Thursday 23 November 2017

Parent rap: why music and children just don't mix

Keeping it in the family:
Husband and wife duo Peaking
Keeping it in the family: Husband and wife duo Peaking Lights

As small screen smoothie Don Draper, he's the epitome of unruffled cool. However, it turns out Mad Men's Jon Hamm has his fears and insecurities just like the rest of us.

One thing, in particular seems to bring him out in a cold sweat: the prospect of fatherhood.

By his telling, procreation is tantamount to a long-term prison sentence.

"I'm not a relationship guru, but having kids is a stress, obviously," he told a journalist the other week. "One guy described it to me as like surviving a trauma. Get to the next day, the next morning."

He arrived at this buzz-killing conclusion after seeing friends' lives changed beyond recognition by children. They had to uproot to be near good schools. Their social sphere dwindled to non-existence.

They faded into the background, too busy nappy-changing and humming lullabies to be real people with real lives, even to themselves.

From an Olympic class smoothie like Hamm, it was a shocking screed. And yet, music fans will be tempted to agree: parenthood can be a bummer.

Songwriters have an uncanny knack for surviving devastating drug addiction, violent upbringings and tumultuous marriages -- experiences which, far from impinging on their creativity, seem to make them better artists.

Again and again, though, one thing knocks your favourite singer off kilter, the arrival of a squealing bundle of tears and poo.

The peerless Jay-Z, for instance, was reduced to a squishy ball of sentimentality by the birth last year of his daughter Blue Ivy Carter, going so far as to serve up a properly horrific rap in her honour. ('Glory' begins: "The most amazing feeling I feel/Words can't describe what I'm feeling for real" and is soon slushier than a roadside thaw in February.)

Sadly he follows in a long, ignoble tradition. The decline of Stevie Wonder from funk genius to schmaltz merchant can, posterity now tells us, be traced to 'Isn't She Lovely', a 1975 corn-fest bashed out to mark the birth of daughter Aisha by then partner Yolanda Simmons.

It gets worse, as is often the case when Oasis are involved. The birth of Liam Gallagher's son James convinced the singer to seize the compositional helm and pen the treacle-slathered ballad, 'Little James'.

This one yields the devastating lyric 'Have you ever played with plasticine /Or even tried a trampoline?' (It makes Supersonic's rhyming of 'doctor' and 'helicopter' sound like a line from the King James Bible.)

The cringe factor multiplies as the child starts to grow up and superstar mum and dad decide they wish to involve them in their day job.

Of the many horribly sentimental moments in Westlife's farewell concerts at Croke Park last week, surely the most indulgent was when they dragged their young families on stage and tried to get them to sing along.

So is Hamm right? Does parenthood change you irrevocably, and seldom for the better? From a music perspective you would, until quite recently, have gone along with his logic. Lately, however, one or two examples have threatened to unseat the received wisdom.

Just last month, the American husband and wife duo Aaron Coyes and Indra Dunis, aka Peaking Lights, released a charming collection entitled Lucifer.

The sinister title is a misnomer -- the rather hippy dippy-ish pair say that, far from bending a knee to Beelzebub, it was their goal to reclaim the original meaning of the 'L' word, which refers to the orbital cycle of Venus (who knew?)

Of more relevance to the subject at hand is the fact that most of the record was directly inspired by the birth of their son Mikko. The result is an LP backlit with the fuzzy glow of uncomplicated love and devotion.

Another banner waver for the procreation club is Rufus Wainwright, the gay songwriter who, via the wonders of science, had a child with Lorca Cohen, daughter of Leonard.

His latest long-player features a song about their daughter Viva, a dewy ballad called 'Montauk' that rates as one of the sweetest and most emotive he's ever penned.

Meanwhile, his father, the folkie Loudon Wainwright III, was so discommoded with the arrival of a son and the consequent downturn in his sex life that he was moved to write the jaunty -- and in retrospect entirely ironic -- 'Rufus Is A Tit Man'.

"Put Rufus on the left one/And put me on the right/," he croons to his wife "And like Romulus and Remus/ We'll suck all night."

Wainwright the younger grew up with deep-seated father issues, and still undergoes therapy. With a ditty like that, is anyone surprised?

Lucifer by Peaking Lights is out now.

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