The Fisher-Price Demon

"Let's sing the alphabet song, SHALL WE?"

So MAN did I need a laugh this week. Seriously, I worked so hard that Monday through Friday was like one long day. So when my wife hit me with this, I nearly doubled over and collapsed. But first, let me get you there, so just hold on one minute…

I’ve been doing a lot of songwriting this year. So much that I’m kind of surprised and taken aback. I feared that parenthood might have made it harder to write, but in truth, I think it’s made it easier. I always have trouble finishing, but I’m very rarely wanting for ideas. Now, granted, a few of the songs I’ve written this year are silly ones about bathtime or eating breakfast, and they will never see the light of day. We’re all entitled that much. My greater fear is that I’m going to finish a bunch of songs, record them, and then at some point while listening to the record, I will discover that I have plagiarized Fisher Price all over the place.

It’s pretty unavoidable, toys today all have terrible songs sung by terrible singers embedded in microchips. We have lots of classic toys, but we didn’t want to be too arcane about it, so we have a few things that require batteries and play music or make sounds. We’ve been careful to pick stuff that we felt wouldn’t make us too psycho, and we’ve been successful at that goal. But when you hear the kitchen sink song from Fisher Price’s Laugh and Learn Learning Kitchen (i’m not stuttering, that’s the name) for the hundredth time in a row, a part of you is ready to play Danny DeVito’s part in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.

So when my wife played me the recordings that you are about to hear, a warm feeling of joy spread over my soul. I was immediately reminded of one of my favorite Patton Oswalt bits, the one about the Alvin & The Chipmunks Christmas Album being played at half speed. (If you’ve never heard it, go listen here immediately.) As the batteries died on this tiny life-sucking device, it’s true nature was finally revealed, and the songs that it’s been singing to us for the last 12 months took on an entirely new meaning. All I could see was Tim Curry as the hyper-red bull-horned devil from Legend, waltzing around our house, teaching us all about letters, numbers, shapes, colors, and pain. Dungeons should be decked out in primary colors, they’re far more terrifying.

So here they are, together with their seemingly harmless lyrics. Enjoy. Now I’m going back to paring over my new lyrics to make sure none of them refer to triangles.

“Something Smells Yummy”
“Mmmmm, something smells yummy / Time to put something in my tummy”

“Stirring Up Some Soup”
“Stirring up some soup that’s full of ABCs / Would you like to try some / First you should say please / Thank you”

“Put Some Water In The Sink”
“Put some water in the sink / If you’re thirsty, pour a drink / Clean the dishes, fill the pan / Don’t forget to wash your hands”

“I Like To Eat Red Apples”
“I like to eat red apples and yellow bananas / Orange oranges and purple grapes / I like some colorful fruit everyday / Then I’m off to play, yay”

“Someone In The Kitchen”
“Someone in the kitchen is laughing / Someone’s in the kitchen to play / Someone in the kitchen is learning / New things everyday”

“The Alphabet Song”
You know this one.

“Numbers”
You know this one, too, though the tune may be unfamiliar.

“How Long Does It Take To Cook”
“How long does it take to cook / Is it done, take a look / Open the door, peek inside / Count until it’s ready”

“Shapes In My Refrigerator”
“Shapes in my refrigerator / Triangle, circle and square / Close the door, say see you later / Shapes are everywhere / Yeah”

“It’s Learning Time”
“It’s learning time—let’s learn Spanish”

“‘Hi There’ and Other Common Phrases”
Other assorted dramatic monologues.
“Hi there”
“On, Off”
“Up, Down”
“Bananas are sweet”
“Orange carrots are a tasty treat”
“Here’s an apple, yum”
“Look at the five green peas”

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Man In A Bubble

Wayne Coyne in a bubble. Over-simplified solution? I don't think so.

What I wouldn’t give to have one of those marvelous bubbles right now. Actually, I need it about a week ago. Wayne, does that thing support time travel as well?

It wouldn’t be completely unfamiliar territory to me, strange as it may sound. I WAS the boy in the bubble. I spent a couple of weeks in the hospital when I was only two, sequestered in an oxygen tent after being diagnosed with asthma. It’s a condition that I still suffer from, though it’s not nearly as bad as it used to be. It does make me more susceptible to head colds, and unless I beat them early, they are more likely to turn into some form of bronchitis, and at the very least, a bad chest cold. In pretty much every other way, I’m a very healthy human being with great habits, so this particular brand of green kryptonite is but a sad and annoying inconvenience.

Like now, when I’ve been sick for almost a week.  Nothing serious, just a boring head cold that I finally caught from my wife, who had caught it from my daughter, who has since caught it AGAIN from me. It almost hit my lungs, but I think I beat it back. Sometimes I would prefer a straight fight with these space alien viruses than all of this invisible crap. Show yourselves, you stupid little monsters! You’re ruining my recording plans!

