Thursday, October 29, 2009

Words and Lyrics

From day one, my father read poetry to me. He read some standard, or at least fairly standard, selections, like some of the Eliot's Cat Poems (specifically: Growltiger's Last Stand, Mr. Mistoffelees, Macavity: The Mystery Cat, and
Skimbleshanks: The Railway Cat). He also read The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, William Blake's Tyger, Randall Jarell's Death of the Ball Turret Gunner, and Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night. These were not really standard selections. Not many four year olds go around saying "In the room the women come and go Talking of Michelangelo."

Initially I followed in my father's footsteps. I read Prufrock, among others, to Seren. But after the first year, I got away from poetry and, despite an uninspiring singing voice, turned to music to share some of my favorite lines and rhymes with my children. I am still staying true to my father's example, however. As of a month ago, my repertoire included: The Star Spangled Banner (it is admittedly a little hard to listen to me sing this if you are old enough to know better), This Land is Your Land (it should be the National Anthem), Amazing Grace, We Shall Overcome, Henry VIII (you just have to love Herman's Hermits), Janice's Mercedes Benz (my parents never sang this to me, but they played it all the time), This Land is Your Land, Yesterday, New York-New York, The Boxer, and Running To Stand Still (Challenging, but I do manage to pull it off from time to time).

Recently I have added two songs to the repertoire: Poison - Every Rose has its Thorns and Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah (I try to come as close to Jeff Buckley's version as I can). Last week Seren told me that she had been singing both songs for her teachers at her pre-school. I winced a little when she told me, because I'm not sure I want her pegged as the progeny of hair band aficionados, especially when we are already occupying the bottom income rung amongst the parent's at this school. When I began to relate this story to my mother in law, she winced and immediately asked about the lyrics. She winced again when she heard a few seconds of Hallelujah. I think she thought he was saying "she tied you to her kitchen chair, she broke your throat (rather than throne) and she cut your hair," but I'm not sure her opinion would be much different if she understood the lyrics. And if she knew Seren could sing a song about Heroin abuse almost by herself?

This has led me, again, to question my decisions and my motives here. I love the songs and I love singing them for her. Some of them deal with complex issues, but so what? There is still room for Row Row Row Your Boat. And when we read Prufrock in High School, I was a leg up and happy as hell. It was so awesome to not only recognize a poem read in class that most others did not, but to have the lines just appearing from the back of my brain. And Running to Stand Still is my favorite song of all time. Plus, these songs are something I have shared with Seren (a memory that is just ours). So, I'm not really questioning myself. I don't now exactly what I'm doing ... but this time, I think I am OK with that.

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