Monday, August 21, 2023

When Lyrics Start To Matter, Keep Singing

In my last entry, I mentioned singing a song to my youngest granddaughter at bedtime. I think aside from reading, it’s one of the most important things that adults can do during a child’s upbringing. Reading teaches children storytelling and takes them to a different world. Each tale has its own way of teaching a lesson. Music, while more ethereal, serves the same purpose. Also, since with very few exceptions we no longer sing as part of daily life, it provides a unique personal connection that is usually unshared.

The older sister of the one I mentioned, who is a kindergartner now, lived with us for an extended period while her dad was deployed. This allowed me to be part of her nightly bedtime ritual of bath, stories, songs, and tuck-in. With the adults each taking one step, I ended up singing to her almost every night. Of course, I was not much for lullabies, and instead introduced her to the music I enjoyed. After all, I knew the lyrics to those.

At first, I gleaned songs from my memory she might find easy to understand. She loved it when Puff the Magic Dragon was sung including her name. Then, of course, tunes like Rollover where she was the little one and the Ants Go Marching where her name was used for the ant doing the action elicited giggles. Granted, even though the objective was to get her fall asleep I didn’t mind hearing her laugh a bit before she did. She also liked The Marvelous Toy and The Unicorn Song.

As time went on, I started pulling songs from lots of sources. Rocky Top and Fox on the Run from my bluegrass repertoire, Leaving on a Jet Plane, Blue Bayou, Car Wash Blues, and Operator from my folk-rock history. Double Feature/Science Fiction* and The Rainbow Connection from my soundtrack memories. Lots of other songs made a brief appearance, and then vanished. The idea behind this was to get her to relax and fall asleep.

Even though she’s a kindergartner now, I still get to do this occasionally when I am around for her bedtime. She’s still not very good with titles. One night she asked me to sing the song about ‘your hill and my hill’. It took me a minute to realize she meant This Land Is Your Land. Most of the time, I sing what she asks for but when she can’t decide I’ve been introducing Eagles songs. Then the other night it happened.

I had sung Best of My Love and when I finished, she asked: “Grandpa, what’s that song about?” It took me a minute. I fondly remember the song as semi-romantic, but when I started running through the lyrics in my head, there was no doubt it was a breakup song. Worse, I couldn’t think of a way of explaining a song: Two people who loved each other very much but just couldn’t make it work out. How do you explain that to a five-year-old in such a way she might understand? In the end, I kept it simple: it was about two people who had to say goodbye. She let me get away with that, not asking another question. I was thankful I hadn't sung Hotel California.

It’s a wondrous and wonderful thing to watch her grow up. It’s still at the point where the new discoveries are joyful enough to distract from the fact these days are also disappearing one by one. I’ll continue to sing for her every chance I get, but I’ll be more careful about the songs I pick. Might be time to dust off Puff again.

*-Whereas the movie that the song Double Feature/Science Fiction is intended for adults, the song itself is about 50s era Science Fiction movies and is harmless. 


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