Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, Ph.D.

I study people, technology, and the worlds they make

B side

Tonight my daughter asked me to make a CD for her. Her school band is planning to do Green Day’s “Holiday” at the rock concert, but they need a second song, and she wanted to bring in some prospects. She had me burn:

  • Bari Koral, “Midnight Train to Georgia”
  • The Coors, “Little Wing”
  • Fleetwood Mac, “Sara”
  • Rolling Stones, “Sway”
  • Train, “Drops of Jupiter”
  • Peter Gabriel, “Down to Earth”
  • Sarah McLachlan, “Fallen”
  • Smashmouth, “Walkin’ on the Sun”

Personally, I think this an interesting cross-section of songs, from several decades, and nothing that’s particularly questionable (Amy Winehouse’s “You Know I’m No Good,” for example). I tried to get her to put on some Aretha Franklin and Nina Simone, or at least Sharon Jones, but so far she’s resisting my attempts to get her to listen to soul.

Earlier this evening I was trying to figure out where some unfamiliar music was coming from; I finally realized that my daughter was singing along to “Midnight Train to Georgia.” The Bari Koral version, by the way, is a lot less soulful than the Gladys Knight– how could it be otherwise?– but is a good choice for her, as it’s a much simpler arrangement. The Coors’ “Little Wing” is beautiful, but is more of an ensemble piece. I don’t think she knows who Stevie Nicks is or what she looks like; 30 years ago she would have wanted to perform Fleetwood Mac in order to be Stevie Nicks for five minutes.

For a few minutes I sat down in the hallway between the kids’ rooms, listening to her sing on one side, and my son listen to one of the Harry Potter books on the other. My life as a parent, summed up.

This is very similar to what I did when I was her age. I had a lousy stereo system that we bought at K-Mart, a bunch of 45s, and a couple albums– Frampton Comes Alive, Elton John’s greatest hits (volumes 1 and 2), and a handful of others. (An aside: the quality of audio that young kids have today is probably a thousand time better than what I had when I was their age. I still remember the first time I heard a CD in college– it was Peter Gabriel’s So— and I was shocked to tears at the purity of the experience.) I was starting to sing in the school choir, and would spend hours in my room, playing my records, singing along, or doing air guitar (the Guitar Hero designers are evil geniuses for taking the private embarrassment of millions and turning it into a game). Along with my telescope and books, music was a tool for building a world of my own construction– a world that was extremely simple, equally cerebral and romantic, and entirely mine. (I continue to strongly associate certain songs or albums with particular periods in my life, and I’m still amazed at how vivid my musical memories are.)

That’s not to say that my normal world was one that I needed to escape from: quite the contrary. This was when I was living with Pop in Nashville, going to a school I loved, and had tons of friends who like me were faculty kids. Unlike when I was with my mother in rural Virginia, I was among my own people. Still, I liked being able to conjure up Planet Alex. But…. I’m beginning to suspect that for kids, imagination is an important form of power. You don’t need to want to escape from something to find creating your own world an attractive prospect. The ability to create an imaginary, private world is desirable no matter what your regular life is like; it’s desirable as an end in itself. It’s an essential prelude to creating yourself.

Most of what my daughter does in her room is jealously protected: she doesn’t want me to know what she’s doing, and she keeps her door closed all the time. By and large I’m content with her having her privacy: she’s too young to be doing anything destructive or illegal, and when she’s out of her room she’s a good kid. So if she wants her own world, let her have it. I figure it’s good for her to be able to create her own space.

But it’s nice to have this little musical window into her world, even if I have to sit in the hallway to hear it.

1 Comment

  1. Very sweet. Love this post.

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