Songs in The Key of Bean

Occupational Hazards of Parenting: The Earworm

I’m not talking about a literal worm in the ear. I am talking about the German ohrwurm: a song that gets stuck in your head. (Bonus unrelated German word: backpfeifengesicht, “a face that cries out for a fist in it”.)

Anyone is susceptible to the earworm. As a parent (or child minder or school teacher) you are susceptible to particularly awful ones. I can only imagine the searing groove songs like Hakuna Matata and Baby Beluga wore in the brains of parents unfortunate enough to have kids in the target audience at the time. I myself have lain awake many a night with the theme song to Peppa Pig going round and round in my brain. It literally goes like this:

Pe-ppa Pig!

[bink, bink-bink BINK-bink, bink-bink bink-bink-BINK-bink]

Pe-ppa Pig.

[bink, bink-bink BINK-bink, bink-bink bink-bink-BINK-bink]

Pe-ppa PIG!

[bink, bink-bink BINK-bink, bink-bink bink-bink-bink-BINK!]

Lately, however, the makers of music for children– specifically those making music for children’s movies– seem to be giving us a slightly better class of earworm. The Despicable Me movies especially:

(The whole song is here, and it’s pretty fab.)

You can also go the Devo route with the LEGO Movie. This song is used in the story as an illustration of mindless corporate pap, but it’s actually pretty catchy:

Plus the lyrics are kind of hilarious:

I feel more awesome than an awesome possum
Dip my body in chocolate frostin’
Three years later wash off the frostin’
Smellin’ like a blossom, everything is awesome

However, nobody does earworms like Disney. If you gather together any number of women who have raised (or who have been) girls in the last 25 years, and begin singing “The seaweed is always greener on somebody else’s plate–” 

You are very likely to get a sing-along going very quickly. I have found myself belting out Disney hits in the shower, chanting them on runs, crooning them as lullabies. And, most recently, horrifying my husband while cleaning the kitchen:

Name your children’s music-related earworms in the comments below, please.

Bean’s Screening Room: Singin’ In The Rain (1952)

About 48 weeks ago I was on board an airliner headed east across the north Atlantic. Greenland was slipping by in the dark about 35,000 feet below us. Trev was gently snoozing in the window seat. Behind us, around us, and across the aisle were pre-teen choir kids in matching polo shirts and hats, quietly playing cards, or sleeping, or watching movies on their seat-back screens.

Bean was restless: the endless parade of flight attendants bringing drinks or food or duty-free perfume made it impossible for her to drift off. I tried to get her to watch a movie. She didn’t pay attention to Wall-E. There were 856 Harry Potter sequels available, but I thought they were too scary for someone just 16 months old. In the “classics” section was the Wizard of Oz, but it wouldn’t play for some reason.

So I queued up Singin’ In The Rain, and popped the headphones onto Bean’s head. For a while she was more interested in taking the headphones on and off: now I hear things, now I don’t. Then the dancing started:

She was mesmerized. Obviously, for a toddler, the plot of Singin’ is immaterial: in the 1920s, successful silent movie actor Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) makes the difficult transition to talkie pictures with the help of his zany pal Cosmo (Donald O’Connor) and Princess Leia’s mom (Debbie Reynolds).  This is probably Hollywood’s favorite subject– itself– but rarely is it carried off with so much charm and fun. Jean Hagen’s turn as Don’s scheming, screechy leading lady is pretty terrific, too (she was nominated for an Oscar):

I also like the relationships in the film. Sure, Debbie Reynolds’s character Kathy is a little dull, but she’s actually friends with Don, not merely a trophy to be sought and won. After losing track of her following a chance meeting (he jumps into her car to escape a mob of fans) Don goes looking for Kathy not just because she’s cute, but because she made him think critically about his job. It ain’t Shaw or whatever, but if half the films that came out today portrayed even this level of nuance in the relationships between men and women, we’d be better served.

Of course, for the Bean, both on that airplane and now at home, it’s about the musical numbers.  Here’s the amazing slapstick of “Make ‘Em Laugh”:

Some explosive hoofin’ (Gene Kelly, BTW, did all the choreography for these numbers, to the point where he has a co-credit as the film’s director) in “Moses Supposes”:

And the HOLY COW hotness of Cyd Charisse and her legs in the “Broadway Melody” section:

Finally, there’s the big one. Imagine having a 103-degree fever while doing this:

This is a film that came out the year Bean’s maternal grandparents were born, but I’m glad that she is so enthralled by it, to the point where she puts it in the DVD player and tries to dance along.

Gene Kelly was an admirable guy, and not just for his ability to put a smile on your face as an entertainer. He had a relentless work ethic, a perfectionist’s drive to learn, and a deep respect for people who bother enough in life to master anything, whether it was tap-dancing or carpentry. Taunted in his early years by people who thought a man who danced must be a “sissy”, he deliberately built himself up to an athletic standard and avoided the top-hat-and-tails style of dancing in favor of t-shirts and street clothes: he wanted the average guy in the street to know that dancing and singing are an important part of enjoying life.

In an age when most celebrities only have a talent for self-promotion, I think it’s worthwhile to expose your kid to people who struggled to make something beautiful or lasting or useful during their lifetimes, whether they were artists or scientists or social reformers or writers. Gene Kelly, in my opinion, qualifies.

