When I look back on my childhood and, in particular, my elementary and junior high years, it’s sometimes bittersweet because I was never a particularly good student. I was an average, so-so student. I didn’t get into trouble (for the most part), but I never excelled, never really shined. Same goes for college. It wasn’t until well until my adulthood that I was able to re-frame this negative view of those years. This is because I was diagnosed as having ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.) I sometimes wonder what it would have been like if that had been determined when I was a kid. Would medication have helped? Therapy?
But here’s the good news, I have many positive memories to draw on that far outweigh my mediocre report cards, and one of my most cherished is watching “Schoolhouse Rock!” on Saturday mornings. To this day, I attribute a wide swath of general knowledge about history, math, civics, economics, science and grammar to “Schoolhouse Rock!”
For the uninitiated, “Schoolhouse Rock!” was a series of animated educational shorts that ran on ABC from 1973 to 1985. There was a revival in the ’90s, but my experience was with the original glory days of it.
“Schoolhouse Rock!” set educational lessons to music, and this was an effective way for me – and I imagine millions of other kids – to learn and retain information. I still know many of the songs by heart and still sing them. These are cornerstones of my education, and they transcended my ADHD effectively and in such a fun way, with songs like “Conjuction Junction,” “The Shot Heard ‘Round the World,” “Verb: That’s What’s Happenin’,” “Rufus Xavier Sarsaparilla” and “Lolly, Lolly, Lolly Get Your Adverbs Here.”
These gems were all written (and some sung) by a musician named Bob Dorough. Honestly, I didn’t know his name until a few days ago. I didn’t know that he was one of the geniuses behind “Schoolhouse Rock!”
Dorough died Monday at the age of 94. My admiration and for respect for him is massive. I hope he’s hooking up words and phrases and clauses and getting all of his verb and adjective modifiers at Lolly’s up in songwriter heaven. His passing was the shot heard ’round the world for countless ’70s and ’80s kids, not to mention parents of today who are showing the clips to their kids.
To prove that I’m not alone in my love for Dorough and “Schoolhouse Rock!,” I reached out to a trio of local musicians who I suspected might share my admiration.
SASHA ALCOTT from When Particles Collide said the songs felt cool, current and hip. She also said that the songs have stuck with her all these years later, and even inform her songwriting. “When writing, I always ask myself, ‘Is this memorable?,’ ‘Is this catchy?’ and ‘Am I taking myself too seriously?'” Alcott also distinctly remembers when she was a senior in high school and De La Soul released the song “Magic Number,” based on the Dorough-penned “Three Is a Magic Number.” “My mind was definitely blown. It was like all of my favorite things were fusing into one, and I was able to appreciate the melodies from my childhood with what, at the time, was the most cutting-edge hip-hop around that was infused with the hippie sensibilities of my parents’ generation.”
Alcott also gave a nod to the learning power of the songs. “Nothing sticks like music: melody and rhythm as a way of learning is extremely powerful. As a high school chemistry teacher for 18 years, I have seen many student write poems, rewrite lyrics of popular songs to include chemistry concepts and many of those ‘works’ will certainly never be forgotten by me.”
CHAD WALLS is the songwriter and bass player in An Overnight Low. He said that listening to “Schoolhouse Rock!” songs brings him back to a time in his life when he could do almost anything. “I was an artist, an athlete, a superhero, a villain, a ventriloquist, a monster, etc. I found a certain type of joy within these chosen roles in the creative process.” Walls said that Dorough’s songs from the series were part of his entry-level training into becoming a songwriter. “They contained the types of pretty melodies that The Monkees and The Beatles provided, but there was subtlety in his lyrics that I understood better as I got older, especially when criticism and self-doubt began to inhibit my creativity.”
SINGER-SONGWRITER LISA REDFERN is also a “Schoolhouse Rock!” fan. “What I loved about it as a kid was the catchiness, creativity and cleverness of the songs, and how much specific stuff I learned from the information in the songs.” The self-admitted grammar nerd especially loves “Conjunction Junction” and still sings it today. She acknowledged the lasting impression those songs made on her. “I’m sure that as a performing singer-songwriter, it has made an impression on me and may have been an unconscious influence on me, as when I write funny songs, and as the daughter of two educators, I am impressed with the ways those songs helped convey concepts and information in a fun and interesting way.”
SO LONG, BOB. How wonderful you are, just like my hero, Zero.