01.30.07 MC Sippy Cup Speaks
A confession, in three parts.
Firstly, I am a nearly-40 dad who spends much of his time worrying about mortgage rates, school admission procedures and acid reflux. I mainline NPR. I enjoy the occasional showtune. I am, in short, deeply boring.
Part two is more mortifying: I am a former New Wave kid who spent an inordinate amount of my youth scrounging through record shops for 12” remixes by synth-dependent Britpop bands – and not just the cool ones (favorite song in senior year? “Doot Doot” by Freur.) My teen years were marked by all-ages clubs and finger-in-lightsocket hairstyles and podium dancing. I am not proud.
The third part of my confession is where it gets weird: even though I am a deathly dull adult who should know better, I still spend an inordinate amount of time loitering in the used section of record shops, going to shows and trading mix CDs with friends. Having kids has only intensified my pop geekdom – in fact, one of the happiest and most unexpected discoveries becoming a dad was the entry it gave me into whole new genres of music that I’d been too snobbish to pay any attention before. Now I make mix CDs to pass out as party favors at my kids’ birthday parties (under the nom-de-mix MC Sippy Cup), lurk on kid music websites (most notably Amy Davis’ fantastic blog) and write the occasional missive on the booming state of kidmusic.
So in the interest of staying abreast with what the Kids are Listening To These Days, here are four discs that have been getting heavy minivan rotation of late:
Gabby La-La’s “Be Careful What You Wish For.” My favorite kid CD at the moment isn’t really a kids CD, tho I can’t imagine why Gabby La-La isn’t being counted among the big new stars on the kidmusic scene (she kicks Laurie Berkner’s bland behind). Gabby is a hippie-damaged pixie from the Bay Area whose musical exoticism – she plays the sitar, ukulele, toy piano and Theremin – have landed her session gigs with Snoop Dogg and Macy Gray. Her debut disc was produced by Primus frontman Les Claypool, but it’s not the punky freakfolk you might expect – it’s bright and dynamic and embedded with the wonder and wit of childhood. She sings about backpacks and elves and fleas with the sort of wholehearted abandon that makes you forget age norms altogether… She’s the freaky aunt who your kids won’t leave alone.
James Kochalka’s “Our Most Beloved.” I first heard Kochalka on the first indispensable Greasy Kids Stuff compilation – his “Hockey Monkey” is truly one of the funnest kid rock songs ever and should, if there were any justice in the mediasphere, be a mammoth kidsong/mainstream crossover hit. Can’t you hear it on “Idol”? I finally splurged on the recent Rykodisc greatest hits disc, which includes a lot more loud, raucous, oddly sweet songs about monkeys and robots and wookies and the like. Great stuff for punk rock tots.
Milkshake’s “Play.” I was sent the Baltimore band’s latest by guitarist Miles Anderson, who responded to my Fids and Kamily essay about how so much new kids music sounds like warmed-over adult rock. Milkshake, in contrast, is meant to be “happy music for happy kids.” Indeed it is – the disc is unapologetically peppy, a colorful parade of glossy high-production pop in the tradition of the Archies and the Partridge Family. Kids dig it and parents can’t get it out of their heads.
The Brothers Comstock’s “What Do You Want?” This was another out-of-the-blue freebie from a band beloved by scraggly tots but too often slagged by cooler-than-thou reviewers. Billing themselves as a cross between Cheech & Chong and the Wiggles, the Brothers are a rough but tuneful ramshackle duo that writes songs about the glories of basketball and staying up late and watching DVDs. Interesting side note: brothers also invented a very cool rejuvenile machine known as the Margarator (perfect for mixing up slushies for kids and margaritas for the parents).
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The shell is dyed, the hole poked, the yolk drained… now go ahead, smash this fragile ovoid and release its bounty of smallish items of interest!
Alternadads unite. The Sunday LA Times included my review of Neal Pollack’s book about struggling to stay cool in the cultural dead zone of fatherhood. Pollack is a fellow Angeleno with a distaste for Barney and an obsessive desire for his kids to appreciate good rock and roll. It’s a very funny and thoughtful book, and Pollack is keeping a great Blog about the ongoing hilarity of raising his son Elijah. Elsewhere in blogland, here’s a review of my review.
RPS goes corporate. You’ve been in meetings since dawn, you’ve just wolfed down a wilted cobb salad and you’re now facing a long afternoon holed up in a conference room with a crowd of dispirited office monkeys… only one thing will save you now: rock paper scissors. Really. The World RPS Society (the original Toronto-based league of twee intellectuals, not to be confused with the balls-out, Bud-endorsed US Rock Paper Scissors League) has just launched a service that will organize and referee RPS tournaments at conferences, office parties and other business events. A frivolous exercise in forced cheer? No way – this is an ingenious way to quickly break professional artifice and generate creativity, communication and fun. (Here’s a hint, minions: bosses throw rock.)
