With a Mini Moog
He can be lewd
Most of his songs
Are not intended for children
So when Belle and Sebastian's manager wrote to me from Scotland last week asking for a track for a children's album the band is putting together, I knew there'd be moral and semantic problems. Was this to be a record for or about children? Was it a record for real children or the idea of childhood propagated by parents and other adults — the wishy-washy "child in all of us", cute, neuter and filled permanently with wonder? Would Freud's findings on the sexuality of children be part of the record? Would some Edward Gorey spirit be tolerated?
I replied by sending the two child-related tracks on my new album, Otto Spooky: "Belvedere" and "Lute Score", with an accompanying letter saying in advance that I thought they would probably be unsuitable, "Belvedere" for its pervy lyrics ("touch other children's genitals for pleasure") and "Lute Score" for its references to violent video games ("shooting off the pop-up panda's head") and its zany out-of-control arabic-scale music.
Well, sure enough, a few days later I got an answer from the Belle and Sebastian team. The songs were indeed unsuitable, though "great". Subversive themes were already being slipped into the material coming in from such artists as Belle & Sebastian, Franz Ferdinand, Snow Patrol, Teenage Fanclub, Adam Green, Four Tet, Mum, The Fiery Furnaces, Gorky's Zygotic Mynci, The Divine Comedy, Rasputina, and Bert Jansch and Beth Orton. But the themes in my songs were not just subversive but "nightmarish".
Fair enough, I did warn you! I completely understand. Then again, I do think we underestimate the darkness of childrens' tastes, the perversity of their sense of humour, and their propensity to sex and violence. Children are not twee. In fact, when I see my sister's kids Robbie and Ellie, 12 and 8, beating each other up I'm rather shocked at the Clockwork Orangeness of it all. If one of them feels slighted, massive retaliation can be expected, in cold blood.
I've given a copy of Otto Spooky to my sister, and it's been played around the house, in front of the children, uncensored. My sister's first reaction was that she was enjoying the "underground theatre" elements of it (she's done her share of experimental rep), but a month or so later she told me "We all listened as much as we could but then I found myself unable to play it anymore. Without the context it seems to jar. I mean I would love it as part of a performance but I prefer easy listening in the flat."
So my sister's resistance is aesthetic rather than moral. After all, we were brought up as kids listening to the rock opera "Hair", with its ditties celebrating "sodomy, fellatio, cunnilingus, pederasty", and it hasn't done us any... well, not much... well, you know...
There's a review of Otto Spooky in the current edition of Uncut which kindly calls me "a laptop Tom Lehrer", which makes me wonder whether there would be any space on Belle and Sebastian's compilation for Lehrer's song "The Old Dope Peddler":
He gives the kids free samples
Because he knows full well
That today's young, innocent faces will be
Thing is, if there are such dark adults out there, shouldn't we tell the dark children who'll one day become them?