Friday, May 09, 2008

The Girls Nearby The Man

There appears to be an unwritten rule that demands, when one is expecting children, that all one's friends and relations must gather to tell horror stories regarding their own and others' bouts of birthing and parenthood.

Pregnant woman, of course, get the worst of it - gleeful retellings of various tearings, stitchings and clampings, described in vivid Technicolour detail, and qualified with an insincere "But I'm sure YOU'LL be alright."

Fathers, on the other hand, are offered a friendly slap on the shoulder and the knowledge that "Your life will never be the same again."

I recall one well-meaning friend, when my daughters were near birth, saying, with all seriousness, that I was "obviously going to give up this music lark, now that I had responsibilities."

I didn't - and I can't even begin to pretend that being a father has prevented me from doing anything I wanted to do, other than have a bed containing only adults for more than 15 minutes at a time. It is true, however, that my life changed forever.

For instance, when I slipped my brand new copy of Elvis Costello's Momofuku on to my regrettably dusty turntable this morning, the song that leapt out at me first was "My Three Sons", a classy and catchy paean to fatherhood that I dearly wish I had written. Of course, my two daughters might take rather badly to be referred to as three sons, but my point stands.

I have had children as long as I have been a professional musician, and they have been, perhaps, the single greatest influence on how I work, yet I have never written a song about them. I've thought about it, often, but every time I do so, I find myself terrified of venturing down a maudlin, saccharine road, from which I would then have to beat a hasty retreat, derisive hollers echoing in my ears.

Then again, I find uncomplicated love songs difficult to stomach for the same reason. Thankfully, my love life has never been simple, so I've always been able to throw in a twist without reaching too strenuously. But my children... well, that's a far less complicated love.

They're six now, and, having been exposed to music all their lives, are starting to form their own opinions, and exhibit their own sense of style and taste, and it's the first time I've ever found being a parent and being a musician to be a difficult combination.

Do you know how hard it is to listen to a six-year-old warbling a Westlife song she's heard on the radio and reply, as one should, "That's beautiful, darling!" instead of what I'm really thinking, which is, "Out Demon! In the name of Jesus, I thee expel!"?

Mind you, I remember when my daughters were three and we were working on our second album. I used to play them the mixes to see if they'd dance, because the automatic response of a toddler is pretty much identical to that of your average Radio One listener, so it's a good commercial testing ground, if not an artistic one.

One particular song came on, of which I was, and am, very proud. It moved nicely, the band played exceptionally, I didn't want to rewrite more than 1/4 of it after it was finished... it was a good one.

My marginally older daughter (by minutes), however, stopped dancing and tapped me on the shoulder.

"That one's crap," she said, "Don't play that one when you go to work."

I laughed on the outside, but on the inside I was thinking, "What the hell do you know? YOU like High School Musical!"

Do you see what I mean? They think I'm mental because I throw things at the television when yet another haircut and testicle-strangling-trouser band appears on the screen, or another vapid, soul-destroying talent show. They honestly don't understand why I, like them, can't enjoy Elvis Costello AND watch the mentally challenged audition for parts in Oliver!. Why, they ask, am I so vocal about the need for someone to punch Andrew Lloyd Hobbit very hard in the face?

Maybe they're right. Maybe I'm crazy. But I just may be the lunatic they're... Damn it! How did Billy Joel creep in there?

All I know is, they're my real audience, and I think that 98% of my drive to succeed has shifted, over the last six years, from the belt-stretching bloat of my ego to my desire to please them, to make them proud. And if that's not a good enough reason to put up with the slings and arrows inherent in chasing a dream, I don't know what is.

They're still not getting Leona Lewis for Christmas, though. They can have Joni Mitchell and like it.


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