Friday, May 14, 2010
potentially counterproductive lullabies
When Noah and Aviva were babies, any sufficiently downtempo, soothing, ideally minor-key tune would work to conk them out. Now, of course, they are very sharp and pay attention to lyrics.
Not long ago, while I was singing him to sleep, Noah brought it to my attention that almost all the lullabies I sing have pretty disturbing themes, such as:
- Suicidal ideation
- Substandard working conditions leading to lethal disease
- Untimely death by drowning; unquiet souls
- Death by heartbreak
- Desperate longing to be free of dream-crushing circumstances
- Salvation vs. hellfire
- Heartbreaking impending loss of love learned about via rumor
- Domestic abuse; manipulative relationships
Note: I don't actually sing this version, but I love it
- Biblical criticism, modern uncertainty, impotence, lethal conflict, and being eaten by fish
- Drought, alcoholism and the death of celebrities
- Drought, amnesia, and sunburn
- Divorce, addiction, and despair
- Stress, compulsive infidelity, and troubled relationships
- Nuclear war
- Insatiable lust for fame and influence
- Bitter irony, heartbreak, and squandered chances
- Social unrest; the Vietnam war
- Confining social mores, revenge murder, and lynching
Only the standbys -- "Summertime", "Dream Fairy Dear", and the Shema -- are reasonably upbeat thematically.
In my defense, they do eventually go to sleep anyway.
Posted by benrosen at May 14, 2010 10:37 AM
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Most often, when I'm in need of a song to sing to children, the only song that comes to mind is "Miss Otis Regrets." :-)
Luke and I in his extreme youth would take long drives and listen to Tool, which never failed to put him to sleep. This song was his favorite.
These aren't exactly typical lullabies, although many of those are disturbing, too...I however completely disagree with your interpretation of "Take it Easy"
While "Summertime" is upbeat in itself, within the context of Porgy it's a trifle problematic... In addition to the obvious stuff (the three versions of the song are stages in the baby's abandonment), there's the song's presentation specifically as a woman's lullaby. The baby's father tries to sing it to sleep with "A Woman is a Sometime Thing", which doesn't work so well. Or have you tried that one, too?
I should say: of all of those, I think "Summertime" is the only one on your list I frequently sing to my children, but then I sing "My Darling Clementine" and "Old Dan Tucker" to them, along with "Don't Fence Me In" and "Bully in the Alley".
Shoshana, in your interpretation of "Take It Easy", why exactly is it that you think the two women want to stone him? Not to mention that the four who want to own him don't seem to be delighted with the current arrangement -- but that could just suggest commitment-phobia; it's the two who want to stone him which suggest some degree of previous deceit. (And do the sound of your own wheels usually drive you crazy when you are not stressed out?)
You know, V, I've never seen the entirety of Porgy, I really should. No surprise that it is darker than I imagined. "Clementine" is definitely right up there in the nightmare lullaby parade.
You should try the real lullabies by the Simon Sisters (Carly & Lucy), especially "Who Has Seen the Wind" http://www.amazon.com/dp/B001I1SFRA
I do sing "Who Has Seen The Wind"! I suppose that should be on the list of non-scary ones (though the theological argument it advances, namely that we cannot induce non-existence from an absence of physical evidence, could be easily as creepy as reassuring, depending on which unseen entities you are in a mood to postulate).
I think these themes are in perfect keeping with the Grimm's Fairy Tales my mother read to us as children, as well as the terrifying Southern folk tales such as Tailypo.
I'd say you're doing just fine. What is sleep if not a teeny slice of death just a little too soon? Children should go into it with fear and dread, I say!
One of Kavi's favorites is Trout Fishing in America's "Lullaby", which involves plunging to your death from dragonback -- but hey, it's okay, 'cause your parent will die right along with you. :-)
"I'll be beside you if you fall..."
She also is on a "Hush Little Baby" kick, which is the most unabashedly consumerist lullaby I know. The number of things that mama will buy for her child if she'll just please, oh please, dear god please go to sleep is truly astonishing.
"The Lion Sleeps Tonight" is relatively innocuous, at least.
What about Bobby Shaftoe and the Noah and Aviva songs?
I'm not that competent at singing the Noah and Aviva songs without accompaniment.
I did add Bobby Shaftoe and Lion Sleeps Tonight to the mix. With the latter, the only problem is keeping them from singing the "Wimowe" part, which winds them up. :-)
Oh, and we used to sing Hush Little Baby, with various invented verses. One thing I used to add was the following recursive verse:
"...poppa's going to buy you a lovely gnu.
And if that gnu won't do what gnus do,
then poppa's going to buy you another gnu.
And if that gnu won't do what gnus do..."
(This of course is because GNU itself is a recursive acronym, for GNU's Not Unix...)
If you don't know it already, you should probably learn Daniel Glasser's lullaby, "Close your eyes".
Yes, so I'm insanely late to the party, so I regret to inform you that "Desperate longing to be free of dream-crushing circumstances" and "Drought, amnesia, and sunburn" have been removed from YouTube.
What were they? Also, the Marvin Gaye version of I heard it through the grapevine... well, I guess the tempo's more restful than The Gladys Knight & the Pips's version.
"Desperate longing to be free of dream-crushing circumstances" => "Somewhere Over The Rainbow"
"Drought, amnesia, and sunburn" => "A Horse With No Name"
I do sing "Grapevine" a lot more downtempo than Motown does for lullaby purposes...