The other day, Mr. Cavoukian was on my daughter’s phone. And he was singing.
I know what you’re thinking, and you’re an idiot. I didn’t say Doctor Cavoukian and, in any case, you’re thinking of Dr. Kevorkian, the suicide guy, and why would he be calling my daughter? More importantly, what would he be singing, “Stairway to Heaven?”
Getting back to my daughter’s phone: at the time, Casey was visiting us with our granddaughter Sydney, and she had her phone on speaker so we could all hear the song.
I instantly recognized Mr. Cavoukian’s voice from my long ago past. Soft, melodious, with a hint of mischief. It was singing about a baby beluga whale.
If you’re a parent, you now know who Mr. Cavoukian is. Except you only know him by his first name.
“Raffi!” I exclaimed, genuinely thrilled to be reunited with an old friend.
And I swear that my first thought was something along the lines of “Gee, he was already an adult when Casey was a baby; he must be a really old man now.”
It took me a beat or two to realize that I was also an adult when Casey was a baby.
So I looked him up and was relieved to discover that Raffi Cavoukian is, in fact, six years older than I am. He’s ancient! Nevertheless, he still gives concerts in auditoriums filled with three-year-olds.
In case you were a child prior to 1975 and have never had children of your own, Raffi is somewhat akin to a pre-school Springsteen. He has put out more than 30 albums and yet has probably never had a song used as a soundtrack during an emotional montage in a TV drama. His greatest hits include “Baby Beluga,” “Down by the Bay,” “Apples and Bananas” and “Wheels on the Bus,” the last of which was a cover.
In the late 80’s, my family wouldn’t go anywhere without a Raffi CD (or was it a cassette?) in the car stereo. Casey would be in the back seat (facing forward because in those days we tried to kill our children), and we’d all be bopping along, singing loudly and off key. Sometimes the Raffi album would stay in the player for weeks so that, occasionally, my wife and I could be seen enthusiastically singing “Shake My Sillies Out” along with Raffi as we drove through our small town, windows opened, and no child currently in the vehicle.
When you listen to Raffi, no matter what the song, all you hear is joy and playfulness and humor. As a parent, you trust him implicitly. You can’t even imagine someone with Raffi’s voice inviting a small child into his van for some candy.
You could probably count on one hand the number of entertainers who have delighted as many children and their families without wearing some ridiculous costume, or manipulating a puppet, or hiding behind an animated character. Mr. Rogers, maybe. Who else?
But as I bounce Sydney on my knee while singing “She’ll Be Comin’ Around the Mountain,” I can’t help wondering what type of person could possibly entertain babies like this for over 40 freakin’ years!
Judging from Raffi’s career and activist endeavors, it’s the type of man who truly cares about children and the world.* Still, that’s four decades of singing to toddlers with nothing between you and them except a guitar. At some point, wouldn’t you just have to scream, “Oh, grow up already! My next number is “‘Helter Skelter.’”
See you soon.
*“You know, I keep my voice in the public sphere to social media these days,” Raffi said recently. “I don’t politicize my concerts and I don’t even think of myself as an activist. But, if you care about democracy, if you care about a free society, if you care about fair elections, how can you not get involved these days? You have to fight fascism with everything you’ve got.”
So says the Egyptian-born immigrant. Who lives in Canada.