On Jonathan Coulton and Parenthood, Two Well-Worn Topics
So there's this guy you may have -- should have -- heard of. Jonathan Coulton. Musician. Sidekick. Troubadour. (No, really; he's the official troubadour for both I'm-a-PC-Areas-of-my-Expertise John Hodgman and Popular Science.) He made his claim to fame with songs like "Code Monkey" and his white-boy acoustic cover of Sir Mix-a-Lot's "Baby Got Back." His complete catalog of music is here, while there's also a less intimidating page of listening suggestions.
Popular Science recently held a make-your-own-video contest for Coulton's song, "I Feel Fantastic," an ode to our over-medicated society -- embedded here for your entertainment (and to break up the page). I'll be back after the song to talk about one of his songs about parenthood (yes, parenthood again).
Very lovely, very lovely. Golf claps for Mr. Coulton and Ms. Crain all around.
I first encountered Coulton through his December 10 interview on Morning Edition with Andrea Seabrook. They played his biggest "hits," "Code Monkey" and "Re: Your Brains" (smug corporate zombies in cubicles for the win!), but the song that captured me was "You Ruined Everything." It's a love song to a child. Yes, I mean it:
I was fine
I pulled myself together
Just in time
To throw myself away
Once my perfect world was gone I knew
You ruined everything
In the nicest way
Coulton writes in the liner notes:
I was having a conversation with a friend who had recently become a parent, and she reminded me of something I had forgotten about since my daughter was born. She was describing this what-have-I-done feeling - I just got everything perfect in my life, and then I went and messed it all up by having a baby. I don’t feel that way anymore, but the thought certainly crossed my mind a few times at the beginning. Eventually you just fall in love and forget about everything else, but it’s not a very comfortable transition. I compare the process to becoming a vampire, your old self dies in a sad and painful way, but then you come out the other side with immortality, super strength and a taste for human blood. At least that’s how it was for me. At any rate, it’s complicated.
In the interview, Coulton and Seabrook talked about the way new parenthood strips you down -- you find yourself inhabiting clichés such as "it's all for you." Hearing their conversation brought it all back -- the panic I felt before his birth because I knew I was going to screw it all up, the claustrophobia I felt as our social world (necessarily) shrank due to our new responsibilities, the mutual aggravation when Shannon and I contend(ed) with a child who knew better but misbehaved anyway, dammit!, and the love and pride when he gets it right.
In this song, as well as his ode to the suburban nightmare "Shop-Vac," Coulton brings the candy-coated Harsh to his music -- but finishes with heart. He may please the geeks like me with songs like "Code Monkey," but songs like "You Ruined Everything" show that he's more than a gimmick songwriter. Much more.