Wednesday, January 1, 2003

Hey, listen up.

Happy American Music Appreciation Month to you and yours. Unlike other national theme months (National Reaching Your Potential Month comes to mind) this month actually gives reason to reflect.

Why? Life is best experienced with a good soundtrack. It can add soft curbs to harsh corners, mystery to the melancholy and a little backbeat for the browbeaten. That’s why I devised a long-range musical-appreciation plan to augment the maturation process for my son.

From tot through teen — and with apologies to Raffi — here’s the plan:

Birth to age 2, children grow at a pace never to be duplicated in their lifetime. Therefore, they haven’t the time to develop musical tastes. So this, for me, was an opportunity to get him while he was down, so to speak. I would slip in some Mozart in the mornings. Reason being, someone did a study somewhere that Mozart is good for the brain. Why argue? Plus, Mozart has a way of adding a supernatural quality to any household.

At 2 to 4, this is a different story. At this age children can be loud, powerful and dangerous. So fight fire with fire, I say. Give him something commensurate with his own qualities — “Sounds of Locomotives.” From the Illinois Central to the Union Pacific, it’s music, of sorts, with which to rampage.

At 4 to 6, children get their first taste of the world of logic and institutionalized learning. Scary stuff. What he’ll need is a place to go, an oasis of foolishness — and just a touch of old Chicago nightclub gaiety. That is to say, he’ll need Cab Calloway, the “King of Hi De Ho,” music’s four-season Santa Claus.

We’ll call age 6 to 8 the “wonder years.” Who knows what these little mammals are thinking. They learn to walk adeptly with their shoes untied and to throw rocks at squirrels. Surely they’re someplace between innocence and corruption. What he’ll need is innocence with hot rods and hamburgers. He’ll need, of course, the promise of surf music. Listening to the Beach Boys on “Endless Summer” or “Pet Sounds” is one good way of defining the world and how to live in it.

At 8 to 10, kids automatically become smarter than they’re parents. Keep them on their toes by giving them something they won’t understand: Tom Waits’ “Rain Dogs.” Truth is, at this age he may like the baseball-bat-beating-against-the-locker percussion. He may begin to look up to Tom Waits like some coughing, wheezing uncle who brings hilarity to the table, and a wino’s words of wisdom.

Kids 10 to 12 will listen to bluegrass music, jump and swirl to it. Naturally. Like playing in a big leaf pile. But if you haven’t  been raised with an appreciation for bluegrass, likely you’ve been ruined to it. “The Music of Bill Monroe” collects the finest efforts of the guy who virtually invented the genre. Sometimes haunting, sometimes comic, always melodic, Monroe’s music can supplement any American history book.

Kids age 12 to 14 are at the dawning of the age when rock ‘n’ roll becomes the curator to adolescence. Imposing adult tastes here can be sick-minded, like handing fake food to the hungry. This one could backfire. It’s all in the presentation. I’ll carefully slip Chuck Berry’s best-of from the Chess Collection on loudly just after I’ve ordered him to do his homework. It’ll break his concentration. Just what he’ll want. Maybe he’ll even grow to love Chuck Berry, the missing face on Mount Rushmore.

Age 14 to 16 is a cinch. Likely he’ll be out of control physically, emotionally, biologically. Since he’ll probably be listening to loud music already, I’ll give him the right-of-way in the danger zone. I’ll give him “Raw Power” by Iggy and the Stooges, a record of rabid rock, pure and perfectly peeved.

At 16 to 18, kids are still out of control, only now they’re willing to latch like leeches on to their tastes, then render them dogma. The Glenn Miller Orchestra would be so out in leftfield he may perceive it as some newfangled world order. Plus, sooner or later he may realize a song like “East St. Louis Blues March” is better than a morning glass of orange juice.

Lastly, age 18 to 20. The kid’ll need to remember his Irish roots. Before sending him off to wherever, I’ll stuff The Pogues’ “If I Should Fall From the Grace of God” into his duffle bag. The greatest album ever, this is a rebel yell from the mast of a coffin ship. Like shots of Paddy’s for adults, it’ll leave him wanting to fight or cry or call home. The latter being preferable.