GUEST BLOGGER: KYLE MONSON

Kyle wrote this post seven months ago when he and his wife Corinne were expecting their first baby. Arrived now, the lucky girl has a great music tutor in her father (see photo). When Kyle got bored in high school homeroom, he would grab staff paper and write out the various parts to U2 songs for fun. Now he plays with his band Mere that has opened for bands like Oasis and 7 Mary 3, released several CDs, and done a lot of other cool stuff. Kyle has still kept day jobs however with Newsweek, PC Mag, and now JWT just to keep himself well rounded.

The part of parenthood that I’m most excited about—besides, you know, the perpetuation of the human race—is enjoying music with the kid(s). It’s like getting a blank Etch A Sketch to play with, a musical tabula rasa. I’ll be able to listen to my favorite tunes with someone whose mind is unencumbered by all the cultural baggage we attach to bands, songs, and genres. There is no “cool,” there is only “fun” and “not fun.”

I think we assign way too much social context to our music; we judge musicians by the fit of their jeans, the fit of their fans’ jeans, the amount of radio play they get, etc. None of that stuff has much to do with the actual music—the collection of notes, chords, and words that make up a song. I can’t wait to see what kind of meanings and memories our child attaches to songs when she doesn’t have access to the cultural context.

As an example, my dad is a big Motown fan, and has been since he was a kid. My head is full of nice memories that I’ve attached to those old Jackson 5 and Supremes and Temptations and Four Tops songs. I’ll always remember driving through the Sierra Nevada mountains on a family road trip when I was 10 or 11 listening to The J5’s “The Love You Save” over and over.

My dad’s dad, not surprisingly, referred to that kind of music with a racial epithet that I won’t repeat, but I’m extremely grateful to my dad for: 1) listening to it anyway; 2) passing the appreciation of that music on to me, stripped of its social context that my grandpa and my dad assigned it.

Those Motown tunes represented something to my grandpa—perhaps otherness, perhaps the uneasy race relations of his generation, I’m not sure. To my dad, the music may have represented rebellion to a certain extent, or who knows what else. But I was able to enjoy those songs on their own.

Of course, you’d be right to say that we lose something valuable when we strip Motown music of its historical context. But I’ve had plenty of time to fill in the music’s missing metadata since I was 11, and my daughter will too. Context-free living is not permanent—hopefully she’ll enjoy it while it lasts.

Pulling from a playlist I made recently, my kid will be able to listen to Mates of State, Mere, The Meters, Mika, The Monkees, and Neutral Milk Hotel back to back without realizing that it’d be an uneasy blend of like five radio formats. Hipster music, indie bands, emo, post-punk, nu-grass, oldies, gay disco…it’s all just songs when you don’t know any better!

To get all tangential for a moment, Corinne and I watched a great documentary called My Kid Could Paint That, the true story of a four-year-old who becomes an art celebrity when her modern art canvases start selling for $15K, $20K, $25K. Her paintings are considered brilliant, until a 60 Minutes report comes out that claims that she’s not producing the works on her own (her dad was accused of helping her).

Of course, in the art world, this is the most scandalous thing that could happen. “The four-year-old whose painting I just bought for $20K was getting help from her father??”

And why is it so scandalous? Because those art buyers were paying for context, not paint and canvas and skill, nor even beauty. The paintings they bought are still the paintings hanging on their walls. The beauty of the paint on the canvas doesn’t change a bit when they find out the artist’s a fraud—it looks the exact same. But the context is now different. Any themes they saw in those paintings—innocence, youth, precociousness—are still there, or else the buyers were deluding themselves into recognizing those themes in the first place. (I’d say that’s the Grand Dilemma of modern art.)

Boy With A Pipe is worth an immense fortune because it was painted by Picasso; were it done by another painter, even if every brushstroke and hue were the exact same, it would be worth a fraction of that; 99% of the value of that painting is in the context.

Anyway, I’m excited to have a little person around who can enjoy a fun song as a fun song, a good book as a good book, and a pretty picture as a pretty picture.

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