About two years ago my then nine-year-old son discovered that the public radio station I regularly played in the car was not cool. He wanted to have his own radio so he could listen to the commercial pop station the kids at school talked about. I wasn’t ready for him to listen to the station on his own, but I agreed to tune in for short car trips when I could monitor the music selections.
As a child I was much older when I began paying attention to the radio, and of course even way back then there was plenty of sexuality and double entendre in the songs I listened to. So why should I be so unprepared for what I hear on my son’s station of choice? Rather than just clap, sing along, and feel proud that I know the latest hits, I now spend our car trips to school analyzing song lyrics and trying to engage my children in discussions about what’s appropriate for kids (after quickly hitting the mute button or popping in a Raffi CD). Thanks, pop music, for bringing us a whole new way to have family discussions about sex and drugs!
To be honest, some of the tunes we’ve heard on commercial radio are really fun and catchy. The kids and I enjoy looking for some of the songs we’ve heard to download on iTunes. Once we caught the tail end of a fun, happy song about whistling, and my daughter begged me to find it. After putting it on a CD for a long car trip, we had a chance to really hear the lyrics I’d overlooked, which included references to hand position, the need to move slowly and smoothly, and blow a whistle. Oops! Should have listened to the whole song first. I didn’t explain anymore about that song, and made a point of skipping it whenever I could get away with it. “Less said, the better,” my husband kept saying.
On a recent trip to school, we had another child in the car with us, and the kids requested some music. I wanted nothing more than to put in the CD of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Mass in G minor I’d left sitting in the front seat. But, alas, nothing would do but the cool station. My kids’ friend seemed to know the words to just about every song. As the nine-year-old girl sang in her sweet child’s voice, “I want to make love to yo-o-u-u-u!” my son suddenly had had enough, and pleaded with me to change the station or put in a CD. “Gladly!” I said, quickly popping in a CD of alternative music I’d downloaded after hearing it on a hip public radio arts and culture show (which is apparently very popular among 40-something moms who want to be down with the alternative music scene).
The songs may all be new, but raunchy messages in popular music have been around for a long time. The madrigal group I sing with held a mini-concert this weekend, and we had a debate in the group as to who would be brave enough to introduce a song called “Tutto lo di’ mi dici” and give the audience the translation from old Italian. The song by Renaissance composer Orlando di Lasso translates roughly (cobbled together by a friend of mine from several sources) like this:
All day long you tell me "Sing!"
Don't you see that I'm unable to catch my breath?
What's with all this singing?
I wish you would tell me "Play on an instrument!"
And not on the bell for chapel either,
But on your very own organ.
Oh, if only I could manage to... (doodle doodle doo)
If only I could get you under me!
I can only imagine the conversations Renaissance moms had with their kids after hearing that song.
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