Have Yourself an Ambivalent Little Christmas


The Golden Age of Spam

Will the Real Renaissance Please Stand Up?

My Life of Crime

My Life of Crime, Pt. 2: The War of the Dandelions

Black (and Blue) Friday

Going Home

How Not to Celebrate a Holiday

Traffic Report Fall Down
and Go Boom

O, Holy Weekend

You Mean My Vote Actually Means Something?

Side Disorders

Lessons for Hurricane Preparedness as Taught By Example in Raleigh, North Carolina

You Mean My Vote Actually Means Something?, Pt. 2: Are They Gone Yet?

The Last Reality Show

It Builds Character

Sink the Flu

WTF (in C Major)

Intruder Alert

Kneel before Za

I Got Your Breaking News Right Here, Pal

Christmas in July...or April...or maybe even December


Why I Hate "The Little Drummer Boy"

WTF (in C Major)

A few days ago my nephew's elementary school music class gave a concert. And I was there. I'm really not certain why I was there. Don't get me wrong: I love my nephew, but usually only parents go to these things. Frankly, I don't think anyone other than a parent should be allowed to attend one of these things. Parents attend because they have to. If anyone else attends one of these things, the assumption is that they actually want to hear the music, and anyone who wants to hear the music at one of these events is clearly too insane to be allowed near children. I genuinely believe I should have been stopped at the door and asked which one of them was my child. An when I tried to explain that one of them was my nephew, I should have been informed that wasn't good enough and I had five minutes to vacate the premises before someone called the authorities.

Anyone who has had the misfortune to have attended (or worse yet, performed) in one of these concerts knows the routine. The songs will be insipid, because as a society we apparently believe that children will be psychologically damaged by performing a song in a minor key. The performances will (let me try to put this politely) hope that earnestness will make up for a lack of competence. Any rhythmic variety in the lyrics will be flattened out to nothing more difficult than quarter notes and half notes. The performers will in most cases be nervous almost to the point of tears, with the exception of a small handful of hams who will be hated by the other performers, the parents of the other performers, and basically every else in the world with the exception of the music teacher (or maybe he hates them too but is too professional to let it show). Simply put, elementary school concerts can best be described as "They build character"...for the adults as well as the children.

This one, I have to say, was better than most. For one thing, it was short. I remember attending a K-12 school when I was young where the school concerts were three-hour affairs featuring performers from every class — a compelling argument in favor of parents abandoning babies at monastery doorsteps if ever there was one, if you ask me. This one had only two acts (a K-2 choir and a 3-5 group that sang and played), and lasted only forty-five minutes or so. Second, the only musical instruments anyone under the age of 30 played were percussion instruments. It's harder to screw up playing a xylophone than, say, a trumpet. And while most of the songs were just the sort of saccharine you expect to hear at an elementary school concert, the teacher did have the decency to make certain the whole thing end with a version of the Surfaris' "Wipeout". Let me simply say that there is something truly sublime about hearing a dozen xylophones playing "Wipeout" at abut two octaves higher than the original performance. There was even a fifth-grader on drums, and he handled the solo quite nicely.

But that was the end. The rest of it was, like I said, the sort of saccharine you expect to hear at an elementary school concert. Worse yet, the accompaniment was the music teacher playing a keyboard setting on the dippiest electric piano sound imaginable. If your iTunes playlist includes multiple songs by Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, and/or Michael Bolton, you may not see a problem with this. My iTunes playlist includes multiple songs by Dead Can Dance, Massive Attack, and King Crimson. I do see a problem with this.

As I listened to these songs, I realized that I could never do this job. I'm not sure if I could handle teaching music to kids (I think I could, but I'm fairly certain I'm fooling myself). But I have a hard time resisting the temptation to mess with people's heads. I would wind up picking songs based on their ability to put WTF expressions on the parents in the audience. To give me something other than the music to focus on, I started trying to think of songs that would evoke just such an expression. Of course, that's no real challenge, and I had the perfect song for that within three seconds. But it also took me no more than three seconds to realize that having a bunch of second-graders sing Berlin's "Sex (I'm a...)" would also get me fired if not arrested. So the challenge was modified: what song would evoke that expression on as many parents as possible without costing me my job?

Jethro Tull's "Aqualung"? No, the line about "eyeing little girls with bad intent" crosses the line. Something by The Residents? Well, that would work and the lyrics aren't always too dangerous, but I wouldn't want to actually psychologically scar the kids in the process. "Turning Japanese" by The Vapors? No, that's actually one where it's worse than people realize and you could probably get away with it. Then it came to me:

"Finished with my woman 'cause she couldn't help me with my mind..."

Yep, that's it. There's absolutely nothing sexual or violent in the lyrics. Many kids, I suspect, would think the lyrics are kind of silly. And remember, the song is going to be played on an electric piano with xylophone accompaniment, which could be almost as awesome as "Wipeout" on those instruments. There's be an audience full of parents with their eyes bugged out, but even if they tried to complain, they'd have a hard time coming up with anything about it that's actually a fireable offense. It's perfect. In fact, when word got out that the elementary school concert was going to feature a Black Sabbath song being played on xylophones, people other than parents might actually be interested just for the sheer novelty of it. It could be the biggest crowd the school had ever seen.

Until, that is, I tell these people that they're not allowed, because they're clearly too insane to be allowed near children.