In The Most Delightful Way

There’s a rule of parenting: never buy your kids a book, music record, or video you don’t plan to memorize. I should have known this, seeing as how I grew up with two sisters who demanded repeated readings of There Are Rocks In My Socks! Said The Ox to the Fox and wore out the tape of Land Before Time.

Since late July, we have been memorizing Mary Poppins. I don’t know if it’s the singing farmyard animals, or Julie Andrews, or even Dick Van Dyke’s risible “cock-er-nee” accent, but the Bean’s hooked.

It’s bad. She will park herself in front of the DVD player, holding the case, and give you puppy eyes until you come over and set it up. If you don’t move fast enough, she will try to put the disk in herself, not quite seating it properly in the carrier. There will be a terrible grinding noise from the machine, and she will grunt: why isn’t it playing?

On Saturday, I tried to put in The Wizard of Oz for a change. Once the MGM titles came up, she turned off the machine, ejected the disk, and handed it to me. “Neh,” she said, shaking her head.

I reckon we have watched “Mary Poppins” five days out of seven for about a month now. That’s a lot of spoonfuls of sugar.

It’s like there’s a spell on the house, full of scratchy Disney animation from the ’60s and the (admittedly extremely impressive) warbling of Dame Julie. So, in an effort to break the spell, I will ruin this film the way I ruined movies during my college career: by overanalyzing it to death.

Ready? Spitspot, best foot forward!

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It’s All Part of My Autumn Almanac

Here’s one I’ve had fun belting out to the Bean recently:

And she enjoys flapping along to it with vigor. For your delectation, here are some photos and video from the last few days.  First, Raspberry War:

Next, some snaps from the garden as it winds down:

7' tall with a seed-head as big as my own

7' tall with a seed-head as big as my own

I’m not proud of my work (more accurately, my neglect) in the garden this year. But this sunflower was pretty kick-butt. Too bad my photos of it in its full glory were all out of focus.

Peonies are pretty even in October

Peonies are pretty even in October

Note to self: buy a better camera. These peony plants look marvelous in person.  However, this little bloom never fails to please:

Little budling.

Little budling.

It’s kind of amazing how pretty she is.

"La la la.." she said.

"La la la.." she said.

I hope she gets to keep those terrific eyelashes. I think she got them from Trev, and his are still pretty fantastic.

It's you!

It's you!

Yep. October is pretty swell so far.

Songs in the Key of Bean: The Rainbow Connection

Today is Mothers’ Day in the US, and in addition to my own mother I would like to thank Jim Henson’s mother, because she threw away a green coat. Her son fished it out of the bin,  added some ping-pong balls for eyes, and gave the world Kermit the Frog.  And among all the wonderfulness we’ve had from the Muppets, there is nothing quite like this song.

It’s awfully adult for a kid’s movie, if you think about it– all that dreaming and stargazing and longing– but it is far and away Bean’s favorite to have sung to her so far. I can almost get through it without choking up sometimes, too.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “Rainbow Connection – a Film & TV video“, posted with vodpod

Songs in the Key of Bean: Born at the Right Time

Now that Bean is nearly two months old, her hearing is almost completely matured and she seems to really be interested in music. There is a lot to love about this Paul Simon song (from 1991’s Rhythm of the Saints), even in the less-than-ideal recording I found on YouTube:

It’s a beautiful, gentle song, showing Simon’s usual attention to detail in the arrangement. There are a lot of different tone colors– guitars, piano, accordion, horns. The lyric is beautiful, especially the chorus, which is nice to sing aloud to the baby:

Never been lonely

Never been lied to

Never had to scuffle in fear

Nothing denied to

Born at the instant

The church bells chime

The whole world whispering:

“Born at the right time.”

And of course, I always smile at this:

But down among the reeds and rushes

A baby girl was found

Her eyes as clear as centuries

Her silky hair was brown

beanbathClear as centuries, indeed.

Bean enjoys being rocked to this song while she’s nursing, and with the weather warming up the South American-inflected melody seems especially appropriate. I’m sure we’ll get a lot of wear out of this song as she gets older. Add it to your playlist if you have a little one around the house, or even if you don’t.

Songs In The Key Of Bean: Deep Blue Day

Our journey into alternative lullaby music continues, following on from last week’s piece by Erik Satie to this one by an artist who claims to have taken inspriation from Satie. People who raise an eyebrow at Bean’s four names should get a load of the mouthful this week’s featured composer was slapped with at birth:  Brian Peter George St. John le Baptiste de la Salle Eno, known as Brian Eno for short, is probably most celebrated for his turns as a producer with bands like U2 and Talking Heads.

Much of his body of work involves what he calls “ambient music”– music that isn’t about anything but is intended to be a background, as “interesting as it is ignorable”. Or at least that’s a dumbed down version of the artsy-fartsy rationale for it. Normal humans who have not been to art school would probably just call it “instrumental” or “soundtrack” music.

Anyway, here’s this:

Commenters on the YouTube discussion board referred to this as “galactic luau” music, and I think that’s as apt a description as any. At any rate it is lovely and peaceful and Bean contentedly snuggles down when it is played.