Friday, August 27, 2010

That's a dealbreaker: Songs inspired by babies and parenthood

Perhaps it's my Grinch-like disposition (before he went all soft), but babies don't really give me the warm and fuzzies.  I don't dislike babies, though they do cry a lot and aren't potty trained, but I'm not one to break out in "coochie coos" at the site of a diapered tot either.  So, unsurprisingly, listening to people (especially new parents) talk about their kids is about as interesting to me as watching paint dry.  I'll listen to it and pretend to nod interestedly (I'm so polite), but it's one of my least favorite conversation topics.*  Anyway, since I can barely tolerate hearing about friends' and family members' tykes, I really don't want to listen to some person I've never met sing about their kid.   Especially when they have to be all sentimental, smug and saccharine about it. 

I prefer music that is on the gloomier side.  So some of my aversion comes from the fact some of the songs are so irritatingly joyful. Perhaps this is why I am the most tolerant towards Paul Simon's songs about his children, which tend to be less cloyingly sweet.  For instance, "That Was Your Mother" from Graceland, which contains these lyrics:

That was your mother
And that was your father
Before you were born, dude
When life was great
You are the burden of my generation
I sure do love you
But let's get that straight

Wouldn't you just love to be Paul Simon's kid?

On the flip side, I really can't stand Stevie Wonder's "Isn't She Lovely?"  Yes, Songs in the Key of Life is mostly a good album (even though it's a double album), but did he really need to start the song with the sound of his baby cooing? And the lyrics are sweeter than a packet of sugar:

Isn't she lovely
Truly the angel's best
Boy, I'm so happy
We have been heaven blessed

Is it anyone wonder that someone like me, whose heart is two sizes too small, just can't stand that song? 

Anyway, lest you think I have no cockles on my heart to warm, I do like a couple baby-inspired songs.  Most have a slightly more nuanced take on parenthood, though some just have a pretty killer beat:

"My Girls" by the Animal Collective (from Merriweather Post Pavilion).  I fell in love with this song the first time I listened to it.  Though I can't say I immediately identified it as being a song about being a parent.  Instead, I really liked it's warm sound and catchy beat.  Lyrically it has an interesting take on parenthood.  Mainly the conflict between not wanting to be too materialistic, but still wanting to provide for your family:

I don't want to seem like I
Care about material things
Like my social stats
I just want
Four walls and adobe slats
For my girls

"Afraid of Everyone" by the National (from High Violet).  I talked about this song earlier when I reviewed High Violet.  It's a song about trying to be a responsible parent while living in an increasingly politically polarized era.

"Mother and Child Reunion" by Paul Simon (from Paul Simon).  There is much disagreement about what this song is about, besides a chicken and egg dish from a Chinese restaurant. I've always taken to be about a parent losing custody of their child, but I could be taking the "only a motion away" lyric a little too legally.  Whatever it's about, it is definitely one of the darker songs about parenthood. 

"I Feel Like the Mother of the World" by Smog (from A River Ain't Too Much to Love).  An anti-war song with familial imagery.  This song and the one before it ("Rock Bottom Riser") really sold me on the album the first time I listened to it: 

When I was a boy
I use to get into it bad with my sister
And when the time came to face the truth
There'd be only tears and sides
Tears and sides
And my mother, my poor mother
Would say it does not matter
It does not matter
Just stop fighting

Various and sundry, Loudon Wainwright III: Wainwright is pretty famous for being a dad.  Both of his kids are famous musicians (Rufus and Martha Wainwright).  And he played Hal Karp, Jay Baruchel's high maintenance dad on Undeclared .  He's also written a slew of songs about fatherhood including "A Father and A Son," "Pretty Little Martha," and "Five Years Old."  Wainwright is known for writing witty and self-deprecating songs, but his songs about fatherhood tend to be more honest and bittersweet.

Selected albums by him include:

High, Wide and Handsome: The Charlie Poole Project (2009).

Strange Weirdos: Music from and Inspired by the Film Knocked Up (2007).

Album II (1971).  

*Other least favorite conversation topics include: that cute thing your boy/girlfriend did last week, your dreams, and things you should probably only discuss with your doctor.