In a fit of focused cleaning - the sort that fails to declutter the house but puts one portion of it in perfect order - I came upon a cassette I had made for Emily before she was born. The date is March 15, 2000, and if I felt brave or hopeful enough at that stage in Viv's pregnancy, having lost our first child in stillbirth the year before, it must have been around the time of the level 2 ultrasound that showed nothing amiss this time around.
This was in the pre-download, late analog era when people still made tapes of their favorite music to share with their friends. I was a decade out of college (4 years since graduate school), and much of the new music I was exposed to at this time came from tapes sent to me while we were in Africa. I still had my vinyl out, and piles of hissing cassettes, and it was here that I went to make a tape for my baby, anticipating sharing a life of song and music from the first day onward. Both Emily and Elias love music and are growing up in a family that sings.
So what did I put on this tape for my unborn daughter? The title is also the name of an improvised composition by my old friends Theo and Charlie, part of a jam session from our boarding school days when Charlie had an in room suspension for some last minute holiday schnapps consumption on the way back to school (as did I, but that is not part of this story). Some of the music might be construed as lullabies, but certainly not all for there is also Morphine's "You Look Like Rain" and Hendrix doing "The Wind Cried Mary".
Loudon Wainwright III opened the 1st set with "Swimming Song" , with "B-Side" on the other side, naturally. Bob Dylan played "Froggie Went a Courting" and Dianne Ferris covered a soulful "Blackbird ." Nancy Griffith's version of "Boots of Spanish Leather" and the Indigo Girls "Watershed" are the sort of songs I might have sung at bedtime; when Emily was two, she knew all the words to "Rocky Raccoon" thanks to her Daddy's nightly crooning. I slipped in the Cowboy Junkies doing "I'm so Lonesome I Could Cry", and Laura Love doing a raunchy "Clap Hand", but it turns out that Lyle Lovett's "If I had a Boat" has the controversial lyrics that have prompted recent family discussions of what can be sung in place of the delightful line "Kiss my a** I've bought a boat I'm going out to sea." Well, in France they serve their children wine with dinner. I expose mine to Richard Thompson and murder ballads.
The most pleasent rediscovery on this compilation is Elvis Costello's "Clown Strike " from the 1994 album Brutal Youth. The lyrics are marvelously inventive:
And it's pandemonium
For the humble and the mighty
You don't have to tumble for me
Even a clown knows when to strike
Tell me what you want of me
Or are you terrified of failure?
You put on a superstitious face
Behind all this paraphernalia
We're not living in a masquerade
Where you only have three wishes
It isn't easy to see
In a lifetime of mistaken kisses
But there's one thing that I had to keep inside
Because I was shaking
Why don't you get some pride
There was a clown strike
And the clowns threw down their tools
But you don't have to play so hard
And I'm nobody's fool
You don't have to go so far
'Cause I love you as you are
Going back to the vaults, 9 years and a few months more, I remember the man I was then and the father I hoped to be. Pandemonium for the humble and the mighty, but sweet as summer wine.