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Sonic Youth, Miley Cyrus, Charles Barkley and Role Models

By Rebeldad Brian Reid

On the way to school last week, I flicked on the radio to tune in the local college radio station, which sometimes brings howls of protest from the little voices in the back seat. But this time, the reaction was different: "Dad ... what is this?" and then a pause. "I kind of like it." It was Drunken Butterfly by Sonic Youth, which was a staple on college radio from way back when I was actually in college.

"We're gonna download this as soon as you get home today," I said quickly. Ten bucks well-spent at iTunes.

I was tickled at the idea that I might trick the kids into listening to some early-'90s grunge -- much as I'm thrilled when I can trick them into eating cauliflower -- but I was mostly relieved at the idea that I might have a kid-approved alternative to Disney music. Right now, we're very into Disney music, which generally means Hannah Montana or Miley Cyrus or Destiny Hope or whatever she's calling herself these days.

The songs are brilliantly constructed in some southern California laboratory to be generic and cloying, but with just enough of a message of empowerment that it's hard to argue that the music is rotting anyone's brain. That's irritating. As is the cross-promotional aspect of it. It's not enough that we have the CD. Or the TV show. Or the constant updates from the celebrity press. There are also the related toys. And, next week, the movie. You can't get away.

Of course, the biggest problem is the age-old issue of teaching the kids that Miley is not "just like you," despite the fact that her music says the exact opposite. Miley made headlines this week by saying she doesn't want to be seen as an "idol." I'm all for that sentiment, but given that the overwhelming message of the music (and TV show and movie, etc. etc.) is about how ordinary she is, parents have quite a lot to push back on.

All of this makes me pine for my youth. There were absolutely the same problems with kids identifying with superstars. But at least then, when Charles Barkley said "I am not a role model," he was believable.

Brian Reid writes about parenting and work-family balance. You can read his blog at rebeldad.com.

By Brian Reid |  April 2, 2009; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Elementary Schoolers , Entertainment , Tweens
Previous: What Has Surprised You Most about Parenting? | Next: On 'Star Wars' and Other Kid Obsessions

Comments


"The songs are brilliantly constructed in some southern California laboratory to be generic and cloying, but with just enough of a message of empowerment that it's hard to argue that the music is rotting anyone's brain. That's irritating."

Yes! Thank you for putting your finger on the grating little thing that bugs me the most. It's generic corporate dribble packaged for maximum parental acceptability. Which is pretty much exactly the opposite of what music is supposed to be.

Posted by: laura33 | April 2, 2009 7:21 AM | Report abuse

We don't buy the Miley/Hannah, Jonas bros, whatever else Disney music, although occasionally I hear it on TV. It sounds like junk and my kids don't seem to enjoy it either. If your kids don't listen to the junk you won't have to explain why "Miley isn't exactly like you" problem solved.

As for introducing kids to other music, it is all good. Although I have to take issue with the 90's grunge stuff, it is about as generic as the Disney canned musak. But to each their own!

Posted by: cheekymonkey | April 2, 2009 8:01 AM | Report abuse

All I can say about this Brian, is that a little In-A-Gadda-da-Vida is called for!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hBbv2v0xOlA

Posted by: Fred_and_Frieda | April 2, 2009 8:06 AM | Report abuse

I worked at an independent record store as a second job during grad school. I loved it when parent's would come in with their kids to nurture that a-ha moment. They would send this kid up to the counter to let me know that they liked some band or song, then ask what I could recommend like it. It was great when they would ask about a gem like Sonic Youth, The Breeders, or The Pixies, not only because they're great bands, but because they empowered the girls. It let them know that the girls can rock too.

As for being a role model, maybe Kelley Deal's addiction would be a deal-breaker for some folks. However, like Charles Barkley, she didn't set out to impress kids, but the fact that she broke barriers turned her into one.

I'm also not going to take this opportunity to insult others taste in music, as it seems irrelevant to the discussion.

Posted by: MzFitz | April 2, 2009 9:05 AM | Report abuse

I have 3 kids that are constantly on one of the various computers laying about the house tweaking/updating their playlists. They have my permission to listen to anything they want. I refuse to be the music police, as I rather not censor out the cultural context that the performing arts shapes so well through music and poetry. No way would I want to *STIFLE* their imaginations or creativity by censoring their music.

