Today my first born turns nine. A nine year old. While nine is not a milestone birthday, not even the mark of a decade, there is never a day/week/year that passes with Truman that I don’t feel like all the new things he’s discovering and becoming are a BIG DEAL and that I don’t want to stop taking note of them.
And even at nine years in, there is hardly a week that passes that I don’t stop and marvel at the surreality that I am a mom. His mom. (I consider it the phenomenon of the first born, but I really could be wrong) It still feels like last year that he and I regularly stayed up till the middle of the night nursing and (me) singing The Smiths, and recovered from our late nights by sleeping in till the afternoon like a couple of college kids; waking up slowly to more nursing and slow walks around town.
But that wasn’t last year. Last year Truman started emailing me on his own, texting me from his dad’s phone when he was at his house & watching history documentaries. Last year Truman became fascinated with Houdini and got a record player for his room that he uses to listen to a small stack of hand-me-down records. While Truman has always taken to any music that I played for him, as most young children do with their parents, this year feels like the year to buy him his first album or two and send him down the path of discovering his own taste in music (with our own little slant, of course). This year, in honor of Truman’s 9th birthday, I asked nine of my friends (moms, dads, like-aunts, and a teenager) who I knew had a love of music to tell me which album they would buy for a nine year old’s first vinyl and why.
In no specific order, here are the answers:
I want my kids to like music that matters.
I’ve already seen how sugar pop infiltrates their world, and that’s ok because at the end of it all, it’s music. However, my hope is that they find something that rocks them like it rocked their old man, and that basically means, some form of punk rock in any of its guises. So, what’s gonna connect with a 9 year old? I want to say Husker Du or Fugazi, but c’mon, let’s get real here. What do young kids want from their entertainment? Something immediate, catchy, and not too multi-layered. I mean hell, I had to sit through that “Lego” movie with my kids so I feel I’ve earned the authority to speak on what kids love. If anything represents what it’s like in a 9 year old’s brain, it’s that damn film.
So yeah,The Ramones. I can’t think of anything more immediate, more catchy, and more straightforward than those guys. Yeah sure, there’s depth to The Ramones, but you can take them on the surface level easily. When’s the last time you listened to “Rockaway Beach”? That song is made for kids, man.
The Ramones are made for jumping around. All the while feeling great and goofy about it. Kids deserve that from their music. Seriously, is Katy Perry or One Direction gonna give that to them? Hell no. But “Sheena Is A Punk Rocker” certainly will.
*FULL DISCLOSURE: I was going to choose their first album, but I don’t feel like explaining what “Now I Want To Sniff Some Glue” means just yet.
I thought this was going to be a piece of cake but, much like my parenting style, I probably over thought and second guessed way more than was necessary. What if I make the wrong decision? A first album isn’t going to make or break a kid, right? Right? I thought back to my own first album, or at least the first album I remember choosing for myself. It was Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band’s Born in the U.S.A, though what I really wanted was the WWF album. I stand behind both of those choices. Honestly, I’d be more likely to give the kid a mix than choose any one album. I listened to a lot of my favorite albums all the way through for the first time in years and rejected them all. I didn’t feel right picking any of what I thought would be my obvious choices. I love them for myself. I love them for the kid at some point, but none felt like the one. Oh, just pick one for god’s sake, I said to myself. And so, I did. The Pixies’ Doolittle is an album you can listen to on repeat; it’s fun and dark and you can even dance to some of the songs which is a big bonus in my book. It rocks in a timeless way (unlike, say, anything by Rush). Plus, Kim Deal! Voice of an angel! Love the bass heavy songs. There’s no Pixies without Kim Deal (even if the band chooses to carry on without her). I’d pick this album for Kim Deal alone. Besides, doesn’t every parent want to explain to their child what “There’s a whore in my bed” means?
*This one was actually two albums.
“Slanted and Enchanted,” by Pavement. I’ve never really subscribed to the “Baby Einstein” idea that if you play Mozart for toddlers they’ll grow up to be concert pianists. Sure that stuff’s important, but I think it’s more important to show your kids how transcendent your favorite songs or records can be. Since they were babies I’ve simply played what I liked and hoped they did, too. Sometimes it was the Velvet Underground, sometimes it was Taylor Swift. But “S&E” has been in near constant rotation since I stumbled on it in 1992 on the back wall at Rolling Stone Records in Chicago. Never would have guessed I’d still listen to it with my school age kids three decades later. Now they associate Pavement with their Illinois childhoods, the same way all my earliest memories involve my parents’ Elvis records in the background. I’m just happy my kids knew Stephen Malkmus long before they knew One Direction.
“In the Aeroplane Over the Sea,” by Neutral Milk Hotel. Selena Gomez, Katy Perry et al can be fun, but neither has much cool cred. I’ve learned this from my school age daughters. Artists like Arcade Fire, Bon Iver or Sufjan Stevens, however, do. My daughter already is into those bands. So it seemed logical to introduce her to this album that they and so many other “cool” artists, are indebted to. Annie didn’t immediately recognize this album or the band when I gave it to her (had I not played it for her?). So she put it on the turntable and immediately we started humming to the opening track, “King of Carrot Flowers Pt. 1.” So many songs off this record have that same vibe – they sound familiar even on first listen. What other artists have songs like that? The Beatles? The Beach Boys? Michael Jackson? Most songs off this record just have that sing-songy feel you hear once and feel like you’ve known them forever. Annie still wasn’t totally convinced. Until her older sister heard what we were listening to and signed off with a nod and a “Yeah. Neutral Milk Hotel. That’s cool.” High school cool cred is so elusive.
