Sing it loud.

In 1975 an ad agency secretary wrote a song that has been in my head for the past several days. I can’t shake it. You may have learned this song, too, if you and I are in a similar age bracket and your parents, like mine, let you watch TV on Saturday mornings when you were a kid. If you’re with me in that category, then join in, right now, because I know you know the tune, as well as the lyrics, which I’ll type while I sing.

Here we go, all together now:

We the People,
in Order to form a more perfect Union,
establish Justice, ensure domestic Tranquility,
provide for the common defence,
promote the general Welfare and
secure the Blessings of Liberty,
to ourselves and our Posterity,
do ordain and establish this Constitution
for the United States of America.

In 1973 a couple of ad agency guys hatched an idea, pitched it to Michael Eisner, who was then head of children’s programming for ABC, secured an advertising sponsor and launched Schoolhouse Rock, which evolved to cover four different areas: Multiplication Rock, Grammar Rock, Science Rock and America Rock.

David McCall, half of an agency known as McCaffrey and McCall Advertising, noticed that his son was struggling with math but had an easy time remembering popular song lyrics, so McCall asked a colleague to write a jingle about mathematics, and Schoolhouse Rock was born.

NOTE: Continuing the theme from last week’s post, one might retell McCall’s story this way: “In my work as a dad and advertising guy, I noticed that my son was struggling with math; so I wondered ….”

The three-minute Schoolhouse Rock segments premiered in 1973, and the first season was all about math. (If “My Hero Zero” is now stuck in your head for the rest of the day, well, at least you’ll be in good company.)

To coincide with U.S. bicentennial celebrations, the 1975 season of Schoolhouse Rock focused on civics, forever imprinting on us, the child viewers, the difference between bill and law.

The Preamble episode was written and performed by Lynn Ahrens, who got her first post-college job at age 22, working as a secretary at McCaffrey and McCall. Ahrens brought her guitar to work to help fill boring down-time, and her musical skills caught a producer’s attention.

Yes, this Schoolhouse Rock version is very slightly abridged; the real, original Preamble opens, “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union….” Also, the official spelling is “defence” not “defense.” Also, also I did check a reference book in order to try and get the Capitalizations correct, remembering that there were some Capitalized words that in today’s writing style might not earn that Big First Letter. (You’re welcome, Meglet.)

So, back to the beginning, an ad agency secretary, in her first big break as a songwriter, taught me, and maybe you, and some other people we know, a catchy tune to help us remember the most essential, basic, original principles that guide our country’s form of government. These words are the why behind the what, and they matter.

This catchy tune was written, produced and broadcast as an advertiser-sponsored public service campaign to help commemorate a big milestone, 200 years of governance as a democratic republic, tested by both domestic and international strife. The tune was intended to make these fundamentally important words stick, to bury them deep in our memories, to keep us from forgetting.

And here we are, almost 42 years after the November 1975 debut of The Preamble on Schoolhouse Rock, which we now watch through YouTube or Disney.com or vimeo posts, because the lazy Saturday mornings watching cartoons on ABC are long gone. With 4,000 channels instead of only a basic four, we, the People, now struggle to differentiate between fact and fiction, truth and propaganda. We’ve allowed bits and pieces of information to separate and divide us into a hundred different Venn diagrams with few areas of common overlap. We are one nation under FUD, a pall of fear, uncertainty and doubt now being cast over the entire nation by its new commander in chief.

I’ve already told you my personal plan for dealing with this year, and I’ve begged you to join me: Art. Harder.

It won’t be simple or easy, though. Perhaps some music will keep us going, a soundtrack to strengthen our collective arting – whether that art is drawing or writing letters or knitting pink hats or even pondering the strange beauty of gigantic, inflatable bunnies.

Yes, let’s sing. And in singing let’s agree never to surrender the one piece of common ground that has afforded us, among other things, the liberty of public assembly and public disagreement for almost 242 years.

Let’s sing, and sing loud, and never lose sight of the fact that it is we, the People, who must together protect the very fabric that serves to protect us.

We the people


Food | Week of January 23, 2017
(sing while you cook)

Brassicas Bowl (winter salad with eggs)

Chicken with Crispy Rice

Mushroom-Barley Soup

Weeknight Make-Your-Own Pizza

Sesame-Crusted Fish with Butter and Ginger Sauce | Green Salad

7 Comments

  1. I remember the days of “Schoolhouse Rock”! In fact… I went back to school a couple of years ago and my US Govt teacher played “I’m just a Bill” in class one day! It was hilarious because I could sing every freaking word! The teacher and I are the same age and we had a great laugh.. but the younger kids didn’t get it. They liked the video.. thought it was corny (of course it was) but it got the point across and was an awesome memory. :-0

  2. Loved Schoolhouse Rock growing up… helped to embed some otherwise difficult words into my mind and was extremely useful helping Mira as she assimilated into a new culture. I am well known for putting just about anything I wanted my children to remember to music… sometimes corny (ok pretty much always) but effective! Music has a way of connecting us…. More to your point, YES We the people… and it is always an excellent coping mechanism to art harder…. or read harder… write harder… music harder!

  3. Melanie White

    Jennifer: you know that I totally love and respect you as a friend, neighbor and incredibly intelligent person. So, one evening, I wonder if we could sit on the porch and talk. Me as a ” deplorable” and you as what ever term you wish, Because we have known each other for so long, supported common causes and yet, I feel that I am now one of the people you have highlighted in the last few blogs. I have not changed and neither have you, so perhaps there is room for conversation and compromise. Your bottle of wine is banking on it.

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  4. Fred

    Yep, similar age bracket and your words ring true with me and now I have songs stuck in my head. And that’s good. Ever since reading your “Art. Harder.” appeal, that’s the way I’ve been thinking about things. I will art harder even though I feel ill-equipped to do so. But it’s worth the effort, and I will sing loud too. Thank you for your writing.

  5. These songs have been in my head since 1973, when I learned them all by heart. I bought them for my own kids, and I break into song (still) from spontaneously, from time to time. Attending the March in DC was incredible, writing about it helped me process some of it… but now I need to find meaning and purpose. I’m working on it. Thanks for the inspiration!

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