One of the strangest things to me about sickness is the time border that surround it. You always know when you get sick. The day before you were fine, and now you’re not. The end of sickness is usually not that clear. Like now—I feel great today, but I still sound a little sick. So regardless of how ready I am to record vocals, it’s still a complete waste of time. I find that fuzziness really depressing, it just makes it impossible to know when it’s officially going to be over so you can make plans.

I try to stay ahead of sickness as much as possible—I take my vitamins, exercise, eat healthy foods, and even get my flu shots. But there’s no avoiding the rare-to-occasional recycling of sickness that happens in my home. At least none of us have to go to the office and catch whatever bug is going around from co-workers that decided they would rather use their sick days for vacation. And our daughter doesn’t go to daycare, so that’s another natural barrier. (In fact, this was only her second illness in almost 15 months.)  But when sickness does come, this new parenthood thing has opened up a whole new challenge. Nothing stops so that you can take time to recover. NOTHING. EVER. So you just muddle through and do the best you can. In the meantime, I go to the microphone every day and wait to hear my normal voice.

I love our own little three-person bubble. And I would never really want to have a bubble without them in it. Except when they’re sick and I have recording to do. Then I wish I had Wayne Coyne on speed dial and a house with tube-shaped hallways.

Constructo vs. Destructo!

"Let's dance! Put on your red shoes and dance the blues!"

A lot of time that I spend with my daughter involves watching one of the following two activities:

  1. Putting things into some kind of container.
  2. Taking things out of some kind of container.

I have come to call these collective activities CONSTRUCTO (1) VS. DESTRUCTO (2). Sometimes it is an utterly fascinating train wreck to watch, like a Godzilla vs. Whomever movie. Other times it is so repetitive, I swear I can hear the synapses growing in her brain, one cell at a time. Other times it’s just terrifying, mainly due to the nature of both the “things” and the “container.” We gave up early on “tupperware” in the “kitchen cabinet,” but decided to park a chair in front of the “stereo” in the “glass cabinet.” I hardly ever refer to only one or the other, because they don’t seem to exist on their own anymore. She’s constantly just picking one, then doing the opposite.

It used to be frustrating. We’d buy her a toy and she’d rather play CONSTRUCTO VS. DESTRUCTO with our magazines. And it wasn’t only only frustrating from selfish “we wasted our money buying you that thing” perspective. It was more about not being able to relate to her strange little brain. Why do you want to do this? Aren’t you bored with the freaking tupperware yet? Yes, I saw you put the finger puppets into that box, and now you want to take them out, not play with them, and then put them back. That’s great. WHY!?!?!?!?!?!?!?

But the game has progressed to new levels. She now likes to wear our shoes and walk around. (Things=Feet, Container=Shoes). It’s absolutely terrifying how quickly she is learning, and how much more complicated the game gets every single day. And now it’s a short leap to being just like any adult I know.

I play CONSTRUCTO VS. DESTRUCTO all the time. Every day. Every hour. Every minute. If I’m not building something, I’m tearing something apart. I actually can’t think of another good category to put activities into, with one exception—sometimes it’s both. Really, most of the time it’s both. It’s a constant balancing act, and you never want either side to win. Entropy is one of the most powerful forces in the universe, and it competes with gravity all the time. If gravity wins, you get a black hole. If entropy wins, you get a void.

Just watching this game helped me understand the evolution of my perception on songwriting and recording. I think of songwriting as CONSTRUCTO—I start with nothing, and I build until I end up with something. But now I think of recording as DESTRUCTO—some kind of reverse songwriting event. From the minute I start recording, it’s like a time bomb is ticking down to zero. It used to be a lot more difficult to know when something was done, but I’m getting better at it thanks to these two monsters. It’s like that dream sequence in Six Degrees Of Separation:

“This is what I dreamt. I didn’t dream, so much as realise this . . . I thought . . . how easy it is for a painter to lose a painting. He paints and paints, works on a canvas for months, and then, one day, he loses it. Loses the structure, loses the sense of it. You lose the painting. I remembered asking my kids’ second-grade teacher: ‘Why are all your students geniuses? Look at the first grade—blotches of green and black. The third grade—camouflage. But your grade, the second grade . . . Matisses, every one. You’ve made my child a Matisse. Let me study with you. Let me into the second grade. What is your secret?'”

“I don’t have any secret. I just know when to take their drawings away from them.”

Maybe that’s why children spend so much time playing this game. They’re just learning the rules of balance. The trick is to never stop playing the game, because the rules change all the time. Godzilla has to let Mothra win every once in awhile.

(P.S. Happy Valentine’s Day, JP!)