Our last episode was about an indie rocker, so it seemed fitting to get today’s playlist curated by an indie rocker. Actually, it’s curated by her three-year-old. In this mix, Claudia Gonson—pianist-drummer of the Magnetic Fields and singer of Future Bible Heroes—shares with us the songs that her daughter Eve loves most. Songs that made Claudia fall in love with children’s music all over again.
Now let me turn this over to Claudia. —HF
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As an indie rocker, I assumed that I would be playing my 3-year-old daughter The Bats, Stereo Totale, Brian Eno, and the B-52’s. When I do play these bands and others, she loves them (in fact, she had a little love affair with one of the songs on the new Sam Amidon album). But something has happened to me, and we simply live mostly on kids music. I think we do this because it gives her a sense of ownership (“her music,” “her tv shows,” etc). I mean, she is only three-and-a-half. We have plenty of time to introduce Neutral Milk Hotel. She doesn’t understand what “cool” is.
Also I have a sense that the way she absorbs music is so intense—she sits on the couch, listening to the same album or song again and again. In my mind it doesn’t matter what she is listening to, so long as it is tuneful and good, and she loves it. This is her music education that she is giving herself.
So my apologies in advance if my list is a bit kidsy and not particularly hip.
Another quick caveat—we are super lucky to be living in a time where really good musicians, many of them local to Brooklyn where I live, are making great kids records. Twice in the last month I have seen a kids group in my neighborhood, and purchased their album so that we can listen at home.
1. Step In TimeÂ Mary Poppins Soundtrack
The complete Mary Poppins soundtrack, 40th anniversary edition, is an amazing experience. You aren’t listening to the 10-odd songs we listened to as kids. You are hearing all the incidental music, from beginning to end. The “Step In Time” dance scene, on the roof? Over 8 minutes of incidental music. This is truly an orchestral work. The scene where they jump into the painting. The scene where the nannies blow away. The scene where the carousel horses come to life and fly off. It’s all instrumental, with the major songs interspersed. Since the album length is almost as long as the movie, Eve can sit there and watch the pictures in her mind.
2. Peter and the Wolf Sergei Prokofiev
I have the one narrated by Boris Karloff. Pretty amazing. There’s also a wonderful version narrated by Leonard Bernstein which I have on vinyl. Anyway, hundreds of repetitions of this music has resulted in my child being able to distinguish an oboe from a clarinet.
3. Shoo Lie Loo Elizabeth Mitchell
Ask me on a different day which album is my favorite, and you will get a different answer. Right now I love Blue Clouds. The fun thing is that she has made so damn many of them now, you can cycle through and by the time you return to the first one, your kid will experience it anew. She also has a lot of nice videos; this one of Shoo Lie Loo is really lovely.
4. My Oh My Kasey Chambers, Poppa Bill and the Little Hillbillies
This album took us a while to digest but now we have certain songs which get played in heavy rotation, especially for dancing. In “My Oh My” a little kid chirps “I love you . . . oh yeah!” and Eve loves that. In “Old Man Down on the Farm,” everyone has to shout “Wake Up!” to get the farmer to wake up and tend to his barn.
5. Vega-tables Brian Wilson
Eve is obsessed with this song, and can do a whole mime routine to it, where she attempts to sing everyone’s vocal part at once.
6. Diu Diu Deng Elana Moon Park
The album Rabbit Days and DumplingsÂ is made by one of Dan Zane’s band mates, and contains Chinese, Japanese and Korean folk songs for kids, done in a more modern day folk style. It’s great. It’s one of the albums we recently acquired from seeing her live. Quickly Eve decided which tracks were her favorites and cycles to them over and over.
7. Tumble Bee Laura Veirs
This was on heavy rotation for a while, and is starting to lose steam but I love it, it’s beautiful. She’s a really wonderful artist. Hopefully it’ll come back into heavy rotation soon.
8. Down in the Valley Dan Zanes
Dan Zanes—natch. Dan’s an old Boston rocker (I used to run into him as a young teen, growing up there) who has reinvented himself as an absolute hero of kids music. He has about ten albums. I have seen 8-year-olds scream and swoon at his shows. Dan started kids’ music down a wonderful road, which Liz Mitchell and Laura Viers and others also follow, of covering songs from the Smithsonian Folkways catalog, plus Carter Family, Woody Gutherie, Pete Seeger and others. I feel like by listening to these modern renditions, Eve is getting an excellent tutorial in the golden age of folk. The album we have been listening to recently is House Party. Eve has three songs in a row she listens to over and over: “Down in the Valley,” “Waltzing Matilda,” and a West Indian counting song. Although she is starting to pick up other songs she likes on the album, thankfully. She likes this song called “Daniel in the Den.”
9. Upside Down Rolie Polie Guacamole
Rolie Polie Guacamole is a local Park Slope band who we see every week, sometimes twice a week! There’s a lot of call and response, and funny witty songs about the usual suspects—ice cream, fire trucks, the sun, brushing your teeth, dragons. We have a wonderful time. They like to pretend they are deaf and can’t hear what the kids are shouting—”The sky is … made of glue?” Stuff like that. Everyone knows it’s a game and no one stops playing it.
10. Abiyoyo Pete Seeger
We have the audiobook reading by Pete Seeger of this wonderful bedtime story, with a live version and a regular studio version. While I’m at it, all kids’ books on CD are great, especially for car drives. We only have about 6 CDs, but I should amass more. I wonder if they have that sort of thing at the library.
11. Tardigrade Michael Hearst
The most recent obsession in Eve’s listening library is Michael Hearst’s Songs for Unusual Creatures. Mike is another Brooklynite, whose idea for this collection was inspired by Saint-Saens’ Carnival of the Animals, and for his own scientific interest in oddball and often endangered creatures, as well as strange, ususually made instruments such as the stylophone, the glass harmonica and the daxophone. With his band, he performs this collection of songs live each first Saturday of the month at the Park Slope venue Barbes. Dozens of kids pack the place to hear songs about the Blue Footed Booby, the Magnapinna Squid, and the Jesus Christ Lizard. It was a delight for me to see my kid recently march into the Museum of Natural History, point to a small model on the wall of sea life, and shout “that’s a Tardigrade!” —CG
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Photo: Kerith Gardner