Tuesday, August 11, 2009

For Science!

Note: I wrote this back in early July for the regional parenting magazines I write for. Parts of it come from a column I wrote for our local paper when my dad was first diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and parts from the obituary and eulogy I wrote. I don't usually post those reviews here, but I figured I should post this one. The record becomes available through iTunes and Amazon exclusively on September 1. The physical CD release will be September 22. We will -- soon, I am assured -- get to start playing the record on the show.

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My dad, W. Ves Childs – my kids’ Granddaddy – died at home in Fayetteville, Arkansas, on Father’s Day, about three weeks ago when I’m writing this. His death came less than a month after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. One of the last really lengthy and substantive conversations I had with him – probably a few hours after his diagnosis – was about the logical and scientific flaws in a column written by a global warming skeptic, published in his local paper.

I realize that’s not a traditional way to start a column about music for kids and families. But the lessons that my dad embodied throughout his life are reflected so well in the record I’m featuring this month, They Might Be Giants’ Here Comes Science, that it practically could have been written as a tribute to him.

My dad, you see, was a scientist, a physical chemist by training, but really an inventor (named on over fifty patents) and a thinker. He tried to raise us with a love for thinking, to the extent that we even had a chalkboard in our dining room. It took a while for me to realize that this chalkboard was unusual. Even after going to lots of other kids’ houses, it still seemed fairly ordinary, until someone (no doubt someone chalkboard-deprived) asked me about it. Evidently not every family had dinner conversations that regularly -– frequently -– required charts or drawings to explain.

That chalkboard has been an image I’ve used a lot in the last month or so, symbolizing as it did how we were raised: to ask questions, to learn, to challenge, to always –- always -– think. His love of the pursuit of knowledge extended beyond his death, even; he insisted on his brain being used for ataxia research (leading to me having the unique experience of having a FedEx tracking number for my father’s brain), and memorial gifts are going to scientific education at the University of Arkansas and Southern Arkansas University.

That foundation, that deep-seated love of scientific thought, resonates throughout the new They Might Be Giants CD (which comes with an excellent DVD too), especially in its lead-off track, “Science is Real.” Here Comes Science is the first of TMBG’s “Here Comes…” family CDs not to lead off with a title track, and I think it’s a deliberate decision to go with “Science is Real.” The song is a full-throated defense of science; though the band notes loving stories about “angels, unicorns, and elves” as much as anyone else, within the first twenty seconds of the song, they’ve also identified as “real” everything from the Big Bang to evolution to DNA to the Milky Way. “The facts are with science,” the band emphasizes.

A focus on rigor in thinking is a steady theme in the record, to the extent that the band includes a new recording of an old favorite cover, “Why Does the Sun Shine?” immediately followed by a correction of sorts, “Why Does the Sun Really Shine?” – reflecting science’s testing itself and fixing things it gets wrong. That same idea pops up again in “Put It to the Test,” challenging listeners not to believe things just because someone says it. Maybe I’ll send that song to the author of the column my dad was annoyed by.

All this might make it sound like the record is some sort of dissertation on scientific philosophy, and you could reasonably wonder if it’s any fun. Fear not – this is, after all, They Might Be Giants. “Science is Real” is a driving and building number, “Electric Car” (with a fun changeup in guest vocals from Robin Goldwasser) is hugely fun to sing (and clap!) along with, “Meet the Elements” could be on commercial radio tomorrow, “I Am a Paleontologist” mixes headbobbing with career aspirations, “Why Does the Sun Shine?” rocks as hard as it has live for years, and “Speed and Velocity” (written and sung by drummer Marty Beller) will get everyone vrooming around.

Here Comes Science goes well beyond what most science-themed kids’ records do, seeking to present a more realistic, and, dare I say more mature, look at what science really is about – questioning, challenging, and testing theories. It’s arguably both TMBG’s best record of this decade (kid-oriented or otherwise) and, so far, the best family record of 2009.

My dad would love it.

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Memorial contributions may be made to the W. Ves Childs Science Education Fund at the University of Arkansas, Development Office, 525 Old Main, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, Arkansas 72701, or to Southern Arkansas University Foundation, W. Ves Childs Fund, Development Office, P. O. Box 9174, Magnolia, Arkansas 71754-9174.

3 Comment(s):

At 7:40 PM, Anonymous Molly said...

It's great to realize as you are growing up that your family is different in a good way. Dining room chalkboards, family radio shows...it continues. Your love and pride leaps from the screen...a beautiful thing.

 
At 1:23 PM, Anonymous Tito said...

A dining room chalkboard is very cool. My wife wouldn't think so. I plan to bring it up everytime our kids don't do well in school this year.
"Now, honey, if we just got the chalkboard like I suggested..."

 
At 8:40 PM, Blogger debinsf said...

I could read the words you've written about your dad a million times and tears come to my eyes every time. With a husband and father-in-law who are scientists and thinkers, they hit home hard.

I'm so excited for the TMBG record. I really, really can't wait. More ways to pass on to our kids the importance and incredible fun of science and thought.

 

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