Saturday, November 8, 2008

Rockin' In The Toys R Us

Jason and The Scorchers--"When The Angels Cry" (mp3)
Dan Zanes--"No Sky" (mp3)

I don't know how I feel about rock and rollers who look to extend or improve their careers by switching to the children's market.

There was an article in the paper yesterday about Dan Zanes, who has been one of the most successful to make the switch. I don't know that much about him--he was in the Del Fuegos, who I never really listened to, but I did get his solo cd, which I liked, even though no one else did, apparently. So, having children led him to switch is career to writing children's songs, and now it's become very lucrative for him. I guess that's a good thing.

In the Chattanooga Times Free Press article, he says, "The hours are different, the band is better, but the spirit is the same. We're playing music we have an emotional attachment to and we want everyone to be a part of it and have it feel like a party."

For kids. Kind of like a wedding singer for toddlers. You sense, I'm sure, a slight, slight derisive tone here.

On the one hand, the first several waves of children's music were such shit, that when my children were that age, I could barely stand to listen to it. In those days, it seemed like of you were going to sing for kids, your name had to end with the "ee" sound--Barney, Raffi, Yanni, whatever. And the music, sung either in an annoying mock-animal voice like a chipmunk or a dinosaur or sung in a mugging, super-smiling, over-the-top manner couldn't bridge the gap between the young'uns who would chant the stuff like Moonies and the adults who alternated between grimacing and getting a little programmed themselves.

In my humble opinion, the kid-friendly versions of classic rock songs weren't much better. So along come the new breed, guys like Zanes and one of my favorite rockers, Jason Ringenberg, formerly of Jason and the Scorchers, and now performing under the moniker, Farmer Jason.

These guys bring credibility with them. Their songs are more likely traditional tunes or authentic updates, and you don't mind listening along a bit.

But here comes the philosophical question: do kids really need dumbed-down or gently-interpreted versions of real music? Last summer, I gave my friend John a burn of my favorite songs by the Sheds, an unsigned band from around Cincinnati that I discovered on another blog. A few listens of that and his kids were clamoring to hear the songs again and again. Now, granted, their favorite song was about a bunch of musicians meeting up at a trailer to get wasted and maybe playing a few tunes, but his whole car would be singing along: "Kind bud, can I get another beer?/ There's a cooler in the front and a cooler in the rear."

More to the point, I guess, is whether you maintain your musical integrity when you switch to children's music. I fully understand that a guy's got to eat, and if all you've done to earn money is to play music, it's kind of hard to switch to insurance when you're 42 years old. I think I'm probably being romantic when I imagine starving musicians sticking to their "rock and roll code," whatever that is, even as the market dries up around them. But I can still picture Jason and the Scorchers up on that stage, spitting out "Gold Ball and Chain," heavy metal lead guitarist Warner Hodges wailing away, one cigarette in his mouth and another pinched between the strings on the head of his guitar, beers flowing, people pushed up against the stage, each drumbeat or chord robbing me of a little more hearing.

Maybe this is why Neil Young once suggested that "it's better to burn out than to fade away." Hell, even Jerry Garcia put out a children's record. Kind of.


John said...

Great post, Bob. One of the best solo albums I bought in the 90's was EAT AT GODOT'S by Ralph Covert, former front man for The Bad Examples. His song, "Small Grey Rain" is one of the most beautiful, poignant love songs I've ever come across. And then I learned that, after having kids, he started a band for kids called "Ralph's World". To be fair, his stuff did earn him a Grammy nod for his kid albums. But it's hard to listen to "Happy Not My Birthday" or "Folsom Daycare Blues" without a tinge of regret.

"Flection of the Sun" also got a lot of play on our road trip. Killer band, The Sheds.

Ok, back to comment cards...thanks for the break.

Bob said...

"Small Grey Rain" appeared on "John's Greatest Mix."

They all get Grammy nods. I mean, shit, they're up against poseurs.

John said...

Hey, burn me a copy of "John's Greatest Mix". I think you have the only copy in existence.

It's funny...the word verification that I had to type below is "tabilan". Maybe because we just elected a Muslim president. (sarcasm on)