Last year, I wrote a blog for the Guardian
in which, tongue planted firmly in cheek, I fretted about ways in which I could ensure that my children grew up with the same — how to put this? — absolutely impeccable taste in music that I have. Should I force feed them a diet of the Replacements, the Blue Nile, Funkadelic, and American Music Club until they succumb? Or should I just let them listen to whatever the hell they want — even dross like Akon, for pity's sake — in order to foster an enthusiasm for music that would, eventually, lead them down the path to righteousness? (Yes, of course I already knew the correct answer — it was just a bit of fun).
At the time, they were six, three, and one. One minute they'd be listening to the Wiggles; the next, Bob Dylan. Over the past 12 months, however, I've been consistently amazed at the very firm choices they're beginning to make regarding the music they actively want to listen to. It's been great. And a real eye-opener.
My eldest girl is now a committed Tom Waits fan, so much so that when I managed to blag a pair of gold-dust tickets to one of his two recent UK shows, she really, really wanted to come with me. I'd have loved to have shared Waits's mesmerising ringmaster act with her, but in the end I had to gently point out that if I didn't take her mother I might never be allowed back in the house.
She also loves Abba, The Smiths ("Girl Afraid" is her favourite), Willie Nelson, the Chiffons, Nick Lowe (especially his last album, At My Age), the Sugababes, and The Cure. She has decided she's not too keen on U2, the Waterboys, and Aztec Camera, while I've decided I can live without Girls Aloud and, well, Akon. We don't fight about it often.
My four-year-old son, meanwhile, simply becomes fixated with certain songs rather than bands or artists. I've noticed, too, that he really picks up on the lyrics. The first song he truly loved was "Rehab" (here's hoping it's not prophetic), possibly because the hook — "no, no, no" — happens to be his favourite phrase in the whole world. Then he loved "GirlShapedLoveDrug" by Gomez, which he insisted on calling "Wicked Girl." Then, fantastically, it was "High Hopes" by Frank Sinatra, played over and over again on car journeys until I thought my brain would also go KERPLOP.
Now, it's "Sunday Girl" by Blondie, which he demands to hear over and over again. In French. I kid myself it's educational. While I was writing I Shot a Man in Reno, he would occasionally drop in and ask why I was listening to all these sad songs: "Why is she dead, Daddy?"; "Has he crashed his car again?" He really loved "Ebony Eyes" by the Everly Brothers, but then, who doesn't? My two-year-old daughter is still besotted with "Puff the Magic Dragon," although she's partial to a bit of David Bowie, which is encouraging. They all, naturally, love "Yellow Submarine."
These firm preferences have emerged from the mass of music perpetually playing in the kitchen, or in my office, and especially in the car, whether on the radio or on CD. Discovering the types of music they love and the kinds of voices they gravitate toward has provided a fascinating insight into their distinct personalities. And I've confirmed what I already knew. Saying to a child, "Listen to this, it's great," is a sure-fire turn off. On the other hand, letting them discover things for themselves and then discussing their preferences — and occasionally saying, "Hey, come and listen to this and let me know what you think" — is a brilliant way of giving them the confidence to form their own opinions about what they like and don't like in all walks of life.
Of course, I've also learned that there's nothing quite so effective as a child's boundless enthusiasm when it comes to ruining one of your favourite songs. But, hey, it's a small price to pay.