You know, you become an artist, you become an observer of life,
and you digest life by making art about it. – Liz Phair
Life inspires art. And it’s pretty cool to witness the inspirational evolution of a musical artist especially when it fills a gap in the world’s musical jukebox. Boston singer-songwriter Karen Kalafatas, leader of Karen K & the Jitterbugs, is branching into solo territory and breaking ground with her new series The Blue Bike Chronicles, inspired by her daughter, Becca, and vivid memories of her own childhood.
Still working in parallel with the Jitterbugs, Kalafatas is journeying into new creative turf as she witnesses and processes the shifts in her 8-year-old daughter, the changes she needs to make as a parent to an older child, and the mirror that reflects her own 8-year-old self.
The kids’ music genre is expanding to include a broader range of ages. But still there aren’t many songs with lyrics that ring true to the experiences and emotions of the “in-betweener” age. This pre-tween 7 to 9-year-old crew is making a major leap from early childhood to, well, middle childhood. They’re straddling the space between the safety and comfort of cuddling up with mom and dad and the instinct to break free and take life by the reins. Through The Blue Bike Chronicles, Kalafatas boldly directs her artistry toward crafting songs that speak to and nurture this magical in-between stage.
There’s so much heart in this series; accompanying the songs is a short story, vulnerable and real – Kalafatas’ nostalgic recollection of a bittersweet childhood moment that begins with “Lucy had a blue bike.” The story transports you to that innocent age when what matters most is your best friend. Friendships forge lasting memories, and moving away from your best friend is one of the worst things that can ever happen. Kalafatas poignantly reinforces how young minds connect emotionally with the world.
“We spent nearly all of our time together – playing spy in the grassy field near the middle of the [Army] Base; reading books with our backs on the cold ground, knees up, and our faces to the sky; buying candy from the Candy Man with our hard-earned spare change (think ice cream truck, only candy); and riding our bikes.
“As it happens with moves, nothing was running on schedule. And if we were going to make our plane back to the States, we had to leave. Without a goodbye. Without Lucy.
…I was heartbroken.”
The story beautifully sets the backdrop for The Blue Bike Chronicles and the gentle weaving of perspectives from childhood to parenthood and back again.
“My daughter is eight now, the same age I was when I met Lucy. She is full of wonder and joy and amusement, and sometimes sorrow and pain. And in her presence I am reminded that we, as parents, as adults, as humans big and small…we are all on a journey to find those moments of joy. Of connection. Those moments of reading on our backs while tasting the sugary sweets of candy and friendship. Those moments that take us back to the very best of ourselves, wrapped up warm and comfortable in our childhood memories. Those moments of Lucy.
My road has taken me many places, and I’m still riding, still looking for the next adventure around the corner. My daughter is too. And I hope one day she’ll look back and remember ‘a blue bike’ and the girl who rode it, the childhood love who lives on in the mind’s eye and heart. Waving furiously. Reminding her to take those precious moments and memories along, blessed companions, as she bravely peddles her way into the future.”
Let’s face it; every stage of childhood embodies a particular magic. The beauty of the pre-tween stage is that these kids are still young enough to enjoy music that appeals to their vivid imaginations, but are on the cusp of using their imaginations less and less in juvenile ways. They are becoming more independent, self-aware, thoughtful and intentional mini adults. But family time is still appreciated, secrets are still shared, social status is not even a blip on the radar and the world is still filled with wonder. What they hear and see adds substance to what they understand as reality, but the lines between imagination and reality are still a bit blurry. With The Blue Bike Chronicles, Kalafatas creates a moving narrative that grows along with her daughter, and captures the essence of this stage with memories they can share together.
The best part? The musical quality rivals the “Top of the Pops.” This is pretty boss because the gap that needs to be filled for this “in-between” stage is pretty darn big. The Blue Bike Chronicles elegantly weaves together themes about Family (with “Cousins Party”) and Connection (with a rendition of “I’ll Stand By You”) in a playful and powerful way that keeps pace with the catchy pop music sounds and styles that are so attractive – and addictive – to kids.
It’s complicated because pop music isn’t all bad, right? On the one hand, there’s certainly value in songs like Beyonce’s “Girls Rule the World” or T-Swift’s “Shake It Off.” On the other hand, I want my own 7-year-old daughter to be able to relate to lyrics that help her understand herself better and the emotions that go along with entering and navigating a bigger, more mature world. But who doesn’t need a song for those belt-it-out diva moments with your invisible microphone? It’s true that the world can be a pretty scary place, but the last thing I need is for her thinking that twerking makes it all better (it doesn’t, right?).
Like books, music helps us gain a sense of self and offers us space to feel. Through this new creative venture, Kalafatas reveals herself as both a musician and an author, seeking connection by sharing her beautiful story with both her daughter, and girls her daughter’s age, to create long lasting memories. That is priceless.
The series’ first single, “Without You,” officially releases today and it’s a pop masterpiece. It’s crafted with all the ingredients of a radio-ready pop song, but with meaningful lyrics that express two perspectives: that of an 8-year-old ready to bust out of school and cavort on the playground, and that of a parent going through the motions of their own busy day while thinking about their child at school. I challenge any parent to listen to the song and not be moved by the way the two come together in the end. The parallel universe drawn between parent and child is so relatable – it gave me goosebumps.
“Without You” easily rivals the best of any Disney theme music. In my mind, I’ve already cast it as the intro to a new TV show. Maybe a “dramedy,” spilling over with friendship and laughter and confident young girls exploring the ups and downs of their world. In a real way.
The Blue Bike Chronicles is a love letter to the tender “in-between” stage. Join the ride and receive a free download of “Without You” by subscribing to The Blue Bike Chronicles. Starting today, for $20 you will become a VIP Blue Bike member eligible to receive a new song a month for 8 months – between now and end of school year (“8” for Becca’s age, too). The bonus: a free album containing all of the singles at the end of your adventure in Summer 2016.
Be sure to check out Kalafatas’ other efforts, like award-winning children’s music by Karen K and the Jitterbugs, and her collaboration with Mista Cookie Jar.