Can you raise your kids on David Bowie?
SOME PARENTS are proud when their children get into a selective school; others consider it a win if their child stays out of juvie for a whole year. My own proudest parenting moment came recently when my seven-year-old grabbed the microphone from the MC at a children’s talent competition and said, “Hello, my name is Cella and I’m going to sing Fashion by David Bowie.”
Sadly, it soon emerged there was no music for David Bowie – any David Bowie (I know, right?) – and Cella decided she’d instead rock out to Mediterranea by Duran Duran. After much confusion from the crowd, the MC put his arm around Cella and recommended she sing something “popular like Katy Perry or Taylor Swift”. My daughter – all pig-tailed and sweaty-faced – looked as though she’d been punched in the stomach and did the only thing anyone with an ounce of self-respect could do in that situation: she stormed off the stage in disgust.
“I’m different from the other kids, aren’t I?” she asked me sadly when I cuddled her afterwards. I nodded slowly. Different she is and, what’s more, it’s all my fault.
I never planned for things to be this way, of course. When Cella was born, I rushed out like every other anxious first-time mum to buy all the “right” children’s CDs, books and DVDs. But I quickly discovered that sentiments which might have once seemed right were, in fact, very wrong. Indeed, classic nursery-rhyme CDs, cutely illustrated with kittens playing fiddles, weren’t too dissimilar to listening to a death-metal album backwards and hearing voices telling you to kill. Themes of death and destruction are common, whether it’s via the plague (“A-tishoo! A-tishoo! We all fall down!”) or by inexplicably placing a cradle precariously on a branch and then having the whole thing – baby and all – plummet to earth.
Fairytales were no better. Even once I’d got over the fact that most of the original versions were incredibly macabre (in Snow White, for example, the Huntsman is instructed to bring back SW’s lungs and liver, while in The Little Match Girl, the child freezes to death on the streets with nothing but her memories and the odd matchstick to keep her warm), I was dumbstruck at the messages these growing brains were absorbing.
If you think about it, Sleeping Beauty is basically about an attractive woman who can’t wake up until a man forces himself on her (some might call that romance; I think of it more as sexual assault), while Snow White has been “dead” on a slab of ice for quite some time before a guy swings past and says, “Man, that dead chick is hot! Her rigor mortis will be no match for my devilish charms.” But, hey, everybody, that behaviour is totally cool because “they all lived happily ever after”.
In an insane world filled with either the maddening strains of “hot potato, hot potato, cold spaghetti, cold spaghetti” on one side, and the “bitches and hos” sentiments of mainstream music videos on the other, filling my infant daughter’s head with the likes of Duran Duran and David Bowie seemed to be the sanest choice. I binned the CDs, banned mainstream entertainment and rocked Cella to sleep to Bryan Ferry and Lou Reed. At bedtime, I read my own version of Cinderella, where she got a law degree, travelled the world and agreed to marry her bloke – but only after successfully prosecuting her stepsisters for aggravated cruelty and false imprisonment. And away from the influence of YouTube, TV and radio telling Cella she should be sexy and half-naked to have any worth, she’s growing up into an interesting person. When I overheard her pontificating to a Taylor Swift-obsessed friend (also aged seven) about the musical superiority of Bowie’s Space Oddity (“It’s good because it tells the story of the last conversation between an astronaut and ground control”), I wanted to punch the air with joy.
But sometimes I watch her being so different from her classmates and wonder if I did the right thing. Humans evolved as social animals, after all, and our biological wiring for group conformity is so strong that anxiety soon kicks in if we feel we don’t belong. Will Cella grow up a social outcast, raining revenge on those around her by way of a clock tower and firearms? (Hmm, sounds like a fairytale I once read.) Will she throw fistfuls of cash at therapists to talk over the lack of pop stars in her childhood? You might think so, but social researchers think the opposite, arguing herd mentality is the biggest danger humans face.
You see, while those who conform into groups comfortably are the quickest to veer into bouts of extreme violence such as riots, massacres and even genocide, individualists are more likely to retain a strong sense of self and resist the status quo. And so, when my two-year-old toddled into the room last week to tell me Bowie’s Changes was her favourite song, it’s with this in mind that I sat down, gave her a big hug and said, “That’s an excellent choice, my darling.”