"She Sells Sanctuary" – The Cult There's nothing cynical about this one. It's a straight-up rock ‘n’ roll love song anchored by a soaring guitar hook and Ian Astbury's sturdy English yowl.
When you were a week old, we took a family trip to the diner. You still weren't nursing, or sleeping, or smiling. You were a scowling, spiky-haired bundle of complications. That night, when you started kvetching in your baby seat, I picked you up and paced around the table, bouncing in time to “She Sells Sanctuary,” which had just started playing. Friends, family, and What To Expect hadn't cracked my postpartum malaise. But a snappy little rock song somehow wormed its way beneath my shell shock and managed to convince me that I might one day sleep or smile again.
"Theme to Twisted Nerve" – Bernard Herrmann
My entertainment choices following your birth were somewhat atypical. Teletubbies? Out. Tarantino? Bring it on! Once your bouncy seat was turned away from the TV, it was all gore, all the time. The fictional and fractured were an ideal refuge, considering that the real and sacred had taken over my world (and then puked down my shirt).
“Theme From Twisted Nerve” was the sinister little ditty whistled by Darryl Hannah's one-eyed assassin in Kill Bill. It was also the first piece of music you really enjoyed. I was humming it mid-diaper change when you began smiling, then laughing. I wasn't exactly sure why my child preferred a foreboding instrumental to “Ba Ba Black Sheep.” Nonetheless, it became a staple of our lullaby repertoire.
"Calabria 2000" – Enur w/Mims While your musical tastes would become more adventurous (most preschoolers don't sing along with Ian MacKaye), your first favorite song was a silly novelty single. And rightly so -- "fun and infectious" are to audiophiles what mashed bananas are to gourmets... something simple and tasty to whet a developing palate.
"Calabria 2000" is more Twinkie than banana. It's a butt-bouncing Jamaican dancehall tune, gussied up with a Timbaland-style spit-shine.
It was a staple of Top 40 radio during the summer of aught-eight. The 17,852nd time its telltale baritone sax line emerged from our radio, your eyes lit up. “Mommy, do you remember this song?” you grinned. “It's my best song! I... I... I MISSED this song!”
The closest grown-up equivalent to that innocent auditory rapture is the Replacements' "Alex Chilton" ("I'm in love / What's that song? / I'm in love / With that song"). And while it's a wonderful track, it still took infinitely more time and booze to conjure up than "I MISSED this song!" From the mouths of babes, indeed.
"Sliver" – Nirvana
This Incesticide-era single was Nirvana at their best... simultaneously melodic and blistering. It was a staple of mid-‘90s alt-radio and a staple of my life, too. Cobain’s larynx-shredding shrieks had followed me from cassette to CD to MP3. But it wasn't until your birth that "Sliver" made me burst into tears. It captures a more gut-wrenching side of the parent/child bond than Hallmark ever has. People like to discuss parental readiness. Teenagers aren't “ready.” People with stock options and Stainmaster carpets are “ready.” Truth is, you're never ready... even after the kid arrives. Nothing prepares you for being a fragile creature's sole defense against an often-cruel world. You're in charge. You're the grown-up. It's up to you to make things safe, and when you inevitably fail, it's up to you to make them better. Your connection to your child is beautiful, but it's also frighteningly visceral, a fact which "Sliver" absolutely nails.
"Baba O'Riley" – The Who
When this came on, you chirped, "I LIKE this song!," then informed me that “Baba O' Riley” is, “... purple. An' yellow, too.” While I'd prefer you keep your distance from Pete Townsend, I'm happy to see you enjoy the classics (in all their purple-and-yellow glory).
"Day Tripper" – The Beatles
You always had an uncanny ability to reproduce sounds (at two, you did a pitch-perfect imitation of the air wrench at Jiffy Lube). “Day Tripper” was your first instance of musical mimicry, however. You were sitting in a shopping cart at IKEA, attempting to dismantle mommy's recently-selected Swedish housewares. As I was contemplating some ladles, I heard a squeaky little warble behind me. "Dun... dun dun dun dun dun, dun dun dun dun dun!" It stands to reason that a toddler would love early Beatles. Before the drugs, sitars, and Yoko Ono-schtupping, the Beatles were pioneers of bright, cheery pop. “Day Tripper”'s gentle harmonizing and imminently-hummable guitar line are just as listenable today as they were four generations ago. If there's such a thing as "majestically slight," this is it.
"Fame Throwa" – Pavement
On the other end of the spectrum, there's majestically weird. Pavement's mini-opus slinks from ‘60s psychedelia to proto-hardcore and back again. It's kinda like what would happen if ?uestion Mark and the Mysterians commemorated the apocalypse by jamming with Minor Threat. You neither knew nor cared about “Fame Throwa’”s influences. You only knew that it featured Stephen Malkmus trilling, “Sha la la la la la la la,” and that this falsetto was the pinnacle of awesomeness. For weeks, you only had ears for "Sha La La". Whenever you spied audio equipment, you'd begin chirping, “Play 'Sha La La'! I wanna listen to 'Sha La La!'” It's comforting to know that obsessive listening begins so early. It wasn't the trauma of junior high which made me listen to “Nevermind” for two years straight... it was in my blood!
Don't Let Us Get Sick – Warren Zevon
Zevon was often viewed as the class clown of classic rock. His raspy vocals and rollicking guitars were enlivened by a caustic, often-morbid sense of humor. Surprisingly, though, the man behind “My Shit's Fucked Up” and “I'll Sleep When I'm Dead” had a tender side. His sweetness was every bit as blunt as his sarcasm. Zevon never compared his love to a summer's day, but his words left no doubt as to the depth and sincerity of his feelings. "Don't Let Us Get Sick" is gorgeous and hushed, half love song, half prayer. The guitar's acoustic, the lyrics are simple... but the sentiment is something that's been felt by anyone who's ever loved hard... please, please, don't let the universe hurt us as badly as we both know it can.
I sang it to you when you were as big as a sack of flour. I sang it to you while you gave me delighted, mono-toothed smiles. Lately, you've been singing it to me... or at least your own rendition thereof. “Don't get sick... don't getolllllld... don't get STUPID!...HA!... alright? Make us be brave... make us play niiiiiiiiiice... let us be togevver toniiiiiiiiiiiiight!” You don't really know what it means yet. You're just beginning to learn the power of music (and still resent having to listen to anything other than “Sha La La”). I'll keep the hits coming though, in the hopes that you'll always keep Zevon EPs and monumental love on your shelf.