I assume this is on vinyl, but we listen to it on CD. Avery really likes to sing – in the car, on a walk, in the bathroom, everywhere is suitable for singing according to her. She likes a good beat and she likes female singers. Who has a better beat than the queen? Madonna – The Immaculate Collection.
When I was a kid, probably a little younger than Truman, I had my own little portable record player in my bedroom. It was red, made from plastic, and not very big. I put My Little Pony Stickers on it that, years later, never came off. I didn’t have any money or any way to get to a music store in my small beachside town so the first records I ever had were hand-me-downs from my parents. Harry Belafonte’s Calypso and Simon & Garfunkel’s The Concert In Central Park. Belafonte would came back to me when I saw Beetlejuice for the first time but other than that it didn’t make much of a mark.
For some strange reason, however, I really took to these old guys (one with crazy hair and a funny name) taking the stage in Central Park. I had been to Long Island a few times to visit my grandparents but only once had I been to the heart of New York City. So listening to this record, and the roar of the crowd, got me excited. They were excited, they were singing along. I could close my eyes and picture what this outdoor concert was like and it was a party I wish I had been at (I was 2 when the event took place). Most of the political references went over my head, but I could understand the sadness in their vocals. I quickly started learning the words, since most records in the 80s came with a lyric sheet, and in no time I could understand the plight of people coming to America or why darkness, was my old friend. I became empathetic learning these words and that feeling never went away. As a kid, there is nothing wrong with having a folk music heart. As an adult, it’s important that stays in there too.
Without question, one of the most “important” records ever made for more reasons than I can even approach here is the first Ramones record. One of the most important moments in modern Western Civilization if you ask me. It’s self titled. It’s a masterpiece. What they did with the classic doo-wop and rock and roll they grew up on was truly revolutionary.
Plus, it sounds fucking fantastic to a hyperactive boy – or a middle aged dude who used to be a hyperactive boy. I can hear that record every day for the rest of my life and never grow tired of it.
That’s my number one pick. When he turns 12 or 13, buy him “Tim” and “Let It Be” – Replacements. “London Calling” for his 16th birthday. I could go on and on……
But 9? Yeah, a 9 year old NEEDS the first Ramones record. Hands down.
Dear 9 year old,
If I was asked to choose an album to give someone as their first album, I’d choose Vampire Weekend’s, Modern Vampires of the City, hands down. This album was a gateway into a new realm of music and interests that were sparked along the journey of inspiration this album gave me. Each song has multiple serious and thought-provoking topics that every new-comer to music should consider and form some sort of opinion on at some point. I like to think that this album approaches these concepts in an intriguing perspective to leave the listener pondering such thoughts. I honestly believe that I would not be the person I am today if I had never been given that album as my first physical copy of a piece of music. More specifically, vinyl. Due to the coming-of-age era this album has set me in, it would mean the world to me to pass it on to next generation of music lovers.
A 15 year old
When I was in third grade my friend’s older sister gave me a copy of The Cure – The Walk. I took my brother’s boombox outside and lay in the grass while I listened to it. It was one of the boomboxes that had speakers that detach from the tape deck. I took the speakers and put them on both sides of my head and lay there listening in awe. It was the first time an album really resonated with me. I played it over and over and felt like I could never get enough of it.
It was very challenging to pick just one album. I thought of other artists, like Talking Heads and Brian Eno, but decided that my best bet was to choose my first favorite album. The Cure remained my favorite band until I fell in love with The Pixies. The first song I ever heard by them was, Here comes your man, and I was smitten.
For my sweet Truman, I choose my favorite album from one of my favorite artists: Elvis Costello’s Armed Forces. I was 5 when this record came out, and didn’t hear a track off it until my 7th year, when I became completely obsessed with the wonder and excitement of this new thing called MTV. Seeing short films of all my favorite songs was nothing short of a miracle to me, and watching Elvis’s head be drawn and re-drawn, (in 3-D! on a computer screen!), while “Accidents Will Happen” played, blew my 7-year-old mind (please show Truman the video!). I felt like I was witnessing the future! With that simple video, I was hooked, and a fan for life.
Truman is a thinker, like Elvis. Truman is also lots of fun and often goofy, and so are the songs on this album. Elvis uses evocative imagery and metaphors that I think will really appeal to his young mind. For example, from “Accidents Will Happen”: “There’s so many fish in the sea, that only rise up in the sweat and smoke like mercury.” What is he even talking about? Sometimes, at 41, even I don’t know, but I do know it’s good, it’s true, and it’s real. I like music that can mean different things to you at different times, and I feel Armed Forces is like that. There are layers to discover. I feel like today he can dance to “(What’s So Funny ‘bout) Peace, Love & Understanding;” when he’s 12, if his interest in documentaries persists, he will see past the awesome driving piano and catchy hooks of “Oliver’s Army” and think about what a dick Oliver Cromwell was and how government and war can truly suck; when he’s sixteen, nursing his first real broken heart, he can cry to “Alison.” And right now he can enjoy the line “My aim is true,” because who doesn’t love hearing their name in a song? Later in life, when he’s “searching for light in the darkness of insanity,” Elvis can help him find it.
Oh and Michael Jackson’s Thriller, because, c’mon.
Happy Birthday, my dear, kind, smart, funny boy. I love you so.