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Parents, rockers electrify kids' music

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Parents who can't stand listening to songs about rainbows or dressing their children in clothes with hearts and bears are turning to rock 'n' roll. And serious musicians who used to scorn kids' music are being drawn to it, partly for the freedom they find there.

Joining a host of other current and former rockers, alt-rock bands Devo and They Might Be Giants, which first had hits in the '80s and '90s, are now making music for kids.

And somebody's got to clothe these young hipsters. Online boutiques are popping up to meet parents' demand for the rock aesthetic. The Web offers classic rock T-shirts and onesies, imprinted with everything from the likeness of Jimi Hendrix at Baby Wit to "Future Headbanger" (Metal Babies) and "Jesus Rocks" (Baby Rock Apparel). These online retailers are frequently born when young parents can't find the edgy kids' clothes they want.

Andrea Frost started Baby Wit almost three years ago in part because she was uninspired by the kids' clothes available for her daughter, Ava.

Parents like the rock T-shirts partly because they miss their rock 'n' roll lives. "When you become a parent," Ms. Frost says, "you have to leave all that behind. You don't go to shows anymore. You're kind of cut off." Rock clothes for kids give parents a means of self-expression.

Musicians and marketers are more aware of both parents and children, says Kenny Curtis, director of children's programming for XM Satellite Radio.

"The beauty of kids' music, kids' radio, is it's a shared experience," Mr. Curtis says. "There's a parent in the driver's seat when the kids are listening."

Although Baby Einstein CDs and other nursery classics still dominate, rock has been climbing the kids' charts. Geoff Mayfield, director of charts at Billboard Magazine, says 2001 was the last time purple dinosaur Barney made the list. Raffi, a widely respected children's musician, has not appeared since 2002. "It's been a while for Raffi," Mr. Mayfield says. "Although he does the best version of 'Take Me Out to the Ballgame' I've ever heard."

The prevalence of rock styles in children's music reflects who's making it as well as who's listening.

"There used to be a stigma attached to kids' music," says radio programmer Curtis. "It used to be that if you were making kids' music, you were doing it because you couldn't cut it. That's erased now."


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