave.” I tried explaining that the line was “will NOT let you choke” etc., etc. and “figurative language” to no avail. The next song on the album was decreed “makes me feel sad”, so I had to change the album again. Sigh.

Soon enough, he will listen to all sorts of music of his own that I will be required by tradition and aging hearing to object to strenuously. In the meantime, as long as he does not figure out that The Fratellis songs he loves mostly seem to end with someone getting stabbed, and that the bouncy upbeat song about always getting up again (“Tubthumper” by Chumbawamba) is not an empowerment tune but a raucous song about getting so drunk that you fall over, we are ok for a little while longer. And if not, well, I hear that the Truck Tunes people are thinking of making a fifth album…

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8 thoughts on “I live with the music police

  1. This post is hilarious! I am so like that, too…lyrically clueless! I don’t have kids, but whenever I have my niece and nephew, I always have to be careful about the songs I play, lest they hear a “bad word”.

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    1. It’s so hard to protect the little ears when you are lyrically clueless. A song with “damn” slipped by me the other day, and it was IMMEDIATELY pointed out to me, gleefully. “Mom, I heard a bad word. He said a bad word. (stage whisper) It was the “D word”. Don’t worry. I won’t ever use that word.”

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  2. Lucy and I were listening to Justin Timberlake the other day and she asked, “Mommy what does “nekked” mean?” I choked and pretended I didn’t know because I was afraid the next question would be “Why does he say he’ll have me nekked by the end of this song?”

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  3. You can always fall back on “I don’t know what that means”, but that is trickier when the words are obviously clear. Mom used to tell you and I that she had no idea what one line of a song was whenever it came on the radio and it turned out years later that she knew exactly what it said. It was just that it said “f***ing in the moonlight”.

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  4. I couldn’t agree with you more about how mood-altering music is. I couldn’t live without it! And kudos to you for the grown up music in your home. My 25 year old daughter, to this day, asks me why we let them listen to whatever the trendy kids stuff was back in her day. It’s MY fault that she had to broaden her music education of the 90’s on her own. Great piece!

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  5. This was a delightful read. I appreciated all the different kinds of music you shared that you enjoy. I’m always trying to pull out the tiny details like that in my writing, but I never can do it as seamlessly as you have done it here. I enjoyed hearing about your love for music, and the music policeman whose mission seems to be to clean up your playlist. LOL It’s funny that we don’t think about the lyrics until little ears are close by. I used to be this way about movies with my kids. I’d think there wasn’t anything bad in a movie I had watched, and then I’d sit down with the kids and end up turning it off. I hadn’t noticed all the inappropriate humor and language until they were sitting beside me. Awkward!

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  6. So funny! I love that you captured your little so humorously (and honestly). I have 3 of them, so I totally hear you! I’m in trouble all the time! Thank you for letting me know I’m not alone! 🙂

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  7. I am so guilty of not know the words. Loved the part about “Shut Up and Dance”, one of my faves and how a little one at the right age would be upset by the language. Great post.

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