Music for Babes


If I had to name my single greatest regret, it would be that the first piece of music my daughter ever heard was “Work” by Iggy Azalea. We hadn’t even left the hospital yet, and we’d already played a song — an awful one! — that I disliked so strongly I felt myself tensing up listening to it. But she was fussy and unhappy and that was one of the only things we actually had downloaded on our phones. So, “Work” by Iggy Azalea.

I regretted it because music is so terribly important to me: It is a thing to be taken seriously. Though I didn’t do a ton of pre-baby planning, I spent A LOT of time thinking about how I wanted her to be introduced to music. My favorites of course, but also new things, more adventurous things, and classical music, which I had barely heard until I was in college. I made playlists for her. I thought about how exciting it would be — every time I played something new — A Hard Day’s Night! — she would be hearing it for the first time.

My childhood musical obsessions were Sesame Street songs — the disco version of “What Makes Music” was a standard — and the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack of the 1982 film Annie, which is also the first movie I ever remember seeing in a theater. But music, I have found via the good vibrations of Zelda, is something which we discover naturally, and don’t need to be taught. It’s true that music does soothe very young babies, so, though we played a never-ending stream of white noise tracks for sleeping times, often during the day, I would sing to her. I began to build a repertoire, because, I noticed, babies also love to hear the same things over and over again — just like I do!

I started with just two songs: the Itsy Bitsy Spider, which I chose because it is incredibly creepy but lends itself to improvisation, and “Alligator” by Tegan and Sara. Slowly but without intention I added “Tomorrow” from Annie, “Oh My Dear” by Ween, Frère Jacques (which I sometimes translate to Frere Zelda), and finally, “White Teeth Teens” by Lorde. Now, I don’t have a great singing voice, but sometimes, I really put my whole effort into singing these songs to her, as much to entertain myself as to soothe her. In the past ten months, I’ve probably sung each of them hundreds of times.

As with lots of other repetitive things in life, the beauty blooms from the repetition. Just last week we listened to the Tegan and Sara record Sainthood during dinner. When “Alligator” came on, Zelda looked shocked and peeked around the corner toward the direction of the speakers. Then she looked and me and smiled, showing me her beautiful new teeth. I was amazed because I realized, for the first time, that my bad, personal a capella version of the song was good enough that she recognized it when she heard the original. Not bad, Topolskys, not bad.

Zelda also picks her own music. In our daily eight or nine hours of playtime, often in her room, I randomly play music I like for her, and she always perks up when she hears things she likes. She loves Blitzen Trapper, Brian Eno, and Madonna. To my dismay, she doesn’t appreciate Wire at all. But she loves nothing more than Lorde. We have listened to Pure Heroine a thousand times, easily, because we usually listen to it three or four times a day, no joke. We played it for her early on simply because my husband liked it and it was weirdly soothing — pop music, but music that sounds great at a low, hushed volume. I wasn’t a fan, but she seemed to enjoy it so we played it over and over while she lay there, snoozing or awake. It was relentless, and it beat a path into my skull.

One Saturday morning in April, about two months deep into daily doses of Lorde, on a drive upstate, we put her on the stereo in an attempt to keep Zelda — who wasn’t used to cars — calm. Looking out the window, I realized that I knew all of the lyrics to Pure Heroine. Also, I had to admit that the production was really very good. Also, the songs are excellent. “You know what’s strange about this album?” I said to Josh, “there isn’t a bad song on it, I guess.” I had allowed my daughter’s taste to steamroll me into submission. I too, loved Lorde.

The Parent Rap is an endearing column about the fucked up and cruel world of parenting.

Photo by lostintheredwoods