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Tuesday, August 25, 2009  

Schoolhouse Rock of Ages

This summer, I've been thinking a lot about the kinds of amazing feats people were able to pull off in decades past despite not having the technologies and capabilities available to us today. I mean, yeah, the moon landing, sure, but what about those old Schoolhouse Rock cartoons that get stuck in your head FOR LIFE?

On the one hand, I know I'm dating myself with this, but on the other hand, I also know that there plenty of people reading this right now who watched Saturday morning cartoons on ABC and to this day cannot count by fives, recite the Preamble to the United States Constitution, or recall the definition of a noun without having one of those insidious tunes go through your head, 36 years after they were first aired.

Or maybe it's just me. M. Edium has watched a lot of different kinds of "educational" videos, but among his favorites are his three "Schoolhouse Rock" tapes: "Grammar Rock," "America Rock," and "Science Rock." He doesn't have "Math Rock" yet, which is why I suspect he gets frustrated with numbers. We'll have to fill in that gap soon; how can he grow up to be an astronaut without "My Hero, Zero?"

Obviously some of these hold up better than others, both in our memories and upon viewing as adults. In the age of Pixar, the animation looks beyond primitive, like cave drawings on a whiteboard; and most of the songs are only "rock" in the loosest sense of the word. Still, I defy you to watch this and not get it stuck in your head:

Plus these days, Bill wouldn't be a trim roll of paper, but a giant brick lumbering around the capital, or better yet, pulled around by that kid in his Radio Flyer. By the way, interesting fact about that geeky little wonk: he grew up to be Josh Lyman. True story.

As a writer, I obviously have a soft spot for Grammar Rock, and I don't really care to admit how much of my knowledge of the parts of speech I owe to these things. "Lolly, Lolly, Lolly" has a jingle that's almost catchy enough to make up for its suicidal business model; I don't know how old I was when I realized that Handel hadn't ripped off "Interjections;" and "Verb" starts with the priceless line, "I get my thiiing in action," which is not only a handy mnemonic but a surefire pickup line.

An unwise attempt to resurrect the series was made many years later, with "Busy Prepositions," a total departure from the old style of animation, with a terrible song and a cast of creepy-ass bugs. Would have been better to stay dead.

But at least it ended with "The Tale of Mr. Morton," a sweet little ballad about what subjects and predicates have to do with social anxiety syndrome. Although the animation is a little more advanced than back in the day (color backgrounds!) the only other thing that gives this away as a product of the 90s is the goateed hipster dad who lives nearby. A much better validectory to wrap up the series.

Not that I’m wrapping it up here. I’ll have more to say in the next few entries. Be sure to prepare by digging up your old DVR recordings from the 1970s. Or noise-canceling headphones, for your own self-preservation. Your choice.

posted by M. Giant 8:05 PM 7 comments


Conjunction junction, what's your function?

By Anonymous Anonymous, at August 26, 2009 at 10:17 AM  

MathRock that kid. "Three is the Magic Number" was awesome even before someone borrowed it for a rap song, and "Figure Eight" will haunt you for days.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at August 26, 2009 at 5:17 PM  

Don't forget History Rock! Rockin' and a rollin', splishn' and a splashin', over the horizon, what it could it be?

My son turns nineteen next month, and I used to sing him the Schoolhouse Rock songs when he was little. Then to my great joy they were released on VHS, and again on DVD.

Now we both have our favorites on our iPods.

Those things are ageless.

By Blogger Land of shimp, at August 27, 2009 at 12:07 PM  

Elbow room, elbow room!

By Blogger Katie L., at August 27, 2009 at 8:49 PM  

What you're calling "History Rock" is the same as "America Rock." The "Splishin' and a splashin'" song is on "America Rock," as is "Elbow room."

By Blogger Linda, at August 28, 2009 at 5:38 PM  

Our six year old LOVES the Schoolhouse Rock DVDs. I must admit we enjoy watching them with her and find it amusing to hear her walking around the house singing them to herself.

By Blogger Heather, at September 2, 2009 at 2:34 PM  

Gosh, remember the anticipation after the quick "Schoolhouse Rocky" jingle as you'd wait to see which cartoon was actually going to run? And sometimes it would be a *new* one?! Damn, we're old.

The stage show is a lot of fun, too. I remember driving my niece and nephew somewhere and seeing a sign for an upcomiung production. I got all enthusiastic, telling them they needed to go see it. My nephew said with disgust, "I hear it's all about math and verbs and stuff."

The sadness of the Barney generation.

By Anonymous Leslie, at September 8, 2009 at 3:53 AM  

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