YOU SAVED US FROM BABY BELUGA
Sunday night I was down in Cambridge at Grendel’s Den warming up my harp and 12-string onstage for a telling of Beowulf when a tall gentleman with silver hair came over, looking somewhat shy. The place was full and new faces were in the audience. Along with the usual crew of fine fans, Harvard students and curious twenty-somethings, I’d noticed husbands and wives in their fifties or early sixties at the tables. Obviously this gentleman had something to say. I stopped playing and smiled at him.
“Am I interrupting you?” he asked. He was fit and had a nice smile.
“No, not at all. I’m just warming up. Good evening.”
“Good evening,” he replied and we shook hands.
“I just wanted to tell you, Mr. Bodkin, that you saved us from Baby Beluga,” he said in a sort of admiring seriousness. It didn’t take too long for me to process that, and so I smiled wryly and chuckled, suspecting I knew what he was saying. He went on. “My kids are in their thirties now and are jealous they can’t be here.”
“Why, thank you.” I’ve had similar conversations with other nice people like him.
“No, thank you,” he said. “Your stories got us through a lot of long trips when our kids were little. We had all your cassettes. Got them from Chinaberry Book Service.”
I used to do business with Chinaberry, a kids’ media operation out in California. Sold tens of thousands of recordings through them. This nice man’s wife, probably, had bought them, back when their kids were little. “Ah, yes,” I replied. “I’m glad your kids liked them. Tonight’s story is very different from those children’s recordings.”
“I expect so.”
“Can’t wait to hear it,” he said, sounding ready for some Viking wildness.
“Well,” I said, hitting a chord on the 12-string, “enjoy the show.”
“We will.” He returned to his seat at the bar next to a woman about his age. His wife, I assumed. The mother of the children he spoke of.
Baby Beluga! Baby Beluga!
The refrain from the song by Raffi echoed in my mind. I once met him, the man who wrote and sang that classic children’s song. A troubador from the Nineties, Raffi’s most famous song was Baby Beluga. He was the best-known of many musicians for young kids back then, a man who sang sweet, reassuring songs. I think of him as the Mr. Rogers of children’s music.
Back then I was selling recordings for young kids, too. Raffi always outsold anything I ever did, but then again, I wasn’t singing songs, which had a huge kids market before the advent of cellphones and iPad games. Instead I was telling stories, but even though they were for young children, they weren’t kiddie stories per se––stories about puppies and baby hedgehogs and so on. Nevertheless, lots of young children, including this gentleman’s who’d come up to say hello, apparently, had listened to them and had talked about them with their parents. I always tried to produce children’s media that didn’t make moms and dads lose their minds while listening to them, over and over again in their cars.
After the show I posed for photos with the man and his wife, along with a few other couples who proceeded to buy EPIC DRIVES. They wanted to send them to their grown children, they said, who now had kids of their own. Two young women in their twenties had listened to the Little Proto stories and loved them. A couple with their kids kept talking about The Blossom Tree, a Tibetan tale I tell, and I mentioned how I’ll be performing it in May as part of a weekend dedicated to the magic of trees, out in Colorado.
And so these stories I made a generation ago continue to make their way into the lives of a new generation, accomplishing a goal I always strove for: to make something that doesn’t quickly become marked as genre material of a former time.
I recommend Baby Baluga, too.