Families: Radical Aardvark

Rocker David Weinstone is music to the ears of toddlers and their grateful parents

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Since even the most pleasant kids' music can rankle--fast--an important part of Aardvarks' appeal to adults is that they too can appreciate the tunes. "It's real music--the songs are so good," says Phish keyboardist Page McConnell, who has taken Aardvarks with his daughter. "We listen to it all the time." The classically trained Weinstone, 40, who attended Berklee College of Music and once wrote a book of classical minuets for the piano without ever having played that instrument, writes songs that are alternately silly, loud and beautiful, in styles including Delta blues, hip-hop and thrashing rock 'n' roll. There are references to '70s and '80s rock that engage the parents. There are sitars and bongos, and hints of the Beatles, Bowie and Brazilian pop.

And if you think kids' music is just about talking teapots, think again. Weinstone addresses such disparate themes as spending the day alone with Dad, fighting with a best friend, toilet training, going to visit the museum, prejudice, old age and death. "I find kids get the joke and can appreciate some sophisticated content if the vehicle is correct for delivering it," he says. "Other arts for kids, like literature or theater, are of a different quality--any adult can enjoy Charlotte's Web--but in kids' music, so much of what's out there is gooey, badly written, condescending."

Kids get the difference. In his classes, where the comedic and unpretentious Weinstone skillfully puts even the shyest children at ease, it's not unusual to see a toddler rocking her head in perfect rhythm, or dancing a limbo, say, with a laughing parent. Temple St. Clair Carr, a jewelry designer, says her son Alexander, 4, likes Weinstone so much he has begun to compose ditties of his own on his ukulele. After Mollie Fox, a former client, moved to Chicago last year, the songs helped ease her son's transition to his new neighborhood. "He would refer to Superman, about people looking different, as a way of talking about the fact that our new neighborhood was less diverse than our old one." Indeed, local schools have used the music to inspire discussions on tolerance.

And for city dwellers, songs with names like Taxi, Modern Art, Avenue A and Swing Town are groovy alternatives to what Weinstone calls the "cute wiggly-bunny and pony songs" at which he takes gentle jabs in songs like New McDonald ("Old McDonald had a farm/ E-I-E-I-O/But I live in a walk-up/Ready, set, go!") and Little Bunny, about a rabbit who hops a train and spends a night in jail. Raves Jesse Solomon, 4, who treks to Manhattan from Brooklyn every Saturday with his dad for classes: "The Subway song is great!"

Of course, bunnies in jail don't work for everyone. "I've had to return checks for songs that talk about old age and bodily functions like pooping," Weinstone says. "One woman told me she didn't like the Bagel song because it had sexual undertones." Others have attacked songs like I Like Your Toys, a hard-rock tribute to Weinstone idol Lou Reed, for being too, well, adult sounding. Yet, says Chicagoan Fox, "Toys is my four-year-old's favorite song. People forget what kids are like. Before you judge, watch the kids."

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