The thing about loading an mp3 player up with a few hundred songs is that it takes a long time to gather all the tracks, organize, and seperate the good from the bad. I'm too lazy to doo that much work, so I steal my kids playlists to load my mp3 player. So, if you think about it, my kids are actually censoring *my* music.

Anyway, though there are a few nasty, offensive, made to be ugly songs I run in to, all my kids have a healthy dose of the stuff I grew up on, - The Stones, Eagles, Floyd, AC/DC, Zepplin, Diland, Talking Heads, Cars, Elton John, (even a john Denver song or 2), Simon and Garfuncle, Beatles... They also have some new stuff that I like - Britaney especially), Eminem, children's songs, silly songs, (Remember The Streak? and a whole host of male artists that put out what I call "puppy dog" tunes.

I'm happy for them, their taste in music is very diverse, and for the most part, sounds good to me too.

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | April 2, 2009 9:39 AM | Report abuse

Every now and then I listen to oldest DD's college radio show and I'm amazed at how eclectic her tastes are. She plays a little bit of everything - mostly good stuff, too.

We "censor" music only in the sense that we have a single, family itunes account so I see what everybody downloads, and they've been warned about "explicit" versions. I'm not opposed to swearing in principal, but I want them to understand the difference in context.

(DD's college 'radio' station only broadcasts over the web, not over the air, so they're not subject to FCC rules. So for one week last semester the DJs had an informal contest to see who could drop the most f-bombs per hour. Then one girl spent a solid hour doing nothing but saying variations of the word into the microphone. At which point they all realized that this was pretty boring and moved on.)

Posted by: ArmyBrat1 | April 2, 2009 9:51 AM | Report abuse

(DD's college 'radio' station only broadcasts over the web, not over the air, so they're not subject to FCC rules. So for one week last semester the DJs had an informal contest to see who could drop the most f-bombs per hour. Then one girl spent a solid hour doing nothing but saying variations of the word into the microphone. At which point they all realized that this was pretty boring and moved on.)

Posted by: ArmyBrat1 | April 2, 2009 9:51 AM | Report abuse


An ending worthy of O'Henry. Yawwwn. AB is surely the dullest man in Christendom.

Posted by: jezebel3 | April 2, 2009 10:24 AM | Report abuse

"An ending worthy of O'Henry. "

Oh, come now, jez, surely you can do better than that. No "all people are different and some would find this edgy and entertaining rather than boring"?

I have to leave shortly for a meeting, but when I get back I hope to see something much more in line with your usual standards. :-)

Posted by: ArmyBrat1 | April 2, 2009 10:42 AM | Report abuse

Wacky, I remember "The Streak" as well as Billy Don't be a Hero, You Light up my Life and Muskrat Love... all silly songs of the 70's. I know you hate TV but there is a new show called "Life on Mars" that is about a guy that gets in an accident (didn't watch the first couple shows, so am a bit unclear) and wakes up in 1973. The music, pop culture and political references are really funny, so are the clothes and hair. I have a feeling you remember the 70's, correct?

MzFitz, you are a real stick in the mud. I suppose all posts should be devoid of opinion so that no one's feeling get hurt? Much like feminizing boys so that there is no punching, hitting or fighting ever? Even your example of choice in music is pro-feminine, predictable if nothing else.

Posted by: cheekymonkey | April 2, 2009 11:49 AM | Report abuse

"I was mostly relieved at the idea that I might have a kid-approved alternative to Disney music."

This is my biggest fear--that I will be stuck listening to pop music at any point in my life. It's bad enough that my girlfriends make me listen to Britney Spears and Jason Mraz, whose bouncy crap makes me want to stick a white-hot stiletto in my eye. If I ever do have kids, I've resigned myself to the fact that my beloved metal will be reserved for times when I'm alone in the car. :(

Posted by: Monagatuna | April 2, 2009 12:27 PM | Report abuse

Growing up my parents had a "my car, my radio" rule. So it was the oldies station.

Posted by: NoVAHockey | April 2, 2009 12:37 PM | Report abuse

"I refuse to be the music police, as I rather not censor out the cultural context that the performing arts shapes so well through music and poetry. No way would I want to *STIFLE* their imaginations or creativity by censoring their music."

