Do It for the Kids, Yeah
Illustration from John Crossingham’s Learn to Speak Music by Jeff Kulak. Courtesy of JeffKulak.com.
“I was always more of what you’d call a proficient amateur.” Not exactly the outlook expected from a member of one of Canada’s biggest indie-rock exports, but even as a long-time Broken Social Scene collaborator and singer/guitarist for the quietly loved Raising the Fawn, John Crossingham has always taken a relaxed and rational approach to playing music.
As a service to all the young dudes who aren’t Spencer Tweedy and might otherwise drone out to Rock Band all day, Crossingham has turned his attitude and experiences into a smart, adorably illustrated (by Jeff Kulak) instructional children’s book with a DIY spirit called Learn to Speak Music. “For a long time, I only did as much as I could afford, using my spare time to practice, putting only the money that I made playing shows back into the band, and stuff like that. That’s a sort of subtext of the book, really—that you don’t need to be a slave to music to get something out of it. You don’t have to become a pro. I wasn’t.”
The book was a natural extension for not only Crossingham’s life as a musician, but his “lengthy, kind-of-accidental tenure” as a children’s author. Covering everything from picking instruments, to writing songs, to throwing shows, to independent marketing, Learn to Speak Music is also dotted with bits of Crossingham’s anecdotal wit and advice from Arts&Crafts family members Feist and Kevin Drew, as well as punk/crooner Dallas Green, St. Catharines scene champion and manager Joel Carriere, and album-art designer Louise Upperton. “[I got these people] involved because they help to show just how reliant the world of music is on a variety of personalities, and just how malleable that world is by someone who knows where they want to go. I certainly hope that kids feel like they can get involved in something that may have felt closed off to them before.” And parents will hope that the sidebars referencing song writing dynamics (The Pixies) and being an engaging frontman (The Flaming Lips’s Wayne Coyne) means their kids come away wanting to trade their Justin Bieber sidesweep for a Frank Black sheen. Or not. But maybe the car ride home from school will have a better soundtrack.
When asked if Learn to Speak Music had yet inspired any chart-topping tween successes, Crossingham laughs, “No not yet, although I hope [it does]! If nothing else, my twelve-year-old self has given me the thumbs up. That is the toughest critic to please, after all.”