Harrumphing Codgers rejoice! Here’s a manifesto for cranky old men! British author and broadcaster Michael Bywater has published what sounds like a clever tho reactionary survey of the Rejuvenile phenomenon, or to quote his title, Big Babies: Why Can’t We Just Grow Up? Reviews say it’s about how government and advertising treat adults as “mewling infants who have to be told, essentially, look look shiny shiny coin coin every forlorn second of every babyish day.” There’s good reason to worry about business and government encouraging adults to drop critical defenses, but I refuse to believe the answer to that problem is a return to the rigid and overserious traditional mold of maturity. The rejuveniles I met while working on the book were mature in many ways and immature in many others – as I say in the book, it’s possible to lead a happy healthy life that “includes charity and skateboarding, G-8 summit position papers and midnight cupcakes, long stretches of concentrated seriousness and mad fits of impulsiveness.”
01.19.07 All Grown Up (and Unmarried)
It’s just a data point, but as stats go, this one’s a doozy: “51% of women are now living without a spouse.” So sayeth the headline of a piece in Monday’s New York Times now prompting much hand-wringing over the changing makeup of the American family.
This increase in unmarrieds may be just an uptick – the number was 49% six years ago – but it’s being greeted as a terrifying sign of social collapse among the conservative-minded – indeed, it signals a terrifying tipping point in the ever-descending path of the American family. It’s a Phyllis Schlafly nightmare: faithful wives outnumbered by swinging single gals, cohabitating girlfriends and merry widows.
So, you may well ask, what’s all this got to do with cupcakes and kickball and other childish leisure pursuits? Here’s what: beyond the demographic shifts at work in this story (increasing co-habitation, longer lifespans, declining rates of remarriage after divorce or death), it seems to me there’s a more primary force driving the change: the reinvention of the American grown-up. As I discuss in chapter 5 of Rejuvenile, marriage was, as recently as the mid-1960s, the single defining right of passage into adulthood. Getting married meant moving out on your own, having sex, starting a family, the lot. Today, of course, we’re free to sample all those freedoms outside marriage. Weddings are still important, of course, but today they’re less announcements of maturity than party-down pageants (exhibit A: Disney’s Fairy Tale Weddings).
Times columnist David Brooks chimed in yesterday, arguing that the real problem is that marriage is too important – in essence, that women are afraid to get married because it signals an end rather than a beginning. His solution? To persuade people that marriage is “less a state of sacred bliss, and more a social machine.” One can only imagine a young Mr. Brooks approaching his beloved, bending down one knee, and uttering the sage advice from his own column: “Accompanied with the right instruction manual, (marriage) can be useful for achieving practical ends.” Oh, swoon!
My own sense is we’re not, as Brooks suggests, witnessing the disintegration of the American family. Rather we’re seeing the continuing evolution of what it means to be an adult. What was once rigidly understood in terms of familial relationships is now tailor-made, up-for-grabs, loosey-goosey. The increasing number of unmarried women are not, by and large, stunted. They’re not suffering from arrested development – many in fact are working mothers who go to great lengths to care for their kids, partners and themselves. They are, in short, grown ups – just not the sort observers like Brooks want them so very much to be.
01.08.07 Are Fun and Work Oxymoronic?
Rejuvenile made a brief appearance Monday morning in the first hour of ABC’s “Good Morning America” in a story about play at the workplace.
Here’s the gist of the GMA piece: work is boring. A few office monkeys are fighting back with inter-department playground slides, break room foos-ball tables and other goofy innovations. Cue remark from yours truly on the importance of play and fun in the workplace and how these changes reflect the larger rejuvenile phenom.
All of which is nice enough, but I’ve got to say the story stirred the harrumphing codger in me—apparently, play at work is all about M&Ms and Nerf basketball. In our interview, I tried to emphasize that too often, the merry chattering bosses who institute “playful” reforms are putting window dressing on salt mines. There is little more infuriating than having a Wacky Fun Day hosted by an employer who skimps on health insurance or restricts family leave. I don’t think there’s any doubt a genuinely playful attitude toward work can benefit both worker and the bottom line, but it’s not about bouncing balls or bobbleheads. It’s about doing our work with the same wonder and imagination and sense of fun that too many workers ditch in the name of professionalism.
For more on developing a truly playful approach to work, start by reading chapter 2 of Rejuvenile then checking out the following:
• The Play Ethic - Pat Kane’s brilliant manifesto on the end of the old protestant work ethic was published last year in the U.S. and contains many dazzling, scholarly ideas about having fun in the name of productivity.
• Adultitis - Jason & Kim Kotecki offer a free, step-by-step program of practical tips on loosening up and sparking childlike wonder in the midst of an adult life.
• You can do better than a depressing bowl of M&Ms on your desk. Check out Office Playground for the best in cubicle doo-dads. Get thee a desktop sandbox!