Category Archives: music

The Read Balloon: Charlie Parker Played Be Bop

great kids' booksIt’s obvious that my kids are much cooler than me, and they’re not even out of diapers yet.  And yet: They’re from Brooklyn. They have lots of really cool friends. They have crazy good fashion sense. (Harper has been known to rock 3 to 4 pairs of leggings with moccasins and then some underwear on the OUTside, thank you very much. Alton today sported a very cool Little Warrior shark t-shirt and diaper. I mean, come on!) They are excellent dancers. (Upon hearing music, Harper likes to shout, “I can shake my hair all around!” and then proceed to do so.) The list goes on and on.  So why should I be surprised when our favorite board book this week is Charlie Parker Played Be Bop, by Chris Raschka?

Harper found this book at the library and decided we should get it for Alton, who then replied in a high-pitched version of Harper’s voice, “Yes I like it!” Harper’s been really into all the baby books lately. I think what she likes best is that she can memorize them and then “read” them herself. So this little book led to adorable moments like requests for some “Charlie Parker plays be bop” music to be played, and Harper getting all up in the baby’s face going, “THE MUSIC SOUNDED LIKE HIP-HOP! NEVER LEAVE YOUR CAT ALONE!”

In the sea of crappy board books plagued by uneven rhythms and rhymes and corny subject matter, this book is a welcome change. It would make a great present for cool expecting parents, along with a teeny black-turtleneck onesie and an adorable baby-sized joint. What! No! But you know what I mean. I loved reading the nonsense, scat-like lines aloud. Although I will say it made me feel very extra white.

Anyway, great fun, this book.

And so cool.

charlie parker played be bop

Charlie Parker Played Be Bop, by Chris Raschka. By far the best board book for babies about Charlie Parker.

Only a Fool Breaks His Own Heart, Lost and Found

Everyday Notecards, by LuccaPaperworks on etsy

I admit that I have moments when I wonder why on earth I spend my scant free moments blogging when I could be, you know, scraping play-dough bits off the floor  or watching television or whatever it is people do to relax. Then the other night I got an email that made me so happy that I do keep this silly blog after all. It was from the composer Norman Bergen, in response to a recent post in which I mentioned a song he wrote! I mean, don’t you love the internet sometimes?

As I mentioned in a recent post, Alton’s go-to lullaby is the hit-that-never-was, “Only a Fool Breaks His Own Heart.” In the hospital, right after he was born — which was a wild experience, as he really was almost born in the taxi on the way there, and so maybe we were in even weirder states of mind than after a more, say, relaxed birth experience, if that’s possible — a nurse with a beautiful, soulful voice sang “Only a fool breaks his own heart” in the elevator. Adam, being Adam, immediately looked up the song, and we became acquainted with its various versions. The lyrics make no sense for a lullaby of course, and I hope it doesn’t give Alton any bad ideas about relationships or anything. (Girls of the future, please be nice to our Ollie! OR I WILL MURDER YOU.) We just loved it, and the way, unexpectedly, in that sterile cube zooming us through NYU Medical Center, it came to us.

And same goes for the email Norman Bergen sent me! Look:

I am originally from Brooklyn.  My lyricist Shelly (Sheldon) Coburn (now deceased) and I wrote the song in 1964 and it was first recorded the following year.  The first recording by Arthur Prysock did not do well in the U.S., but after a while, we started hearing about cover versions in other parts of the world.  We knew the song had been successful in a few places but I never knew about its great success throughout the world until getting on the internet 10 years ago.  Bit by bit, information came out.  Today the song is a true standard in 3 parts of the world, now with more than 70 versions. 

For years, the irony had been that the country in which the song was written is the only place where it is virtually unknown, although in recent years a few things have begun to turn things around.  One of the song’s most successful areas has been the Caribbean Islands.  [ed. note: Halloo, Caribbean nurse! I get it now!] The part of Brooklyn where I grew up (East Flatbush/Crown Heights), now has a large Caribbean population, so the song is now known among those residents – right where I came up with the melody so many years ago.  It is one of the biggest hits by Calpyso artist Mighty Sparrow who performs it often, including a recent concert at Brooklyn College where my son works.  Also, Dion DiMucci who is originally from the Bronx, recorded the song in recent years.  These are the two reasons that I have felt more complete about the song finally ‘coming home’ after all these years.
Now your blog!  That truly made my day since there is documentation of the song currently being sung by people in Brooklyn; something I had always hoped for.”
Isn’t that just perfect?
I love the story of the song, because it’s Alton’s song of course (!) but also because it reminds me to take the long view when thinking about my own creations. (The writey ones I mean, not the currently-sleeping-thank-goodness ones in the other room.) A work might not find its audience right away, or in its first iteration. (Under-performing first novel, I’m looking at you, buddy.) And that’s okay. Eventually, probably, it will find its way home.
So anyway, thanks Norman Bergen, for writing the song that makes our baby sleep.
And for emailing me too. That was pretty sweet.

Non-Kids-Music Kids Music

In our (and by that I mean Adam’s) record collection of, oh, thousands of records, we have a total of zero records of kids’ music, which — as much as I love Really Rosie and Free To Be You and Me — I think is pretty awesome. I mean, why not make them listen to what we like? I’m sure we have ahead of us plenty of years of kid-directed dreck crammed into our ears. And now if you ask Harper her favorite song she answers:

Harper’s other all-time favorite most-requested song is “Wild 2” by The Babies. She likes to take her hair down and shake it all around at the “Wild! Wild! Wild!” part.

Our go-to lullaby for Harper is, for some reason, this (which she calls “I know you belong to somebody new but tonight you belong to me” — that whole line!):

Alton’s go-to lullaby, on the other hand, is “Only a Fool Breaks His Own Heart,” because after he was born and we were being moved from the having-a-baby floor of the hospital to the had-a-baby floor, the under-toothed but lovely-voiced nurse sang this in the elevator. I know, both their songs are sort of sad lost-love songs. Sorry, kids!

Harper also really likes Prince’s song “The Beautiful Ones”, though she finds most of his music to be “too bumpy.” David Bowie was approved as the soundtrack to a recent naked tea party. She very much enjoys ordering us to play Stereolab’s album “Dots and Loops,” possibly because of its appealing green color? She likes LA Vampires a lot. A few months ago, an effort to break a brain-splitting Do-Ron-Ron marathon was greeted with a screaming outburst: “I DON’T LIKE PATSY CLIMBS!” But if you sneak it on there, she’s actually ok with Patsy Cline. Oh, and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” is always a winner too.

And I admit it, she LOVES the Hello Song from our excellent City Stomp class. Don’t worry, it’s quite sophisticated.