- The Washington Times - Friday, April 3, 2009

James Taylor says he still gets requests for “Jellyman Kelly,” a song he performed on “Sesame Street” in 1983.

“Television is powerful,” Mr. Taylor told Michael Davis, author of the entertaining new volume “Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street.”

He might have added: Parents, at least for a time, are powerful — and, these days, they’re seemingly more concerned than ever about just what kind of songs their children are going to remember in 25 years’ time.

Take, for example, Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl’s account of what he’s been listening to lately. “It’s whatever my daughter can dance to,” he told Rolling Stone. “And she has [superior] taste in music. She doesn’t go for Wiggles or Barney … She digs Amy Winehouse, and she loves the Cars.”

“I put on a Mastodon record the other day, and she started dancing to that,” Mr. Grohl continued. “I immediately turned it off, thinking, ‘I don’t know if I like the fact that you’re 16 months and into thrash metal. You’re growing up a little too quick for me, honey.’”

There in a nutshell is the well-to-do urban parenting mentality: the acute concern with proper aesthetic formation and the subsequent conflation of the parents’ own tastes with their children’s supposed whimsicality and independence. Many such parents are part of a growing backlash against popular Disney Channel juggernauts such as “The Wiggles” and “Hannah Montana.”

Alternatives come in the form of benign, unapologetically catchy “kindie rock” (that is, indie rock geared for children — about which I’ve written favorably in this column).

Yet an increasing number of parents have decided to dispense with children’s music altogether and head straight to the Beatles and the Ramones.

At “Baby Loves Disco” dance parties (held locally at the Rock and Roll Hotel), one can find lots of Mr. and Mrs. Grohls guiding their children in the subtle art of appreciation from an ironic distance. They are the target market, too, of the independent, locally produced children’s show “Pancake Mountain,” which features punk and indie rock acts.

It’s a stark contrast to what Mr. Davis calls the “stealth ambition” of a show like “Sesame Street”: to take advantage of that brief window of time in which young children are profoundly impressionable and perhaps even to stretch parents’ own notions of good taste.

Cellist Yo-Yo Ma and violinist Itzhak Perlman have appeared on the program, as did the late Ray Charles and Johnny Cash. The goal, Mr. Davis says, is to “expose children to as many genres and styles as possible.”

That seems to be the universal mantra of those who work in children’s entertainment: Don’t impose — expose.

Kathy O’Connell, host of indie-radio station WXPN-FM’s “Kids Corner,” has fielded complaints from melody-weary parents at least since the 1992 debut of PBS’ “Barney & Friends.”

While she’s all for parents sharing their own music with their children — “even disco” — Ms. O’Connell says, “Sometimes, parents overthink this kind of stuff. Don’t you have enough to worry about already?”

She adds that the quickest way to sour your children on music you consider essential is to play it incessantly, as happened in her own listening life — she couldn’t bear the sound of her father’s favorite singer, Tony Bennett, until relatively recently.

Laurie Berkner, a singer-songwriter who appears frequently on the children’s TV network Noggin, has wrestled with these issues while raising her own child. She reflects on the way certain ‘80s hits prompt feelings of affectionate nostalgia: Are they great songs — or do they merely evoke Kodak moments?

“Music is so personal. It’s connected to our memories and experiences, and it affects us so deeply,” she says. “I want to share that with my daughter — but she’s had a different life.”

“If your kids love the Wiggles and you don’t, let them have something that’s theirs,” Ms. O’Connell agrees.

“It’s not like they’re asking to buy a pack of cigarettes.”

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