Now, I get a kick out of declaring to people artists she likes. For instance, she loves Steely Dan. That’s right, Steely Dan. Loves it. People get a kick out this – a four-month-old girl loves Steely Dan! How cute! No one follows with what I think is a logical question: how do you know? This is the tricky thing. How does an infant display pleasure or displeasure? Smiling, giggling, crying and fussing are all typical indicators. But sometimes I’m not even sure she’s engaged. I’ve played lots of music for her that she seems indifferent to, meaning she shows no reactions. Lenny Kravitz, De La Soul, Pearl Jam, Phil Collins – no reactions. She doesn’t even seem to notice music is playing. It’s possible this means nothing other than that I played this music at times she was sleepy or uninterested. It might also mean she doesn’t like them. Or maybe she does. I don’t know.
So I usually only pay attention to music in which she displays some noticeable reaction. It’s never been negative. I’ve never played music for her that makes her cry or fuss (neither Metallica nor Public Enemy made her fussy; she seemed equally indifferent to both). But I have played music that makes her smile. Creedence Clearwater Revival made her smile when I played Willie and the Poor Boys; “Midnight Special” made her downright giggly. She didn’t respond to Bayou Country with the same enthusiasm, but there are some longer, less interesting cuts on that album. I was also amazed at her glee over early Yes. When I put on The Yes Album she was fussy and irritable, but she settled down as soon as the first note played. Halfway through the first verse of “Yours Is No Disgrace,” she smiled in delight. Then she fell asleep during “Starship Troopers.”
This is another reaction I have trouble discerning. When you’re four months old, falling asleep is a pretty good thing. (When you’re the parent of a four-month-old, it’s a great thing.) So falling asleep during a song might be a sign she likes it. When we first brought her home, she fell asleep often to the Grateful Dead, which might make a lot of sense to some people. But we loved that it lulled her to sleep, so I played a lot of it, particularly their July 4th show from 1989. We’ve also experienced some success with Emmylou Harris soothing her to sleep; Roses In the Snow relaxed her into a doze, although my collector’s item of Thirteen on vinyl had her unimpressively staring off into space. In some ways, I wonder if her not falling asleep might signal she doesn’t like it. Norah Jones failed to lull her to sleep this past weekend, and that seems like a problem.
The other major signifier that she likes something is that she starts kicking. Our little girl is a kicker. She loves to kick. My wife could have told you this back at Christmas. Now her favorite pastime is to sit in one of her cradle chairs with a grin on her face pumping those legs like a Power Puff girl going to town on an evil frog robot. So when music makes her kick, I can tell she likes it. This brings us back to Steely Dan. I’ve now played three Steely Dan records for her: Can’t Buy A Thrill, Countdown To Ecstasy, and Aja. That last one didn’t seem to have much impact on her, but the other two drove those piston legs crazy. During “Dirty Work,” I thought she might break her chair, and she even started singing along. She clearly likes their mid-tempo jazzy guitar-driven numbers, which seem to have just the right amount of edge to them to appeal to new ears. I can only imagine what she’ll think of Steely Dan once she’s old enough to understand the lyrics (and the concept of bitter irony).
Occasionally she will respond in unique ways to music such that I can’t discern what she thinks of it. Most famously, Abbey Road made her poop, right in the middle of “Carry That Weight.” She usually feels a lot better after pooping, an action often accompanied with a wry, satisfied grin, so maybe this was an ultimate compliment. I also noticed that when I listened to Tom Waits’ theatrical soundtrack The Black Rider, which I had just picked up for myself at the record store, she squealed a few times. I couldn’t tell if these squeals signified pleasure or displeasure, nor could I tell if they were directed at the music or something else. That was a rather strange album, so I can imagine any number of interpretations of what a four-month-old might have thought.
I do look forward to her growing enough to learn to sing. Singing is such a basic, potent form of communication, one that we are already using with her in any number of situations. We sing the Beatles, Willie Nelson, Tom Waits, church hymns, and nursery rhymes we knew from growing up. I’ll make up songs about what we’re doing just for laughs (see previous blogs). It will be fun, too, when she’s able to say out loud what she likes. Rest assured I’ll keep everyone posted on further discoveries of what kind of music my beautiful daughter likes as I continue to try and keep her growing up on good music. It will also be interesting to see how long before the music my daughter likes turns into music that her father hates…