November 20, 2012

Blue and Gold



Some of you who have been a show of mine recently may know about the other series I’ve got going. There’s “100 Skies,” sure. But there’s also the less known (as it’s just for an audience of 2) “Song of the Week.” 100 Skies, of course, is a sky a day for 100 days. Above is Day 54. Song of the Week is me singing a song a week to my boys before bed every night for as long as they’ll let me (I’m hoping for at least another 60 or 70 years). Although my boys like both (the skies and songs), I believe I am both series’ biggest fan, by far, thinking sometimes that I get more out of it than they do. Well, at least I thought as much, until the two series converged beautifully over the weekend.

To properly set this up, I have to explain more about the Song of the Week series. We’ve never really been a family who listened to “children’s music.” We don’t own any Dan Zanes. And if it weren’t for our 6-day road trip to get from Berkeley to Santa Fe, we wouldn’t own any Raffi either. With a few exceptions, I don’t really write “kids’ songs,” though I do have one about the midnight zone and a pirate song called “X Marks the Spot,” which the boys like a lot. But Jackson was put to bed every night as a baby to the second disc in Tom Waits’ three-disc collection “Orphans, Bawlers and Brawlers.” Noah heard Cat Stevens primarily in utero. Despite all that, about a year ago, I decided that I wasn’t properly fulfilling my duty as a musician dad in indoctrinating them into the big beautiful world of, well, the music I love.

So began the Song of the Week series. I would select a song that I felt they should know. And that’s what we’d sing before bed. Sometimes, with the most popular songs, the week would be more like a month. But we still call it the Song of the Week. They learn the songs with amazing quickness. By Wednesday or so, they sing along. Jackson, never misses a word, but he sings a 2-note melody that is generally the same regardless of the song. And Noah tries valiantly and adorably at the words, but most are just barely recognizable. Still he nails the melody perfectly, right in key with me and in a tone that is sweet and pure.

Generally I pick from the songs that have long been favorites, by artists who I consider to be the greatest. But I weight lyrics a little extra in the selection process (or maybe I should say I weight lyrics accurately, as lyrics are “important” to me, to say the least. But I try to evaluate those lyrics from a child’s rather than songwriter’s eyes…probably a better standard anyway.) I choose songs with lyrics that could be seen as child-friendly. So Neil Young’s “After the Gold Rush” was first because of the reference to knights in armor and silver spaceships (the line about getting high clearly refers to flying in said spaceship). “Buckets of Rain” came early too, for the claim that Dylan “ain’t no monkey” and, hell, a “bucket of rain” is a pretty good image for the lads who are constantly filling watering cans and making potions of various liquids. “Ripple” was a good one, too, what with it’s magical realism (a fountain not made by the hands of man, a path for your steps alone…a ripple in still water when no pebble is thrown, etc.). Recently we went back to Neil for “Pocahontas,” despite its somewhat brutal lyrics about killing people in teepees and massacring buffalo and the like. Had to do it, though, to set the record straight, after we read a book on the subject that only talked about the Native Americans slaughtering the good white settlers.

Anyway, a few back, we did Tom Waits’ “Picture in a Frame.” I had been hired to sing that song for a couple at their wedding, and so I had to learn it. Two birds with one song. Well, the boys didn’t like it at first. That tends to be true for the first couple days. After Noah tells me not to use the new guitar I just bought (an old darkly sunburst-finished Gibson, which Noah refers to as the “dark guitar”…”No I like the dark guitar, daddy.”), he then says “and no that song daddy.” But I push ahead. Singing over their protests is good for them and for me. It prepares me for audiences in, say, Nashville and Los Angeles.

“The sun comes up it was blue and gold,” or so the song begins. Interruption immediately by Jackson. “Blue and gold daddy? … What kind of sun is blue and gold?” We talk about imagery and metaphor, about what color conjures. He’s not convinced. He also was highly critical of the way I sang “wheels” in the chorus line: “I’m gonna love you till the wheels come off.” I think I put more emphasis on the word than he was comfortable with. I got too passionate at that moment in the song, forgetting that my role really was to be putting them to bed and not to embellish and repeat that line 8 or 9 times. My eyes closed, I guess I did tend to forget where I was, wailing that chorus out. Jackson protested. Noah followed suit. Sarah poked her head in. “Everything okay in here?”

Well, we got through that week and moved on. Not their favorite, but that’s okay. Still this past weekend, I was away playing some shows in Salt Lake City, which incidentally also boasts a brilliant sky (evidenced by sky 51 and 52 on the instagram). I returned home to a big tackle hug from Jackson. And what was the first thing out of his mouth? “Daddy, daddy! Guess what we saw while you were away? The sky was blue and gold. Really, it was. Ask mommy.” And sure enough, confirmed Sarah, up on the jungle gym in the playground beside the school, Jackson hollered to Noah and Sarah and a few friends who were playing nearby, “look at the sky! Look at the sky! It’s blue and gold!”

It would have been better had I been there beside him, I suppose. Or maybe not, as I probably would have pre-empted his discovery, thus stripping him of that excitement and me of the joy of learning of his synthesis, of how much he’s paying attention to the songs and the sky.

So there it is. The Song of the Week met 100 Skies. Very fulfilling. For obvious reasons, the song of the week this week, much to Sarah’s chagrin and the boys’ bedtime, is going to be “Alice’s Restaurant.” Hopefully they won’t see garbage in the sky.

Happy Thanksgiving.
Chin Up,