THE CRAZY WORLD OF MODERN KIDS’ TELEVISION

My wife & I were the sort of annoying pre-parents who made all sorts of proclamations about how closely we’d be regulating our son’s TV viewing, how he’d be limited to 30 minutes a day, how we’d drop everything to read to him when he got bored, all that crap that everyone who hasn’t had a kid yet promises themselves and others. When the reality of child-rearing hit in 2003 – well maybe a year and a half later, when he had formed into something more than a blob on the blanket on the floor – it became obvious that television was a godsend, a magical device that instantly gave the parent the opportunity to eat dinner in peace, to wash dishes, to even read the paper for a friggin’ change. Hey, 30 minutes is nothing – another show couldn’t hurt, right? And maybe another after that? “Sesame Street”‘s an hour – surely we can get a bunch done during that time? Wow, it works! And he’s digging it, too.

What has helped calm us both is the fact that 38 years after the first episode of “Sesame Street” aired in 1969, there is actually an abundance of quality educational, instructive, sunny, not-too-annoying shows out there for the preschool set. When I counsel myself about his mind rotting from the TV he’s watching, I look at the actual product on the tube, and it’s truly hard for me to see where the damage would be coming from. See, we have a Tivo, a lifechanging device that you can get for fifty bucks & then another 12 bucks a month after that. That allows us to pre-screen the shows for the ones without commercials, store up the ones we approve of, and dole them out as we see fit. We also still keep the TV viewing to about an hour in the morning and another hour in the evening, always with us supervising in the room & sometimes watching with him (and of course, all rules such as those are made to be broken). My son totally goes berzerk when we watch a rare “live” show with commercials, and freaks out that his show just abruptly stopped for ads, which he has zero concept of; he also can’t fathom why he can’t immediately watch another episode of, say, “The Backyardigans” when the one he’s watching has ended – because on the Tivo we can just keep them rolling as long as we’ve stored ’em up, and have the lack of parental discipline to cut him off.

There are a handful out there that truly impress me besides “Sesame Street”, which is still the gold standard. I actually enjoy the Disney Channel’s “Little Einsteins”, an animated show with revolving “rescue”-type adventures by a cast of four preschoolers on a red rocket – a white boy, a girlie girl, a tomboy, and a wisecracking African-American boy. Each show is scored by a famous composer – Grieg and Tchaikovsky seem to be the default choices – and features the paintings of an artist such as Van Gogh. To hear my son routinely command me to walk “adagio” or “allegro” is something to behold, particularly when I have to ask him what those words mean. I also approve of “The Backyardigans” (four suburban African-American hippos with names like Uniqua and Tyrone invent backyard adventures like ice treks, volcano climbing and pirate shennanigans before Mom calls them in for their snacks); “Zoom” (on PBS, almost exactly like the one I worshipped when I was a 1970s kid, minus my first crush Julie); “Arthur” (a little trying at times but always a good “lesson” to be had); and “Charlie & Lola” (a British import, drawn in this great animated cut-&-paste style that’s a blast to look at and actually kind of funny besides).

Must to avoid are of course “Barney” (simply horrifying, and so dumbed-down it defies description to even a two-year-old), “The Wonder Pets”, “Bob The Builder” (awful) and “The Wiggles”, which I know some people swear by but which drives me bananas. The fact that it’s “rock-and-roll” themed does nothing for me in the least. And my kid thinks it blows too. I still am struck by how generally good the good ones are, though. I have no doubt they’re challenging his mind, reinforcing concepts of reading & counting beyond what we already do ourselves, and giving this only child examples of how kids deal with conflict or problems, and the rewards or punishments that come from proceeding correctly. I think they finally figured out the secret recipe for quality kids TV a few years back, just as adult TV seems to be undergoing a fantastic renaissance right now as well, and I’m glad it’s peaking right when my kid’s inquisitiveness is as well. Respectful disagreement welcomed.

PS – Apologies to any readers who are bummed out that I even indirectly wrote about my kid, something I promised I wouldn’t do when I started this blog. I know it’s not punk in any way, shape or form, and I promise to tackle deep underground subcultures like Fuck Off Records, the films of Jodorowsky, and Spock/Kirk erotica in future posts.

THE VELVET UNDERGROUND LOST 1966 ACETATE

I may have been the last interested person to hear the story of a lost 1966 “demo”/acetate version of the VELVET UNDERGROUND’s first album – complete with totally different versions of some of my/your all-time favorite songs – turning up in a warehouse for 75 cents and then going for broke on eBay for $150,000. I got the news that it even existed when the bidding was well underway, and was pretty bummed when my $105,131.69 max bid was trumped by someone else. So then I turned my sights onto getting a CD-R version of it for less than 50 cents, and in that endeavor I was much more successful (though you can trump even that by going to #1 superdope homeboy Brian Turner’s post on WMFU’s blog and downloading the songs yourself before they disappear). I’ve been accumulating Velvets bootlegs and alternate tracks for many years, and I was floored that such a treasure would just pop up out of nowhere – the quintessential record collector’s wet dream.

Imagine an alternate history of these recordings, one in which the band broke up after this session was laid down, and then pursued mediocre-to-nonentity musical careers that ended in failure and zero records. Presuming that the recordings would still ultimately be unearthed in Manhattan in 2005 or whenever it was, how would we have reacted to the earthshaking squall of track #1, “European Son” (seriously! They originally intended for it to open the album!)? Or to the life-changing guitar work on “Run Run Run” and “I’m Waiting For The Man”? Or the hypnotic trance/ice-drone of “All Tomorrow’s Parties”? I’m reasonably confident it would have caused a rock-n-roll revolution in the motherfucking streets. Me, I’m actually surprised that this is even better than I expected. Of the 9 songs on here (they added “Sunday Morning” and “There She Goes Again” to the eventual LP), unless I’m high, eight of them are mildly and in some cases wildly different from the later versions. Only “Run Run Run” is the same version, and even that one, like everything else on here, has muted “White Light/White Heat”-esque low fidelity production and tons of vinyl pops & crackle not on the later version.

The surprise winner for me was the wholly different Nico vocal on “Femme Fatale”, which also includes feminized Reed/Cale backing vocals. “European Son” is massive, of course, and features a crazed guitar shitstorm every bit the equal of the later version. It unfortunately doesn’t have the chair dragged across the floor & the broken glass we all love so much. “I’m Waiting For The Man” is completely different, as is “Heroin” – I like the later versions, as these sound too much like demos, but hindsight is of course 20-20. In all, it’s one of the best “bootlegs” out there, and a total gift to the Velvets fan and the rock and roller at large. I’d recommend getting a version straight off of the acetate if you can, rather than wait for a cleaned-up official version – though of course you and I will buy that one too, right?

FLESH EATER AND GERM ARE COMING TO GIT YOU

If you’re as old as I am you remember when punk rockers actually terrified the heartland and the music industry at large. Here’s a great clip from 1979 of some fake punks doing a spot for Chicago’s Q101 – what we used to call an “easy rock” station, playing “Fogelberg”, The Eagles, etc. You’ll definitely dig on the punk rock namechecks – especially “Flesh Eater”! Enjoy.