Notes on Pop Culture: My Own "Glee" Experience

At the cafe this morning, they're playing a radio station that I think should be called the Uncle Music Station:  Doobie Brothers, REO Speedwagon, Foreigner, Supertramp, etc (it was Green Day who turned me on to calling this "Uncle Music" - it's the music out to which your uncle rocks). When I first came in, they were playing "Dust in the Wind," by Kansas. Man, that song takes me back - my eighth grade swing choir (ie Glee Club) spent most of the first semester working on that tune. I can still sing the cello solo. It was probably the most depressing semester of my life.

If you know the song, you will probably realize that it doesn't exactly swing. In fact, there are gregorian chants that swing a good deal more than "Dust in the Wind." Rather than swinging around, as swing choirs normally do, we just stood there and sang it, living up all to all the stereotypes about how much soul kids in the suburbs have.

In addition to not swinging, there's also nothing gleeful about "Dust in the Wing." The premise of the song is that life is short and more or less pointless - all we are is dust in the wind, drops of water in an endless sea, all of whose doings crumble to the ground and slip away, so one should not hang on... pretty grim business. There were plenty of popular songs about BEING depressed (such things really took off in the early 90s), but this was a song about why you SHOULD be depressed if you aren't.

Since this took a good chunk of the semester, for some weeks I spent my first hour of every day singing "Dust in the Wind" over and over again. Most people find middle school depressing to begin with, and starting your day with a heaping helping of gloom wasn't exactly a pick-me-up.

When you spend an hour in the morning singing about how life is nasty, brutish and short, it's fairly hard to get into algebra the rest of the day.
If all my money won't another minute buy, I would think, why in the hell should I be spending these transient moments trying to figure how to factor a trinomial? All we are is dust in the wind, anyway, and nothing lasts forever but the earth and sky. What's the point?

I suppose the fact that I never DID figure out how to factor a trinomial - or exactly what a trinomial is, for that matter - is probably my final revenge.

Eventually, we sang that one at a concert, and moved on to other happy songs, like "Turn Around," the most depressing song Malvina Reynolds ever wrote, "Tiger Rag," a bouncy number about animal abuse, and "Let's Step Out," a happy song -finally!- which was all about drinking illegally during prohibition. I never sang those in concert, because I moved to Snellville, Georgia before the school year ended. The chorus at my new school in Snellville was not exactly a swing choir - the only song I remember from my month or so at that school was "Ave Ave." It swung about as much as "Dust in the Wind," and the last line was something about "death's agony," but it couldn't really get me down, since it was in Latin and I didn't understand much of it 

I can still sing the first few lines of it, though - I can still sing most of practically every song I ever had in music class as a kid, up to and including "The Music Fact Rap." I was in 2nd grade when we did that one - our music teacher was an older, grouchy guy that I've told so many stories about that it's hard to separate the man from the myth. For instance, some people who were in that class with me swear that he once claimed that he didn't believe in shampoo, and preferred to wash his hair by sticking his head in a rain barrel. I remember him explaining what rain barrels were when we sang  Playmate, but can't vouch for the rest.  

He was not the best guy in the world to have as a rap teacher.

But I am an award winning opera singer.

I won an award - a burger king certificate - for my role as "mother" when my sixth grade music class (taught by the same teacher who ran the glee club) had to act out scenes from the opera "Amahl and the Night Visitors." We didn't have to sing - just act out the scenes. I sang anyway. Badly, I might add, but making a fool of myself was never something that scared me much. The teacher said I was the best mother she ever had. 

I know a lot of middle school teachers end up reading my page, so here's a suggestion: if you want a crack a room full of middle schoolers up, show the video of the part of "Amahl and the Night Visitors" where Amahl plans to give baby Jesus his crutch and his mother says she's sure this king of kings already has a crutch. In the video we saw, it sounded for all the world like they were saying "crotch."


Timothy Power said...

I actually really want to see a performance of your glee club now, Adam!

Adam Selzer said...

With any luck, no tapes survive!

Adam's New Book: Sept 2013