It’s the most wonderful time of the year, in theory. This holds true when you’re having a happy holiday at home, and it’s also lovely to see friends and family who live far away. But you have to get from one location to the other, the wonderfulness can decrease pretty rapidly, mile by mile, rest stop by rest stop, shriek by shriek.
On our rare road trips, we search around for some audio entertainment that the whole family can enjoy—a tall order for kids aged 13, 12, 10, 9, 7, 5, 4 and 2, not to mention parents who still have some standards. We got through our last long trip with The Hobbit audio book adapted by Bob Lewis (available on cassette). It was pretty good, but the long, noisy passages with lots and lots of Gollum and Smaug took their toll on everyone.
This was the same trip on which we discovered that Bob Dylan is an excellent disciplinary tool. The first time I played “Blood on the Tracks” in the car, everyone who was shorter than me started to howl, “TURN IT OFF, TURN IT OFF!” in unison. So now when they start to act up, I just have to murmur, “Don’t make me put on Dylan . . .” and peace returns to the Fisher van.
So we haven’t had much luck finding music albums that everyone enjoys, but other types of audio entertainment may do the trick. The easiest way to please everyone is to play things that come in short segments, with lots of variety. The following suggestions are mostly albums I enjoyed as a kid, and which still hold up today, when I am very, very old (so old that I can finally admit that I don’t really like Bob Dylan, either. I’ll fully acknowledge that he’s a god, and indispensible, and seminal figure in American music and culture. I just don’t want to hear him, that’s all).
Danny Kaye makes me feel a wee bit uncomfortable when he’s singing or acting—it’s hard to shake that “huge talent, but something ain’t right here” sensation—but when he’s telling children’s stories, he’s at his best. We listened to this album of stories over and over again, and the versions he tells seem definitive to me now. There are just enough sound effects, and Kaye’s incredible ability to change his voice is at full advantage here. Pleasant and wholesome, funny and moving, and no dull moments at all, and includes some lesser-known stories.
It’s also very worthwhile buying “The Little Fiddle” on its own—hilarious:
OLD RADIO SHOWS
Some of the humor is dated, but most of it is just so extremely dry and peculiar that it would seem out of context at any time—but it’s the funniest thing in the world. Probably less entertaining for anyone under the age of 8, but everyone else can glean a lifetime’s supply of running jokes from Bob and Ray’s doleful, deadpan parody of early radio shows. The Slow Talkers of America, for instance, or “laughably edible chocolate wobblies,” now available due to the negligence of our alert uniformed attendants.
Here’s a taste:
If Bob and Ray is dry humor, Spike Jones is sopping wet. This is noisy, crazy, wild stuff. Start with The Best of Spike Jones and quickly wonder how you ever got through life without hearing “Dance of the Hours” played on cowbell, bicycle horns and the occasional pistol. All of the musicians are virtuosi (including at least one guy with an amazingly limber uvula http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LQOXrMA4K0E) who are dedicated to the art of making semi-great music sound ridiculous.
I also feel that “Der Fuehrer’s Face”
ought to be required listening for all serious students of history.
I don’t know, maybe you do have to be Jewish, but this is some hilarious stuff. Very quick little skits illustrating all the worst stereotypes of American Jews, all of which are perfectly true. Anyone who wants to understand what’s going on in the Middle East should be required to listen to “The Chosen People” skit. Here’s one of the more famous routines:
“A Call From Long Island”
I was familiar with all the songs from the original cast recordings of West Side Story and Fiddler on the Roof long before I saw either movie. Kids are remarkably tolerant of hearing bits and pieces of stories without the need for context, and a good musical has tons of variety. These shows are excellent musically, very singable, and are lively and engaging enough to interest people of all ages.
What goes over well in your car? Or are you smart enough to stay in the house this year?