Thank you for this. I don't believe in censorship either, and I don't think it's harmful for a kid to hear some so-called offensive music. In fact, I think it's a good opener for a conversation about when certain words are appropriate (in a creative context) and when they are not (when speaking in a professional or academic setting). I may blast Disturbed or Tool on my way to temple, but I turn it way down once I get into the parking lot.

Because people are so sensitive what their children see and hear, I tend to censor myself around them (you should have seen my face when I inadvertently cursed in a Baby Gap and the temperature in the room chilled a good ten degrees), but if I had children, I wouldn't be offended if people didn't. Curse words are part of our language, and guitar riffs are part of music. There's a time and place for both, and it's a parent's job to explain when and where they are, not to censor them altogether.

Posted by: Monagatuna | April 2, 2009 12:37 PM | Report abuse

fr the article:

>...I was tickled at the idea that I might trick the kids into listening to some early-'90s grunge -- much as I'm thrilled when I can trick them into eating cauliflower -- but I was mostly relieved at the idea that I might have a kid-approved alternative to Disney music. Right now, we're very into Disney music, which generally means Hannah Montana or Miley Cyrus or Destiny Hope or whatever she's calling herself these days. ...

I totally agree. My wife and I are talking about having at least one kid, and I truly HOPE the miley cyrus fad has mercifully faded by then, as I can't stand her, or iCarly, etc. Both are sickeningly-sweet and so cloying.

Posted by: Alex511 | April 2, 2009 12:46 PM | Report abuse

Yeah Cheeky, the 70's, from Donny and Marie to Disco Duck. Good times!

Kinda reminds me of the Flintstones episode where Fred invites his redneck relatives over and gets rid of them by playing "Bug music". "She said Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!" and they shot the radio with their rifles. Hilarious now, though I didn't get it at the time.

And Yes, I remember that decade, most of it anyway.

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | April 2, 2009 12:56 PM | Report abuse

OT to Mona: My son is in line to get his black belt in Tae Kwon Doe in a few weeks. I only tell you this because some time ago, I read a few of your posts about the subject and it provided the motivation to sign him up. Thought you might want to know. :-)

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | April 2, 2009 1:08 PM | Report abuse

Cheeky, please provide some evidence of my trying to feminize boys? The other day I made a comment about teaching boys that violence doesn't equal masculinity. I also made a post that references Brian's question about role models. In an industry dominated by men, the examples that I give make that point make that point. Brian's prompts in the blog do not ask how you feel about Sonic Youth, the point of the blog is the relationship of musicians as role models, and that a-ha moment when kids start listening to real music.

You seem to have trouble with reading comprehension, as you make assertions based on my posts that are completely untrue, and you have completely missed the point of Brian's post as well. What is your problem? We all come here to share thoughts, ideas, and opinions, but if this is going to turn into a playground where you get to be the bully, then Stacey and Brian will lose me as a reader. You have referred to me as "what's wrong with society," and " as stick in the mud." I would hardly call your attacks on me in the past few days constructive. If you disagree, learn to write an effective statement that doesn't involve slinging irrelevant mud.

Posted by: MzFitz | April 2, 2009 1:34 PM | Report abuse

Whacky, congrats to your son! I always wondered if the recent trend of hyper-diagnosis of ADD/ADHD in boys was a result of making them sit still for too long without a way to blow off their energy. Martial arts is a good way to provide structure and discipline AND a physical outlet!

Posted by: Monagatuna | April 2, 2009 2:32 PM | Report abuse

MzFitz: "We all come here to share thoughts, ideas, and opinions, but if this is going to turn into a playground where you get to be the bully, then Stacey and Brian will lose me as a reader"

This is the best news I have read all day! I will keep it up in hopes that you decide it is all too much for you, given that you can't even take the "boys will be boys" saying with a grain of salt and are so easily upset that someone has an opinion.

MzFitz reminds me of another pious poster from OB, anyone care to guess who??

Posted by: cheekymonkey | April 2, 2009 2:35 PM | Report abuse

mona: yes, that's part of my hypothesis (based on, um, nothing). Since boys are 'diagnosed' with it more than girls. Yes, kids are made to sit still MUCH earlier than we were when we grew up - and with less recess/gym time.

Army: reminds me of a class my friend took (she majored in family psychology...or something like that). In the beginning of the first class she said the prof had them go around the room saying all those words that might get them embarrassed...that they were going to have to use during the class (vagina/penis/etc).

