Rock the Cradle: Immunizing My Son Against Pop

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The first gift I gave my son was music. He was only a few weeks old when my wife asked me to put together some mixed CDs for her middle-of-the-night feeding sessions. Every night after work for a solid week I would seclude myself in the dormer attic study, meticulously combing through my CD collection in search of tracks that might soothe the boy while also helping my wife get through the night. I threw myself completely into the task. This was during the Middle Ages of music, after the demise of cassettes and vinyl, but before the advent of on-line streaming and playlists. Which is to say it took a while to burn the CDs. I probably spent two to three hours a night up there. But I relished the exercise, eventually burning 12 CDs, nearly 15 hours of music.

Clearly the project became more for me than just compiling a few mixes. It felt like my first opportunity to shape who my son would be—to form his musical tastes. Like the Simpsons episode where Homer falls asleep listening to an instructional French tape and wakes up fluent, I hoped that through my son’s late-night listening, I could subliminally give him a solid foundation in rock ‘n roll and, I dared imagine, immunize him against pop.

I had some early doubts about the idea’s success. Early on, my wife told me that our son seemed disturbed by Dylan’s harmonica solo at the end of “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” from Live 1966. Apparently, the high pitch of the harmonica was bothering the boy, causing him to twitch and fuss. She said she had to skip the track. Skip it? It was a crushing blow. I treasure that solo. It is precisely its wailing, piercing pitch, its haunting, other-worldly quality that makes it remarkable. That our son, even at three weeks, could not recognize its dark beauty concerned me.

When I reflect back on burning those CDs, it occurs to me that it was the first time I did something for my son that went beyond the basics of feeding or changing a diaper.

I still have those CDs and will give them to my son one day as a keepsake—my first effort to give him a piece of his dad to have and to hold. And one day I may even summon the courage to ask him what he thinks of Dylan’s harmonica solo on “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.”

For a partial set list, click here.

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Perhaps the experiment worked: my son’s top ten list at nine years old

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11 thoughts on “Rock the Cradle: Immunizing My Son Against Pop

  1. I love this site. Someone had to do it, and I am glad it’s another recovering lawyer. FYI seeing Replacements with Hold Steady opening in Queens on Friday.

  2. Love the top ten list. I doubt any of my daughters would include a single song that I’d be proud to publish. Will say that going to see One Republic and the Script with them this summer was substantially better than the Jonas Brothers last year. The best show I’ve seen in the last couple of months was The Blind Boys of Alabama (saw them without the kids – they opened for BB King). I look forward to expanding my musical horizons.

  3. Loving the Bruce-heavy content on that list. Racing in the Street from the Live box set surely should be squeezed in there somewhere…?

  4. Potential topic for a future blog – the meaning of “Pop music” – to me Pop was always synonymous w/ Top 40. However Bruce often uses the term in a much wider sense to include stuff we would never consider mainstream. Nick Hornby / John Cusak used it regularly in High Fidelity as well, which was all about music snobs avoiding bubble-gum stuff. Look forward to your thoughts! http://youtu.be/Ypqit7RNs98

    • Yes, an interesting question. I think part of the confusion is temporal. Here’s an excerpt from the Wikipedia definition of “Pop Music” (with citations to real sources omitted) that captures my understanding: “From about 1967 the term was increasingly used in opposition to the term rock music, a division that gave generic significance to both terms. Whereas rock aspired to authenticity and an expansion of the possibilities of popular music, pop was more commercial, ephemeral and accessible. According to Simon Frith pop music is produced ‘as a matter of enterprise not art’, is ‘designed to appeal to everyone’ and ‘doesn’t come from any particular place or mark off any particular taste’. It is ‘not driven by any significant ambition except profit and commercial reward … and, in musical terms, it is essentially conservative’. It is, ‘provided from on high (by record companies, radio programmers and concert promoters) rather than being made from below … Pop is not a do-it-yourself music but is professionally produced and packaged'”. Probably worth some more thought, but that’s what I’ve got for now! Thanks for the comment.

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