Bob Dorough died on Monday.
Most people don’t know him by name, but if you’re over the age of 30 – and probably if you’re younger as well – you know his work. He actually had a career as a musician, but for most people he was just the guy who wrote Schoolhouse Rock. And you know? That’s enough, really.
Schoolhouse Rock was one of the soundtracks of my childhood, back in the 70s.
We didn’t have the internet or cable television or VCRs (those were before DVDs, children, which were in turn before streaming video – try to keep up), so if you wanted to watch something on television you had to watch it live. There weren’t that many channels. Things got compressed. Cartoons, for example, were broadcast on Saturday mornings and that was that. My parents were quite happy to let me and my brother spend those mornings glued to the cartoons, as it was time we weren’t rocketing around the house and they could sleep. Win all around.
Precisely at 10am, you’d get one episode of Schoolhouse Rock. I cannot tell you how much I looked forward to those.
That’s how I learned my multiplication tables. That’s how I learned most of what grammar I managed to learn – I still have to hum bits of “Lolly, Lolly, Lolly” to remember just what an adverb is, to be honest. And if most Americans are equally honest, they know that the only reason they remember the Preamble to the Constitution is because they can sing it. There’s a phrase left out of the song, but only us history types ever remember that.
I can remember sitting in the school library in fifth grade, which was right around the Bicentennial. There were maybe half a dozen of us working on a group project on the Constitution, and somehow it seemed right that we would belt out the Preamble to the Schoolhouse Rock tune in the middle of the library. Nobody complained, because everyone understood. I also have this vague memory of some of the Schoolhouse Rock people coming to my undergraduate university for a presentation and everyone in the auditorium singing along, though whether that actually happened to me or was something I read about happening in other places I am no longer sure. Doesn’t matter, really. The point is the same. Schoolhouse Rock was something that became part of you, and you wanted to sing it back. Still do.
Fran’s never seen them, so we decided that a Schoolhouse Rock film festival to honor Mr. Dorough’s passing would be a great way to spend the evening.
And it was.
They hold up pretty well, even if nobody knows what telegraphs are these days and poor Pluto’s been demoted from “planet” to “afterthought.” The music is fantastic and eminently singable. The educational content slides right in painlessly and nearly unnoticed. The animation is bright and lively, especially the earlier ones from the 1970s – you can tell when the 80s get closer, as the color palette shifts to cooler hues and the animation gets more confined. The 70s were not confined.
VERB! That’s what’s happening!
I have my favorites, of course. Interjections. Mr. Morton. The Preamble. Adjectives. The multiplication ones for 0, 3, and 8. Gravity. I’m Just a Bill. Conjunction Junction. Lolly. But even the ones that aren’t favorites are still good – there isn’t a dud in the bunch.
Fair winds and following seas, Mr. Dorough. You made the world a better place, and that’s all anyone can ask.