She said it had the same effect.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | April 2, 2009 2:39 PM | Report abuse

We all listen to everything. DH is a musician and song writer. He also has a collection of around 3000 vinyl albums - I couldn't tell you how many CDs he owns, nor how many hours/weeks/years of music he's downloaded. And the kids still got DH to put Radio Disney on one of the car's presets years ago.

Older son plays piano, and has perfect pitch and perfect relative pitch too. It's a pretty rare combination that he seems to have inherited from his father. Younger son plays guitar, and has been taking cello in school this year. He doesn't seem to have the stunning and amazing singing voice his older brother has (maybe after his voice stops changing), or perfect pitch when he sings. But his whistling is perfectly on key (and he tunes his guitar accurately by ear) - as far as I can tell anyway, but DH would be the one to hear it if the micro-tuning were a tiny bit off.

Anyway, we might go from a bring-tears-to-your-eyes moment with older son singing "What a Wonderful World" a cappella, to everyone singing along on some mindless Disney tune, to a four part round of "Michael Row the Boat Ashore", to all of us trying to harmonize on something DH wrote, to younger son wrapping something he heard from the kids at his middle school.

It's all music, and it's all good.

Posted by: SueMc | April 2, 2009 2:44 PM | Report abuse

We all listen to everything. DH is a musician and song writer. He also has a collection of around 3000 vinyl albums - I couldn't tell you how many CDs he owns, nor how many hours/weeks/years of music he's downloaded. And the kids still got DH to put Radio Disney on one of the car's presets years ago.

Older son plays piano, and has perfect pitch and perfect relative pitch too. It's a pretty rare combination that he seems to have inherited from his father. Younger son plays guitar, and has been taking cello in school this year. He doesn't seem to have the stunning and amazing singing voice his older brother has (maybe after his voice stops changing), or perfect pitch when he sings. But his whistling is perfectly on key (and he tunes his guitar accurately by ear) - as far as I can tell anyway, but DH would be the one to hear it if the micro-tuning were a tiny bit off.

Anyway, we might go from a bring-tears-to-your-eyes moment with older son singing "What a Wonderful World" a cappella, to everyone singing along on some mindless Disney tune, to a four part round of "Michael Row the Boat Ashore", to all of us trying to harmonize on something DH wrote, to younger son rapping something he heard from the kids at his middle school.

It's all music, and it's all good.

Posted by: SueMc | April 2, 2009 2:45 PM | Report abuse

My experiences so far in avoiding having to listen to kiddie tunes is to teach the lyrics to them when they're young, or make up sounds that represent the instrumental parts. Kids love to sing along and be involved.

Another great thing is to get the Rockabye Baby! series going when they're infants so that the melodies are familiar to them when you play the original versions. It's a great diversion raising kids on a diet of Disney.

Posted by: MzFitz | April 2, 2009 3:19 PM | Report abuse

I taught my daughter one of the songs I learned when I was a kid and it goes like this:

Row, row, row your boat,
Gently down the stream.
Throw your teacher overboard,
and listen to her scream.

So there we are at back-to school night, and my daughter performs it for her teacher. Just great!

Note to self: avoid all back-to-school nights whenever possible.

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | April 2, 2009 4:08 PM | Report abuse

Well, Whacky, that's always good advice. :-)

Posted by: laura33 | April 2, 2009 4:40 PM | Report abuse

The one place my SD's mother draws the line is at HM and JB, but I suspect this is more to do with their being overtly Christian (we're Jewish, and SD's mother is particularly virulent about it when she remembers), than it being crap.

Of course at our house, there's no TV and no commercial music at all. It's all underground industrial, jazz, hip-hop, etc because that's what my husband and I have on our computers and in our cars.

This past weekend, I tried to watch a cooking show (she just turned 6). She climbed into my lap and looked at the screen for a minute, then said,

"I'm not allowed to watch this."
"Then turn your head or close your eyes."
"No. My daddy's gonna come out and see me watching this and I'm not allowed to watch TV."
"... is this your way of saying you want to check and see if our eggs are dry?"
"Yep!" She hopped off my lap, grabbed my hand, and led me in to the dining room to check on our "Passover Eggs".

Posted by: smrtrnu | April 2, 2009 5:19 PM | Report abuse

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