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In which the author wonders whether art for kids is art at all.
Children’s music is like child pornography: Both serve the same purpose as their adult counterparts, but an adult’s interest in either is unacceptable. Why, then, have They Might Be Giants made the children’s book/DVD Kids Go and, in this last decade, redefined themselves as post-Sesame Street songwriters?
Don’t underestimate TMBG. Unlike other artists who dabble in kiddie kompositions, the Johns Flansburgh and Linnell are not burnouts. Though not as cool as Interpol or Animal Collective, this nerdcore duo penned a number of college rock anthems in the final decades of the 20th century, including “Don’t Let’s Start,” “Your Racist Friend”, and “Birdhouse in Your Soul.” These songs were good. These songs are good. They succeed as art in the adult world.
“Kids Go,” a call for children to “move like a monkey,” also succeeds as art—lesser art in the Playskool kingdom of children’s music. Like Christian rock or “politically-conscious” hip-hop, children’s music is a farm league from which players rarely advance to the majors.
After all, “Kids Go,” like the Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows,” is a song. However, the Fab Four’s composition redefined the process of recording rock music and revolutionized post-1966 pop’s aesthetics, content, and mission. A song about monkeys can’t compete, as art, with a proto-jungle beat, backwards guitars, and mystical lyrics about Zen and death.
While Flood isn’t Revolver, at least it’s in the same league. “Kids Go” is less than “Tomorrow Never Knows.” Where “Tomorrow Never Knows” transcends, the monkeys of “Kids Go” peel bananas, and not in a cool, heroin-chic, Velvet Underground kind of way.
Come on, TMBG: get out of the sandbox ghetto.
A POSTSCRIPT But, really, what is the blogosphere if not a kind of readin’ ‘n’ writin’ romper room? You (the reader) just read this post when you could have been reading the New York Times, or the New Yorker, or The Idiot, or Infinite Jest. I (Justin Moyer, the journalist) could have worked on my unfinished novel instead of thinking so hard about They Might Be Giants for the past hour. Why have I sacrificed my novel to blog for the Washington City Paper? Is it the money? Is it the glory (oh, that seductive, elusive, bloggy Arts Desk glory)? Is it the amiable companionship of the friendly, if exclusive, folks at the Washington City Paper itself?
The ultimate question isn’t why They Might Be Giants does what they do, but why you (the reader) do what you do, and I (Justin Moyer, the journalist) do what I do. Why do we do what we do? Tomorrow never knows…