GateHouse — For about five years, I’ve struggled in vain to understand why my now-second-grader likes the random, totally disconnected assortment of songs he does. (I have also struggled to understand why he doesn’t like milk in his cereal and how the sentence “JUST GO GET DRESSED” can be so apparently difficult to process.)
In his early years, my Kid Playlist consisted of age-appropriate-enough fare — Bob Marley, Springsteen’s Seeger Sessions record and pleasing old-timey stuff like “Beans and Cornbread” — music suited mostly to circumnavigating the southeastern United States in preposterous and doomed attempts to get him to engage in one of these “naps” we kept hearing other parents rave about. (“Wait, these weird leaking marshmallowpuffs SLEEP?” my wife and I would think, in rare moments of lucidity buried deep within months-long clouds of Folgers-powered hallucinations, “In the DAYTIME?”)
These days, however, it’s a little easier. I can tell if he’s going to like a song if it’s by the Dropkick Murphys.
The Murphys, for the benefit of any non-music-nerd readers (Hi, Mom! He’s fine, please stop worrying), are a group of Boston-based Irish punks that looks like it makes records in the rare moments when it’s not smashing Sam Adams bottles over the heads of bespectacled stick-figures like yours truly and shouting unprintable things at Jeter (pausing now, to cross two things off of my List Of Exceedingly Obvious Boston References). Singer Ken Casey has a voice that sounds like it’s being dragged down a gravel driveway. “This band makes me want to run fast,” my son says. I’m listening to them now in the coffee shop, and it’s taking a considerable amount of discipline to not smash my laptop on the tile floor and pick a fight with a neighbor, which is good, as many of them are old, and this is my wife’s computer.
But they’re not just about noise. The Murphys mix this lively, sweaty ethic with ancient Irish sounds and melodies, sounds that seem like they could be made out of rock. (My son has also expressed interest in the Pogues, probably for similar reasons, although that discovery led to a long discussion about the importance of quality dental care.) I saw the Murphys at Bonnaroo last year at 4:45 p.m. in a breezeless tent, and between the thousands in the crowd, the construction-site pound of the music and the fact that it was hot enough to cook a respectable flank steak it’s a wonder any of them survived, especially the guy whose bagpipes spontaneously burst into flame.
Anyway, my son is now — and I hate to make grand proclamations — probably the biggest Dropkick Murphys fan in the whole second grade, with the possible exception of that quiet kid James Bulger II (too soon?). One of my son’s most favorite songs is called “Take ‘Em Down,” a lively, pro-union track with — and here’s the troublesome part — a delightfully catchy chorus that insists, “We gotta take the bastards down,” before downgrading for a moment to merely “smash them to the ground,” and then returning for one more long drawn-out “Take … the … bastards … down!” This last part he occasionally punctuates with a sort of fist-pump, which is, frankly, about as adorable as militant can get.
The problem is this: It’s a REALLY FUN SONG. It’s bouncy and frenetic and sounds like what happens when a bunch of good-hearted beerpeople with shared histories and ambitions find themselves in the preposterously awesome position of getting to make records for money. Yet as a number of you “parents” have noticed, it has a semi-bad word in it, one that we don’t exactly say around the house a lot. So I’ve taken to addressing this problem in one of the following ways:
- Briefly turn the sound down, pretending I have something very important to discuss at that precise second. (“SOHEYWHATDIDYOUDOATCAMPTODAY?”)
- Make a sudden sound like I’m choking on a badger. I’ve gotten pretty good at this.
- Forget to do Nos. 1 and 2 and formulate beginnings of an Important Discussion About Words we will have one day soon, while remaining unconvinced about the relative evils of a vague obscenity in a land that smilingly sells Transformers gun toys with kids’ meals at Burger King.
My son’s second-favorite is called “Sunday Hardcore Matinee,” which is about punk shows, and the therapeutic energy and unity therein. In my brain, which we can all agree is striving for justifications at this point, he is only hearing that second part, the one where the takeaway message is about community, shared energy and picking up your friends (or enemies) when they fall or are accidentally pushed down maliciously. In his brain, I’m pretty sure it’s just loud.
His third-favorite is “Peg O’ My Heart,” which features Bruce Springsteen, but he’s starting to resist that one given how little his dad shuts up about his own Springsteen thing.
Anyway, as a fan of music, the Dropkick Murphys and telling people my son likes cool bands as though it sneakily validates my own continued legitimacy as an aging breeder (“Look at my little accessory! HE LIKES THE AVETT BROTHERS, WHICH MEANS I AM NOT OLD!”) , it’s become clear over the years that there’s really no quantifiable thread to what he likes, or what I like, or what you like. That said, as with anyone, somewhere in there, somewhere in that playlist, somewhere in a speedy three-minute Celtic-punk song about going to $5 concerts, lay little hidden secrets and underground clues to what his furiously mobile brain is doing, and what it’ll be doing five or 10 or 50 years from now. With any luck, they might possibly even explain the milk thing.