THE ARCHIVAL ARTICLE:
HEART OF DARKNESS, MY OLD FRIEND (2009)
THE BACK STORY:
I suspect that for as long as recorded music has been widely available for retail sale, parents have been disapproving of their children’s listening choices. (That might have been the case in earlier history, too, though it would have been much harder for a kid to whip together a chamber ensemble to perform some Frans Liszt than it was to plop on a Little Richard record). Most of the time, this reaction represents benign “We just don’t get it” responses to generational change. Other times, though, it can be more problematic, especially when the artists who create it are unjustly accused of provoking dangerous, immoral or criminal behavior among its young listeners — and then the government gets involved.
I listen to a lot of fairly gnarly music as an adult, so if I had any fears about my own child’s listening habits, it was probably more a worry that she might either not appreciate music at all, or only appreciate shallow crap. I exposed her to the stuff I listen to as she was growing up, just because we pretty much have music playing around our house whenever we’re all awake, and I mostly let it go at that. (I was actually much more censorious about television, truth be told, in the early days of the “reality TV” era, when coarse, soul-sucking, exhibitionistic garbage filled an increasingly large sector of the broadcast spectrum; I am firmly convinced that actually watching someone get sexually assaulted, bullied, tortured, tormented or killed is a whole lot more psychically damaging to the mind of a youngster than listening to a song about it can ever be). As it turns out, my kid grew up to have fine musical tastes, and we still routinely swap recommendations and reviews. I award myself Five Parenting Gold Stars accordingly. Good job, Dad!
When all is said and done, I think tight parental control over children’s listening material is ultimately an exercise in futility, especially in the streaming era, since banning something is just as likely to motivate the kids to look for it elsewhere, and — more importantly — because parents actually have no real idea how their kids are going to hear things. Something ostensibly vulgar and vile may pass right over their heads. And then sometimes something that’s ostensibly suitable family listening may, in fact, push a whole bunch of unanticipated buttons in unforeseen ways.
Today’s archival article tells a story about that latter scenario, with tongue planted firmly in cheek. I’m sure I’d be a much more highly functioning adult half-a-century later if only my parents hadn’t exposed me to the mellifluous sounds of one of America’s best-loved and most popular folk duos. The horror! The horror!