Last Saturday night I went to a Chris Ballew concert. The next morning I experienced déjà vu as the previous night’s tunes were on continuous play in my head. But instead of the intimate 1995 show I attended at Seattle’s Crocodile Café with Chris performing from The Presidents of the United States of America. I awoke humming the Chris Ballew a.k.a Caspar Babypants version of “The Itsy Bitsy Spider.”
Instead of the song featuring millions of peaches, one of my four children, eleven-year-old Sophie was singing, “Where is my dog when he’s gone? He’s dog gone gone dog gone.” With a twang in her voice.
Searching the house for my frisky four-year-old, Patrick, I find him in front of the computer screen huddled alongside his baby brother, Ty. Their eyes glued to the YouTube “Mister Rabbit” video and Patrick closing his eyes as he raises his arms to the universe with open palms, just like Mister Rabbit in the clip.
“Yes, my friends I’m a tough little bunny!” I happily join in the harmony with Patrick as I slip on his Dino tennis shoes. “Every little soul must shiiine!”
“Let’s watch ‘Googly Eyes’!” Amelia chimes in, requesting her favorite Capar song about the joy that googly eyes bring to inanimate objects around the house.
During a recent interview I had the chance to chat with Chris about his journey away from rock star status when, as he says, “Things weren’t feeling just right,” and his drift toward a new voice, Caspar Babypants, and the courage to follow his gut instead of his head.
“I wanted to make quiet, simple, straightforward and sustainable music,” Chris explained.
Chris’ description of his music sounded familiar, like what families are looking for in life these days, a redefinition of the American Dream.
According to www.newdream.org, more Americans are interested in living simply, with less stuff, and having more fun.
Families are seeking unconventional yet rewarding alternatives to “typical” American life and the “old” American Dream — white picket fence, house in the suburbs, 9-5 job — is no longer working for many Americans, and they want something more — sustainable communities, family life and the natural world.
I told Chris about our family’s love of taking field trips together as we travel throughout the Pacific Northwest in search of the ultimate do-it-yourself lifestyle.
“I do something with my kids called MADVENTURES where we literally have NO idea where we are going to go. We just get in the car and see where the road leads us. It is an exercise in keeping your eyes and minds open as you travel, and making the journey the destination.” Chris said. Which sounded a lot like his journey from the Presidents to Caspar Babypants.
“People come up to me at shows and say, ‘oh you’re making kids music’ and I want to sit them down for an hour and explain how important and deep it is — but I just let it go. I don’t care what people think. I think that any ‘American Dream’ is a lie and we all need to take care of our own versions of happiness. Seems to have worked for me!”
Chris’ version of happiness is a family affair. A collaboration that includes his wife, children’s book writer and artist Kate Endle and their kids who have a creative hand in the process — including the YouTube videos my kids can’t get enough of.
Chris reinterprets nursery rhymes and folk songs that have been passed down through generations.
I asked Chris if he had any pointers for teaching kids how to value the process of living simply and having fun as opposed to the “wealth dream” of fame and fortune… according to a recent Rolling Stone piece, “Success is the national religion, and almost everyone is a believer. Americans love winners.”
“Fame and fortune are completely flimsy and hard to maintain… everyone has to discover it for themselves. It took me forty-four years to figure that out. If you have integrity and an urge to find the truth without flinching. But all this is too heavy for kids. You have to lead by example as I do with my kids. It’s incredibly relaxing to have found my voice and my place in the world. I help parents relax and enjoy the music with their kids.”
The Caspar Babypants show at Kidquest Museum didn’t have smoke, smashing guitars or intricate lighting. Just Caspar Babypants chilling on a stool with a three-string acoustic guitar perched on his lap. He wore a logo-less, sunshine colored t-shirt, black shorts and black Adidas. Ron Hippe, a.k.a Ronald Babyshoes wore a similar outfit and accompanied in spirit on a low-tech mini piano that could have passed for a toy from the sixties. However, confusing this as toddler tunes would be like calling a magic flute “just a flute.”
It was magic when the acoustic guitar came to life with punchy, folksy vocals delivered with an easy-going confidence. Simple, creative lyrics that my kids and I don’t want to stop singing — the show was like going on a ride with someone who knows where he’s going even if he doesn’t know where he’s going — the ultimate MADVENTURE.
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