My household is a G-rated affair. I attribute this to my wife, whose family prohibited the use of "shut up" and "stupid," terms that were sometimes seen as a legitimate means of emphasis in my own home. For my 7.5-year-old sons, there are two S-words: the "S-H" word and the "S-T" word. The S-word that the rest of the world recognizes doesn't even have a name; that's how taboo it is.
Last week, while tooling along Roxboro Road toward the farm where my boys ride horses named Bandit and Tommy, an unexpected shuffle of the iPod created a conundrum in the form of "Rockin' the Suburbs." This was not the version of the Ben Folds song that played over the end credits of Over the Hedge, a 2006 animated film about a conniving raccoon and a cohort of charming woodland animals. This was the original, Limp Bizkit-baiting riff-rocker from Folds' 2001 solo album, which features a half-dozen words that are verboten in most households containing grade-school children.
It was the movie and not the work of my adopted state's proud son that cued me to purchase the song a few years ago. A Folds neophyte, I was unaware that the version I thought I'd be getting was rewritten to make the cut for a PG-rated kids' movie. The clean take was unavailable as a single download, and I was not about to purchase the entire soundtrack. I downloaded the dirty take. When Over the Hedge stopped being the boys' favorite movie, the song disappeared into the iTunes ether. But now those crunchy chords and that ear-worm synthesizer hook were back, and in the rear-view mirror, my twin boys' heads bobbed up and down like cartoon headbangers.
As my finger hovered over the "Fast Forward" button, I did some quick figuring: When was I first allowed to hear bad words? The soundtrack to the off-Broadway production of Hair was my introduction. The first song, "Ain't Got No," drops the real S-word in the third verse, and most of the other seven words you still can't say on TV turn up, too. My pal up the street's older sister had the Broadway soundtrack, which strove to be controversial, adding songs called "Sodomy" and "Hashish." But nothing topped "Abie Baby," a mock "Happy Birthday" to President Lincoln that included the quad-syllabic M-word. I was about 6 when I discovered "Abie Baby." My boys were now pushing 8. It was time.
"Lemme tell y'all what it's like/ being male, middle-class and white
It's a bitch if you don't believe/ listen up to my new CD/ Sham on"
They pretty much gasped in unison—not because they had never heard these words before, but because I was letting it happen. Confused looks became mischievous grins, and they went back to head bobbing.
"So, guys?" I yelled over my shoulder, after the second verse had begun and the S-bomb had dropped. "Guys, we don't say these words. But sometimes, like in a song like this, it's OK to hear them. Got it?"
"Ye-esss," they sang back to me.
Now that the song has returned to the rotation, I asked one boy to tell me what "Rockin' the Suburbs" is all about. "Like, about all those Over the Hedge animals? Like Stella the Skunk?" he replied.