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August 13, 2002

They Might Be Giants -

They Might Be Giants - No!

You can see this post, as well as lots of other swell (nifty! keen!) reviews at

I have a daughter. She’s two, she’s a toddler, and she has no attention span. One moment she’ll be playing with the giant Legos, the next will see her scattering playing cards across the living room floor, and the moment after that the cats are running for their lives. The only things that capture her attention for more than a minute or two are videos and DVDs. Studies that tell me to turn off the television bounce off me like bullets off Superman. She loves them, they keep her mostly in one room, and her teachers in daycare talk about how smart she is every day. It’s not on all the time, but when the box goes dark, it’s only a matter of time until a cat starts yowling in fear or toys start bouncing down the stairs in a colorful plastic waterfall.

She’s gotten to the point where she can pick what she wants to watch. She can’t read, but she knows exactly which tape or DVD goes in which box. Her tastes vary over time, so I have seen the rise and fall of Elmo, the brief reign of Pooh, the Wiggles interregnum, and the slow but steady growth in popularity of Blue’s Clues. “Blue’s Clues” is beyond her at this point, so when she hands me the DVD, it’s always with the Zen admonition, “Pay Booze Cooze, daddy. Pay Booze Cooze.” My incessant giggling at this point doesn’t bother her, but it does annoy her mother a great deal.

Toddlers are also creatures of habit, which in the end is perhaps the only thing that saves a parent from going off the deep end. One nice thing about having a two-foot destruction machine in your house is that, come 7:30, it expects a bath, a cuddle and a bed, more or less. And as my toddler gets older, it’s always more. For the past couple of months, that means that each night, between the end of bath and the putting-on of pajamas, she gets to run down the hall shrieking in delight, damp towel trailing behind, to sit in my lap at the computer desk, where we watch and listen to the new They Might be Giants album, No! . She wraps herself in the towel, leans her dripping head back against my shoulder and picks the first track of the evening. “Wobot Parade, daddy. Pay Wobot pawade.”

Once of the first things I ever bought for her was the Talking Head’s “Stop Making Sense” DVD, because I saw it on an list called “Videos that your child will love that you can stomach.” No! deserves a place on that list, one near the very top. She and I have watched or listened to part of that album almost every night since it arrived. The CD is enhanced, so a majority of the songs come with interactive Flash animation that a kid, or parent in my case, can click on while the music plays on the computer. The animations are what we watch each night before bedtime, and my only complaint is that they don’t do enough. Each has two or three variations, and they aged quickly for me. The daughter has no such problem, and they are for her after all.

People fear most children’s music for good reason, for a large part of it is saccharine coated cheese. Barney is the intellectual equivalent of a potato chip, and not one of the good potato chips either. Barney is one of those potato chips with the manufactured fat that makes your ass leak. No!, on the other hand, is a never-ending cornucopia.

I cannot help but love an album that starts out telling your child of the joys of lying (Fibber Island), tells her that brooms have minds of their own (I Am Not Your Broom), and uses ping pong paddles as musical instruments (Bed Bed Bed).

TMBG aren’t afraid to play in the thematic territories you would expect to see on a kid’s album, like the safety first theme of In the Middle In the Middle In the Middle

Don’t cross the street in the middle in the middle
In the middle in the middle in the middle of the block
Don’t cross the street in the middle in the middle
In the middle in the middle in the middle of the block
Use your eyes to look up
Use your ears to hear
Walk up to the corner where the coast is clear
And wait and wait until you see the light turn green.

You may have heard that the best way to remember something is to sing it. I believe it. An episode of Cheers, one that I haven’t seen for years, has Coach and Sam memorizing facts about Albania for some reason. They sing them to remember them. I don’t know if Ted Danson can still recall, but I still know that Albania is mostly mountainous, borders on the Adriatic, and exports chrome. I will never fear for my daughter at street corners, because the song has infected her, body and soul.

“Don kass da steet inda midda inda midda inda midda inda midda a da woad” she told me this morning.

Most kid’s albums have some tortured attempt by the artist to sing about the world from a three year olds point of view. This factor alone may determine an artist’s popularity among the diapers and pull ups crowd. Raffi does this well, so I am told, as do the Wiggles. TMBG take the idea to its logical end, and sing about the one thing Toddlers know above all others—The word “No!"

No is no
No is always no
If they say no it means a thousand times no
No plus no equals no
All no’s lead to no, no, no

If I don’t want her zoning in front of the television, I can slip No! into the DVD player, and she’ll stay within earshot of the music, and that is a gift beyond compare. I can think of five or six infants that will be getting No! from me on their second birthday, but it will really be a gift for their parents.

Posted by Bigwig at August 13, 2002 09:16 AM | TrackBack
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