Pop culture is a load of dreck and it frustrates me deeply to see children’s idiosyncratic tastes fade and blur, leaving an army of 10-11 year olds whose shared cultural language revolves around listening to rubbish bands making boring music, bantering about which team they support, and which vacuous American programmes they watch. I feel sorry for them because an appreciation for different things – divergence, to use a pop cultural buzzword – doesn’t happen by osmosis. It is difficult for a child to access cultures that do not swallow them up already, and what they need is a guide, like some Soundcloud Warlock, to navigate them through the cliff-falls of One Direction, High School Musical and the Hunger Games.
I am not saying there is anything wrong with these three things (there is though) but it’s just quite sad that kids don’t really get much choice in their cultural consumption. If you live in McDonalds and all you see is McDonalds, then you’re going to end up eating burgers. We teachers can be the miscreant Heston Blumenthal’s tapping on the window, imploring our charges to throw their artificially yellow cheeseburgers down to the ground to sample the manifold delights we can offer them – Pheasant Quiche (ChoralChamber Music), Beetroot Glass (The Works of Spike Milligan), Lavender Jelly (the ambient albums of Aphex Twin).
Simply put, the kids may find it weird now to be encouraged to sample these strange delights – music like they’ve never heard, stories they’ve never read, TV programmes that never get broadcast – but they will thank us in the long run.
Since I’ve been in the reflective frame of mind, this issue takes me back to primary school. Despite being Princess of the Milksops, I was still an avid collector of football cards, and wrestling cards, and Pogs and Pokemon cards. That wasn’t because I like that stuff – some kids really did, and that interest persists now – I just liked it because that’s the stuff you needed to know about to get on and have friends to speak to.
I remember the possessive pride with which I doted upon my Spice Girls key ring…
But then, in Year 6, I had a teacher who almost certainly has no idea how much impact she had on her pupils, in the very specific domain of music. She herself was an eccentric – I say this like she is not alive and living around the corner from my parents still – and it always felt like she was more ‘one of us’ than ‘one of them’. I’m sure that wasn’t the case, but the fact she had us feel that way is pretty impressive with kids that old.
One thing that set her apart, after having had older and more traditional teachers throughout the rest of primary school, was that she always had music on. In the background, when we worked, she’d stick the CD player on. At lunch and break, she’d have her (to us) strange music playing. Over time, her music became our music and us – a completely culturally aloof group of 30 kids in the middle of Doncaster in 2000 – ended up being exposed to smattering of real creative music.
Most children outside of the inner city estates of London had no idea what ‘Garage’ was, outside of it being the place your grandad kept his lawnmower. We were different though – we had garage music playing as we wrote our haikus, and plotted our lines of symmetry and made our masks. One tune in particular, not necessarily Garage but still memorable, was ‘Freestyler’ by Bomfunk MCs. I still happily blast that bad boy out now, fifteen years later.
Beyond this, it was this teacher who introduced us to Gorillaz just as they came out. That debut album is still the most played album on my iPod and it was only in about 2009 that I began to trace through the Gorillaz, back to Blur, then back to Britpop and its antecedents. Moving in the other direction, the samples of Del tha Funkee Homosapien in Clint Eastwood led me to Deltron 3030, the most mindblowingly lyrically complex and eccentric of rap concept albums set in a dystopian future you are ever likely to hear.
I want to be that person for my kids. It’s not the most important thing but most things aren’t. I see it as a covert gift that I’m giving to them – they might not appreciate it fully yet, but their uncommon knowledge of Gregory Porter, Nina Simone, The XX, Old School Hip Hop (clean version, of course), Skunk Anansie, Aphex Twin (not the crazy stuff), Omar Souleyman (the crazy stuff), Khachaturian’s ‘Sabre Dance’, Rachmaninov’s ‘Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini’ and Oasis, will leave them equipped to enter the world of tasteful music with a sense of direction. I’m not forcing my kids to listen to the Smiths, like some grim Northern hostage situation in a Working Men’s Club. All I am doing is setting out the landscape for them – they can make their own path, and mix it with the music they listen to at home (if at all, and if their family and religion allows for it). They follow their own route, but they will hopefully see that the map contains more than Gangnam Style and Olly Murs.