The NME, Xennials & Urusei Yatsura – A Music Education, One Bath at a Time
There are lots of responsibilities you take on when you become a parent. Aside from keeping children alive, clothed and fed, one of the most important is to inform their music tastes.
I was going to say ‘dictate’ rather than ‘inform’, but one thing I’ve learnt in the four-and-a-half years since I became a dad is that there is nothing that dissuades a child from being open-minded about something than their father telling them they’ll love it. Examples include music, books, broccoli and most other things in the known universe.
My Music vs. Elsa’s Music
The main opportunity to float my musical suggestions comes at bath time. We always have some kind of soundtrack and, following a set of negotiations tougher even than David Davies’ travails in Brussels, my daughter Elsa and I worked out that we would alternate the nights on which we get to pick the music. One-year-old Seth has no say. Literally. He can’t speak yet.
This means that one night you’ll hear some eighties indie, mid-nineties Britpop, early-2000s miserablism or something else of that ilk, and the next night it will be the soundtrack to an animated kids’ film. I’ll leave you to work out which selection belongs to which family member.
I don’t object to listening to Elsa’s music for a number of reasons; for a start, it’s only fair. In addition, I really want her to form her own musical taste and, thirdly, I actually think the music from Trolls is pretty ace.
However, I also think it’s important that she discovers some stone cold classics from before her time and, importantly, understands that her parents have lives and passions of their own. After all, you never listen to Desert Island Discs and hear a celebrity wistfully reminiscing to Kirsty Young about why a song is important to them with the words, “I remember every Sunday morning fondly, waking up to the sound of my dad blasting his 101 Favourite Nursery Rhymes album out from the front room.”
My Music Choices
I used to be really into music. I mean really into music. Before we moved to Yorkshire, we lived in London and would be at gigs most days, often going to more than one in an evening. When we relocated, I was doing breakfast radio, which made late nights less appetising. It meant that, although there are some fantastic venues across the north, we started seeing fewer and fewer bands.
Having kids also curtailed our gig-going, but I’m hoping that as the youngest starts to sleep better, we will make a real effort to get out and see more live music. We did snap up tickets on a whim to see Jarvis Cocker next month, which is as good a place to start as any.
With that all in mind, I don’t play Elsa and Seth as much new stuff as I’d like, but they have been initiated into the ways of the reasonably current Bon Iver and Jens Lekman.
Other than that, it’s mainly the indie disco classics; The Smiths, Stone Roses, Bloc Party, Arctic Monkeys, Pulp, Longpigs and more. In addition, when I get to pick on a Friday, we usually enjoy a Northern Soul-themed bath time. Essential music education for any toddler in 2018.
The NME and Britpop
The reason I’m blogging about this is that the recent news about the end of the print edition of the NME launched me on an epic journey down memory lane. I was an avid NME reader in the mid-nineties, just as Britpop was breaking through into the mainstream.
I know that everyone thinks that their formative years were the best when it comes to music, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that those days felt absolutely magical to me. For the likes of Blur, Oasis and Pulp to be catapulted from toilet circuit obscurity to major international stardom was thrilling. This was our music, this was proper music (whatever that means).
Obviously, as a try-hard indie kid I attempted to sneer at the records many of them made ‘after they became famous’ (correctly so in the case of the abysmal Great Escape by Blur and every Oasis album after Morning Glory), but it was a golden period for guitar music.
It wasn’t just the megastars, though; I still cherish a host of albums by more obscure artists who were making such exciting music at the time, and the NME was behind much of my teenage music exploration.
It will seem bizarre to the kids of today that there was ever a time when you could be interested in a band weeks before you ever heard any of their music. I’d read about all sorts of up-and-coming acts with impossible-to-pronounce names (Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci, Urusei Yatsura etc.) in those hallowed pages, with my favourite trusted journalists (not always an oxymoron) extolling their virtues. But there was no Soundcloud or YouTube to jump on to check them out.
The best you could hope for was to be listening to the Evening Session or Mark Radcliffe’s show on Radio 1 at the exact time they happened to play these acts’ new records, otherwise you’d have wait until the local independent record shop received their stock and let you have a spin.
I read an interesting article about the midpoint between Generation X and the rise of the Millennial recently. Those of us born in the late-seventies and early-eighties don’t fit into either of those two categories and have been branded Xennials. We were born in an analogue world, but reached adulthood as the digital revolution of the internet came into force. We’re old enough to remember having to buy CD singles in the first week of release to get them for £1.99 before they ramped up to £3.99, but young enough to take streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music in our stride.
It’s easy to romanticise the simpler times, but there are pros and cons of both ways of consuming music. I feel honoured to have one foot in each camp and it’s difficult to envisage any other generation witnessing such a major step-change during the peak of their musical adventures.
For my kids it will just be natural to download or stream their favourite tunes, which will at the very least free up some shelf space for them in their future homes. They’ll not appreciate the ease with which music comes to them because it’s all they will ever know, just like they will never understand what it was like to wait until Wednesday to hear the nonsense Liam Gallagher was spouting, rather than logging on to Twitter and finding out immediately. Once again – pros and cons.
Has the Music Education Worked?
I don’t want to push my music on my children, but I’d like them to hear it. Just as I found a love of The Beatles alongside the nineties indie tunes I devoured, maybe they will fancy flicking through the Sparklehorse back catalogue in good time whilst exploring their own tastes.
And that’s what my bath time music selection is about – exposing them to music they might not otherwise hear. It seems to be working too; I was playing a game where I replaced words in band names with ‘Seth’ and, when it came to the Manic Street Sethers (I know, Manic Seth Preachers would have worked better), Elsa piped up with, “actually Daddy, it’s the Manic Street Preachers.”
Thank goodness she didn’t pull me up on Carter the Unstoppable Seth Machine.