I spent the first nine years of my eldest child’s life creating kid-safe playlists before every road trip.
My husband did it while I was furiously packing swimsuits, sippy cups, and enough Huggies to diaper a small nation.
This sucked for many reasons:
- He got to listen to good music all night while I calculated just how many times our babies were likely to poop per day.
- A lot of good songs were edited out by the time we got in the car.
- These playlists inevitably became THE playlists forevermore. All those great songs with the occasional bad word were removed from rotation, never to be heard from our phones or iPods again.
Then, one day my husband brought home this album from some Jewish rapper named Watsky. We had heard of Watsky through this little YouTube phenomenon called, “Epic Rap Battles of History” where two rappers, each personifying a historical figure, battle it out in verse. I think the first one my kids saw was Shakespeare vs. Dr. Suess. It was hilarious. It was brilliant. It was in iambic pentameter.
Anyway… so the album. Cardboard Castles. Awesome. Even my PARENTS liked some of it. Super positive messages about pursuing your dreams and working hard and being true to yourself even at the expense of fame and fortune. A dream album for poor artsy parents like us. One song in particular, Strong as an Oak was everything we wanted our kids to hear. But… it had some bad words. Not many. Just a couple, and they went by fast. However, they were the heavy hitters. And you couldn’t just mute for a second. Somehow, they seemed… important. When Watsky said “fuck” it wasn’t gratuitous. He meant it. It was the right word at the right time. It was, in fact, the ONLY word that would do.
And isn’t that what good writing is about? Choosing the right word, among millions, and stacking those words up into the right phrases so that the writer’s intent is perfectly (or as close to perfectly as possible) communicated?
So we put the song on the car playlist. And you know what? Nobody gasped when the bad word happened. It wasn’t as if they’d never heard it, anyway. It’s just that they’d never heard it when we knew it was coming. By the time they’d heard Strong as an Oak a few times they knew all the words and sang along. But they became noticeably quiet when the bad word came up. They know the rule.
In our house, you aren’t allowed to swear until you have a job. We figure as long as someone else is paying your rent, buying your clothes and feeding you, what do you possibly have to cuss about? Again, the right word at the right time.
This Watsky experiment has opened up our playlists to all kinds of possibilities. We don’t listen to Eminem or anything, but Ani Difranco and her girl power are back on the table. As are tons of other artists, including our friends (like Rebecca Loebe and her fabulous cover of “Bad Reputation”) and our own old recordings.
It turns out that when art mirrors life, the language isn’t always clean. But it’s always useful. It’s always pointing towards something more than itself. It’s always trying to communicate some truth about life down here, how we are all struggling and how we are all connected.
Enter The Disney Channel: What, I ask, does I Heart Carly or Austin and Ally, or any of the other inane live action Disney & Nickelodeon shows, communicate that is useful? How to be snide and sarcastic and what my mother would have called “sassy”? How to roll your eyes? How to fear appearing clueless? How to pander to a laugh track? Puleeze.
Not in my house. I’ll take a well placed expletive over that shit any day.