by Kate Conner-Ruben
There was an article in the New York Times last fall about the advent of a new social genre: the rejuveniles. This boisterous breed is made up of adults who gleefully out their inner kid, revel in childish pursuits, turn the lunch boxes of youth into fashionable purses, and invite their friends over for Lego parties. I know a few of them. Whether rejuveniles are the escapist by-product of grim times or just express a simple longing for the long ago I can't really say, but I suspect they'd be one of several demographics who'd snap up Mister Laurence's new CD, Pure Gibberish, and spin it senseless.
After having released a massive oeuvre as rock musician, performance artist, dad, and other titles too abstract to describe, Ann Arbor-based musician Laurence Miller has found surprising success writing and performing music for kids. I caught his act quite by chance at Nicola's Books a number of years ago and wrote about it for the Observer. Since then he's been a busy boy, releasing several CDs, performing all over southeast Michigan, and writing song after song.
The music of Mister Laurence is dark and strange and ignores all rules of children's music such as simplicity, repetition, not too many big words. If they didn't know his songs were intended for kids, some neopunk band might cover them.
The album kicks off with a rollicking welcome by the man in charge, who sounds like a blend of addled great-uncle, psycholinguist, and general goofball. The title song is a complex ditty filled with instructions for talking nonsense, filled with unexpected chords, that signature Mister Laurence art house dissonance, bells, whistles, and synth weirdness. Kids will either adore it or listen to it gape-mouthed.
"Jack and Jill's Hill" is a journey into perky surrealism that asks what would happen if that fabled pair just never came back down. "Sticks and Stones" starts out like a Bach harpsichord sonata and devolves into
a scary, pounding, growling plaint about verbal bullying. Brave Kinder might well stomp about the living room giving vent to all kinds of feelings when this track plays. It's like having your own personal giant in the house. This scary persona of Mister Laurence as monster hurtles back for "Mom and Dad Are Teething":
| Mom and Dad are teething |
We know it really hurts
It's difficult at times it seems
For them to use their words!
"The Typing Train" starts with a story of a magical typewriter and morphs into a kind of Laurie Andersonish trance song. One minute it's just charming, the next it's cool, and the next it's so bizarre the mind struggles to grab hold.
I personally would very much like to see Mister Laurence in a smoky bar, wearing his play-money shirt and singing his children's songs to a horde of gin-soaked art students. At the end of the night, he'd croon a lullaby, their eyes would slide shut, and their dyed heads would slowly fall to their chests.
Mister Laurence performs a concert for kids at Oz's Music on Saturday, February 7.
[Originally published in February, 2004.]