I was in the car with Ava the other night, driving around to get Ezra to fall asleep. Once the boy was out, I decided to put in the great sounds of They Might Be Giants, more specifically, their most recent album for kids, Here Come the ABC's. Right in the middle of it, there was a song titled, "Rolling O" that had a different sound to it. An older sound, you could say, with a Hammond organ and some horns. Ava perked up.
"Daddy, this song sounds like it's from the sick-tees." She fumbled with that last word.
"The what, sweetie?"
"The sicks-tees. You know, like how Buddy was a cool daddy-o." ("Buddy" is our nickname for Ezra, and she's referring to when Ezra was dressed up as a beatnik for Halloween. You can see what the kids looked like here, by the way.)
"The 60's? You mean it sounds like an old song?"
I then agreed with her, that yes, this song does sound like it's an old song, even though it was made recently. I then decided to drop some knowledge on my precious little 5 year-old sponge (knowing full well that this might go over her head) and proceeded to tell her that a beatnik was actually from the 50's.
"I wanna hear music from the 50's, daddy," Ava pipes up almost suddenly. I look at her in my rear-view mirror, stunned.
"You do?" "Yeah."
My thumb couldn't spin around that click-wheel on our iPod fast enough, I tell ya. I mean, when do you ever get the chance to showcase some fabulous sounds of the 1950's to your daughter? Not very likely. Even though Ava and Ezra are exposed to a vast eclectic mix of music from Andrea and I both in the car and at home ranging from Múm, DJ Shadow, Zero 7, Sufjan Stevens, Ida, Mars ILL, as well as the aforementioned They Might Be Giants, it's quite unusual to get a request for a particular era of music. As I clicked and scrolled through my music collection, I realized that I did not have any of the early rock 'n roll tunes -- what you might call "rock standards." No biggie, though, as I had plenty for Ava to listen to.
A little bit of Dean Martin, a smidgen of Les Baxter, a dash of Bobby Darin ("Mack the Knife," natch), a pinch of Peggy Lee -- I went through a small smorgasbord of various sounds that came out during that time, and Ava was soaking it all in. She really seemed like she was enjoying herself, be-bopping in her car seat from song to song, moving to the beat. As I went through the calvacade of mid-century songs, Ava would ask during each song, "Is this from the 50's?" And I would answer "Yes," obediently, with a slight smile. I was intrigued by the fact that she seemed intent on knowing how a song from the 50's sounded. Once I exhausted my impromptu playlist, I started to play some songs off this fantastic collection called The Best ...And Friends Album In The World, a hard-to-find UK import which features music from the late 30's into the 70's (and somehow makes it fit together rather nicely, I might add). I played "The Lady Is A Tramp" by Lena Horne, from 1948. Again, from Ava: "Is this from the 50's?" "No, this is actually a little older, from the 40's, I think." Pause.
"What's a 'tramp'?"
Hmmm. What IS a tramp? And worse yet, how do you explain this to a 5 year-old girl? My mind raced with images of trashy women from that era, from those pulp novel covers, to Bettie Page -- at one point a 60's go-go dancer popped into my head for no apparent reason -- I had to think fast. Suddenly, it dawned on me.
"Well, you know Tramp from "Lady And the Tramp" right? Well, you remember that he's just a dog who doesn't have a home, who just goes around and tries to find friends, right"
"Um hmm," She agrees.
"That's what this woman is singing about: someone who doesn't have any friends and is going around trying to find some."
"Oh," Ava seemed to understand. I was off the hook! Goodness....
I then moved onto "What's New Pussycat?" by Tom Jones, thinking that Ava might dig the kitty-cat theme but overlook the subtle sexual overtones in the song. I kinda giggled to myself at how I got into that predicament, at how it's funny how kids look at the world around them with innocent eyes, and how we, as parents, tend to overlook certain terms and phrases that might seem tame but have dual meanings. I then began to think about my explanation to her, about what a "tramp" is. That is a rather nice way of putting it, if you think about it, yes? I almost made a 'tramp' a sympathetic character. Obviously in the Disney movie Tramp IS a sympathetic character, but in Ms. Horne's rendition, the 'tramp' is someone who is looked down upon for not going with the status quo. She's labeled a 'tramp' because she "won’t dish the dirt, with the rest of those broads." Interesting.
Anyway, since Ava's 50's music enlightenment that evening, I've since gathered some neato Elvis tunes and some various early rock 'n' roll standards, just so Ava will have a nice well-rounded idea of what kind of music came out during that time.
Hopefully she won't ask me what "A wop bop a loo bop a lop bam boom" means. I might need some help on that one.