Give Kids a Playlist of Their Favorite Songs

“Uptown has its hooligans, the Bowery has its bums. Big Jim Walker appeared on Forty-second Street, he shot the pool with the son of a pistol.

Jim Croce sang these words in 1972, six years before I was born. They have remained in my memory for so long that I cannot remember when I first heard them.

This is not my song. This is my dad. When I was a child, he carried a small tape recorder with him. I can still see him sitting in the front seat of his 1977 Volkswagen camper van, little V-shaped EQ sliders, Jim Croce’s Greatest Hits box next to him, Jim’s face covered in sideburns and a mustache over crooked teeth.

Why is it so important that “You don’t mess with Jim” makes me happy? Science has not given a definite answer . Even if that were the case, the answer would be about patterns or rewards – about something mechanical that fits into utilitarian theory.

Here’s my answer: music, more than any other art form, immediately tells us about ourselves and those around us. You hear the first chords of a great song, shocked, looking into the eyes of someone on the other side of the room, someone who understands this. You share something with this person in real time, and your large emotional brain remembers every moment of this powerful discovery, storing it for memory every time this song is played on the radio. This is why people love music – because it reveals their connections with other people.

People love to know which songs other people like. The BBC has been broadcasting the Desert Island Discs since 1942. In each of the 3000 episodes, the host tells a famous person about eight songs that will save their minds if they find themselves on a desert island. This show has been around for 76 years because we need to know if Judy Dench or Alan Alda or Zadie Smith also love Wichita Lineman as much as we do. On the other hand, if John Cleese confessed his love for something terrible, such as Sweet Home, Alabama, we would be in awe of disgust. You can imagine! How is this possible?

For the same reason, people wonder what is on the president’s playlist or what would be on his iPod if they were in the 1860s . This is true even for unpopular presidents. As the New York Times notes, W loved the songs of musicians who hated him . There’s something about the tunes, dude. Even if the voice on the headphones hates you, congestion is everything.

What does all this have to do with you, fellow parent? I’ll let Johnny Cash answer through his daughter Rosanna .

“When I was 18, I went on the road with my father after I graduated from high school. We started talking about songs and he mentioned one and I said I didn’t know this one. And he mentioned something else. I said, “I don’t know that either, Dad,” and he was very worried that I don’t know what he considers my own musical genealogy. So he spent the rest of the day making a list for me, and at the end of the day he said, “This is your education.” And at the top of the page, he wrote “100 Essential Country Songs.”

The word that catches my eye is genealogy. Johnny wanted to make sure that his child, then an aspiring musician, understood her roots. But genealogy fits independently. The songs you love place you in time, in a culture, in a place, in a continuum that stretches back until the dawn of humanity. If you drop the needle onto the record, your pin will fall into this continuum. This is why you should make a list of your favorite tunes and gift them to your kids.

A few quick thoughts:

Do not overdo it. Johnny Cash got 100 songs because he was Johnny Cash. If you have a gold record and you are reading this, you get 50 songs. Platinum gives you 75. Willie Nelson, if you’re there, you can also get 100. Bookkeeping Volume, take Baker’s Dozen.

Don’t judge. It’s not about pestering Ed Sheeran. Remember how your parents covered their ears when you played Guns N ‘Roses on your Hi-Fi? Don’t be a jerk about this. Focus on cool tunes – maybe you or your child will notice something in common between the old and the new.

Dont be upset. Your kids probably won’t like your jams as much as you do. This is fine! Knowing my dad’s music helped me determine how I was not like him, why Eddie Vedder meant more to me than Jim Croce. This is an important milestone for the child – the understanding that his desires and impulses are separate from the desires of his parents, that his personality is unique, that their shadows will not hide him forever.

Don’t wait too long. Roseanne was 18 when her father made the list, but that was a long time ago. The world is moving very fast now. A few weeks ago, my 10 year old daughter talked to her friends about Chance the Rapper and Bruno Mars. Again, you’re not trying to vaccinate against modernity, but you really want to share these songs before your kids are so jaded that they don’t care.

Don’t be persistent. Explain what you love. What does music mean to you? Does the singer give you goosebumps? The beat makes you boogie-woogie? Do it well and your kids will know to shut up when Whitney sings, or hug you when Purple Rain plays. (My wife is still upset about the Prince.)

Don’t worry that this is not enough. You are not trying to impress a music critic. Be honest, even if honesty is worthless. You are telling the story of your life. Here’s a bit of my story from one entry on my list:California Stars . These words were written by Woody Guthrie, whose son Arlo is my father’s hero. Vilko performs music. This was the first band my wife and I saw at a concert together when we first started dating. When my daughter was new, I rode the train home after a 10-hour workday and held her in my arms, singing along to Jeff Tweedy. These musical genealogies revolved around my own as I looked into my daughter’s face. I couldn’t help but cry. It’s such a great song.

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