I know, I know: You don’t watch television, and your kids are utterly puzzled when they even catch a glimpse of a television screen, so unfamiliar are they with the evils of the Box O’ Idiots. If they’ve ever seen any TV, it’s been ludicrously educational — sedate documentaries about free-range chickens with Mozart gently playing in the background, perhaps. You would never, ever dream of using the TV to keep the kids under control while you cook (or, ahem, write a column about kids’ music.)
But just in case you, er, know someone who might not be quite so good at avoiding screen time for the kids, you’ll be glad to learn that a lot of the talented musicians making great music for kids are also making great DVDs for kids. Below, some of the best:
Bzots: Escape-a-Go-Go and Gotta Get a Gig! Follow me carefully here: three robots named Skree, Wkewke, and Bdonk used to work at a factory owned by Globocrud (“If you’ve ever been born, eaten, breathed, slept, metabolized, gone to school, relaxed, conducted any sort of business in any country, laughed, cried, relieved yourself in any way, or died, chances are you used a Globocrud product while you did.”). There, Skree and Wkewke built Bdonk out of spare parts, and then they all ran away from the factory and formed a band. Naturally. (Bzots.com)
These videos (and the Powered Up! CD that preceded them) are hilarious and not-so-subtly subversive, especially the satirical look at corporate America as personified (companified?) by Globocrud. The experience extends online, with the Bzots.com web site filled with fun, and lots of laughs on the Globocrud.com web site as well. The music is high-energy but not frantic, with a better use of some of the tools of electronic music than you usually find in music for kids. All of it will make your kids rock out, and probably increase their media savvy (even if they don’t notice). And rumor has it you might see Bzots soon on a cable network near you.
Biscuit Brothers: Go Make Music! Biscuit Brothers is a public television show made in Austin, Texas, which airs there and in a handful of other markets nationwide. Not surprisingly, given its hometown, the music is fundamentally country and Americana, with clean but not simplistic songwriting. Since it’s a PBS show, you should expect an educational component, and it’s here — the three episodes are full of good music education — but you’ll never feel like you’re being taught at or like the lessons are taking over the entertainment. Instead, it flows together, and mostly you’ll feel happy, and the songs will float around your mind for days. (BiscuitBrothers.com)
Pancake Mountain How to describe Pancake Mountain? It’s a Washington, D.C.-based public-access TV show for kids. But oh, how inadequate that description is. The show, available on several DVDs, features performances by some amazing non-kids’ bands like Shonen Knife, Arcade Fire, The Evens, Scissor Sisters, George Clinton and Built to Spill, as well as funny skits, most notably Rufus Leaking, a rather rude puppet interviewer (think Triumph the Insult Dog, but slightly more kid-appropriate). Frankly, I think the show ends up aiming a little bit more at parents than kids, but there’s enough there to keep the kids happy that you can sit back and enjoy it. (PancakeMountain.com)
Other picks: Dan Zanes’s All Around the Kitchen (DanZanes.com, great compilation of live performances and videos that really capture what’s special about Zanes); They Might Be Giants’s Here Come the ABCs (just as hilarious as you’d expect); Roger Day Live (straightforward but energetic and compelling concert video).
Bill Childs is a law professor in western Massachusetts who proudly answers, “Minnesota!” when asked whence he hails. He and his 8-year-old daughter produce a kids’ music radio show, “Spare the Rock, Spoil the Child,” weekly; check it out at SpareTheRock.com. Contact him at [email protected] to let him know about great artists