When I started in kids’ radio in 1983, there weren’t many contemporary artists producing original music for my audience. Those early days of Raffi’s influence created songs about “Baby Beluga” and awareness of a world beyond one’s own borders.
Then came Barry Louis Polisar, whose approach to kids’ music reflected the anarchy of childhood. Polisar created music about real-life kids and their real-life battles against the adult world. Songs like “He Eats Asparagus, Why Can’t You Be That Way,” “Don’t Put Your Finger Up Your Nose,” “Never Cook Your Sister in a Frying Pan,” and “I Got a Teacher, She’s So Mean” reached kids of the ’80s by appealing to the inner Tasmanian Devil in each of us.
Polisar’s songs were delivered by the composer’s own whiny, reedy, ever-young sounding voice and his acoustic guitar. Frankly, listening to a whole Barry Louis Polisar album could make your teeth hurt from the sound. But the songs were amazing mixes of grown-up literary references (influenced by Polisar’s mentor/uncle, a New York poet) and kid-friendly silliness. Polisar brought families together with deliciously subversive musical humor.
Many kids who grew up on Polisar have now honored his influence with We’re Not Kidding! A Tribute to Barry Louis Polisar. It’s a brilliant two-CD collection interpreting Polisar’s songs in a wide variety of styles. This CD isn’t narrowly aimed at kids, but it includes current kids’ artists like Ham & Burger and The Boogers. Hand this to a fan of alternative rock without mentioning Polisar’s kids’ song roots, and they’ll never know the difference.
His song “All I Want Is You” on the Juno soundtrack ignited interest in Polisar, who has continued producing books and music and has always maintained an exhausting school touring schedule. We’re Not Kidding! opens with The Vespers’ folkie rhythmic take on “All I Want Is You,” turning it into a simple love song.
Deleon follows with a haunting, heavily-produced Led Zeppelin/psychedelic approach to “My Brother Thinks He’s a Banana,” (“he’s really quite intelligent, he’s read the Bhagavad Gita…”).
“I Eat Kids” gets a rock treatment from The Radioactive Chicken Heads that will get you singing along: “I stopped eating animals, and I’m glad I did. But I still get my protein ’cause I eat kids.” There have always been nervous nellies complaining about Polisar’s humor. Luckily, kids understand he’s not actually advocating eating children, and appreciate his imaginative outlook on life.
In a world where “Bad Guys Broke into Our Car” may be a real-life occurrence, Los Huevos use spirited rock to remind us “it’s just stuff.” Slide guitar sweetens the country feel of Rebecca Loebe’s “You’re As Sweet as Sugar on a Stick.” It’s one of many love songs on the album, expanding Polisar’s original parent/child intentions to include more grown-up affections.
With enormous variation in musical styles and performers, We’re Not Kidding! honors the best part of Barry Louis Polisar — his songwriting. By bringing their own originality to his songs, the kids who grew up on Polisar do right by him as adults. Visit www.barrylou.com for samples and to order CDs.
Kathy O’Connell is a contributing writer to MetroKids and host of the Peabody-award-winning Kids Corner, weekdays 7-8pm on WXPN 88.5 FM.