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Whatever happened to SchoolHouse Rock?
Growing up, back in the days when my mind hungrily absorbed information (as opposed to the way it now pings off my overtaxed brain like hail on a windowpane!) there were certain concepts I retained that still resonate strongly to this day. Certain people, certain memories, certain songs. Every once in awhile, we experience things that bring us back to points in time that make us smile and reflect.
So, not long ago I was talking with a friend who referenced the song from SchoolHouse Rock on How a Bill Becomes A Law. Suddenly, I remembered the cartoon figures from the early 70s singing to the groovy tunes, telling the story. But not before Conjunction Junction repeated itself in my head. Wow. Songs I hadn't consciously ran across my mental radar in decades!
In the early 1970s, as an outcropping of the youth rebellion of the 60s, came a series of catchy, fun episodes that bridged childhood learning styles - acknowledging and embracing the fact that not everyone learns from lecture and reading alone. The animated educational TV shows began as an idea for commercial advertising by a man named David McCall, who noticed his son had trouble learning multiplication tables, but could easily memorize song lyrics from his favorite rock songs. So, integrating those learning styles, he collaborated with songwriter Bob Dorough, lyricist and animator Tom Yohe and created the song "Three is a Magic Number". They pitched the idea to Michael Eisner (later Disney CEO) who was then VP of ABC's Children's Programming Division. Eisner brought in Chuck Jones from Warner Bros. and voila! Thirty-seven episodes were recorded between 1972 and 1980.
The SchoolHouse Rock team reunited in 1987 to produce a VHS video production, then did so again a few times in the 1990s. In 2002, for the 30th anniversary DVD, Tom Yohe, Jr. the son of the original animator of the same name, took over and new songs were created. In 2009, SchoolHouse Rock Earth was released, containing songs with environmental themes.
Subjects covered by the SHR team included multiplication, grammar, science, money, computers, the environment and American government. SchoolHouse Rock Live!, a stage version of the show, debuted in Chicago's Cabaret Voltaire in August 1993 and played for eight months to sold-out theater houses, then continued intermittently until 1997.
SchoolHouse Rock today
Thinking SHR was a distant memory for me, I researched and found it is not so for our culture. Just this week (November 2009), SHR was in the news when MSNBC News Anchor Rachel Maddow incorrectly stated there was no Preamble to the Constitution, and for her penance, the station played the SHR version of the song here. References abound in the media - with some suggesting Obama use more visuals (and presumably sing a little) a la SHR in his speeches about health care reform. I can feel the jingle coming on ...
The new SchoolHouse Rock Earth is a Disney production, so I'm now expecting plush Conductor and Earth dolls, limited edition DVDs, and a new schoolhouse ride at Disneyland where you ride in a car shaped like a Bill and travel through the legislature like Mr. Toad's Wild Ride!
So, it would appear that SHR hasn't died any more than other cultural phenomena of the 1970s. Just when we thought we were done with all of the "Returns" of Gilligan's Island, Superman, Batman, Incredible Hulk, etc., they are now producing "The Cat in the Hat", "Where the Wild Things Are", and "Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs"!
I can see it now. In the theaters to watch the latest blockbuster sequel of Die Hard - Die Already!, and up comes the preview for SHR - the Movie. Will Smith's son as the kid with the bill. Dr. Phil as the Conductor. The Jonas Brothers singing a souped-up Conjunction Junction, with new "moves". The possibilities are limitless!
Until then, enjoy this little trip down memory lane ...