GLEE, you never cease to surprise me. Last week you did a Fleetwood Mac-themed episode, and now for the past few days the strains of “Go Your Own Way” and “Dreams” and “Songbird” have been wafting out of my thirteen-year-old daughter’s room. These are the songs I was listening to when I was thirteen years old.
So I’m appreciating:
A. Hearing the songs, because they’re really good songs.
B. The fact that my daughter likes music I think is good.
C. Hearing other guitar players play Lindsey Buckingham’s parts makes me realize – yet again – what a great and inventive player he is.
D. Happiness that my daughter has another reference for Lindsey Buckingham besides Bill Hader’s (hilarious, actually) rendition on SNL’s “What Up With That” sketches.
This is how a cultural education is pieced together. I think back to my childhood. With a name like Rain, it probably comes as no surprise to learn that I was home schooled. It was only for a few months – the second half of the eighth grade. I had been accepted to a hippie boarding school in the mountains of Colorado for the following fall, and it just didn’t make sense to enroll me in yet another school since I’d be leaving before long anyway. We had just moved from Studio City to Ojai, I was somehow between school districts, so we never had to file a lesson plan and apparently no one was checking up on me.
This was my dad’s opportunity to bestow upon me the cultural education he thought I should have, so he put some thought into my curriculum. He assigned me Alexander Solzenijn’s “A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” and Robert Heinlein’s “Stranger in a Strange Land.” I read those, but I don’t remember any kind of “class discussion.” I think he was just happy to hear me report I’d done my homework. I believe next on the list was “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,” but I never started it. After a couple of months, both my dad and I had petered out on the home school idea. It was almost summer, so we kind of let it slide.
I was telling this story to someone the other day and we were laughing about it. But it occurs to me that, though that semester was the only official instruction I received from him, my dad was always educating me. When I was really young, he had George Harrison’s song “Sue Me, Sue You Blues” on the stereo. I asked what it was about and received a complete history of the Beatles. It was important to him that I understand why “May The Circle Be Unbroken” was a landmark album. I had to be familiar with Ry Cooder’s contribution to rock and roll and appreciate that it’s because he does his job with such commitment and joy that people call Bruce Springsteen “The Boss.”
My cinematic education was comprehensive as well. Name a landmark film of the seventies, and I’ve probably seen it. Though some of those movies I might not have chosen to see (like, uh, The Omen, when I was about eight years old), I’m happy to have a good working knowledge of film. In 1977, my dad took me out of school so we could drive to San Francisco and see Star Wars in 70 mm on the day it opened. That was awesome.
Not so awesome? The time I wanted to watch The Lords of Flatbush with Henry Winkler and Sylvester Stallone, and instead my dad made me sit through some obscure subtitled film called Children of the Beehive, in which one of two perpetually unsupervised and precociously world-weary Swedish girls strangles a cat long enough for its eyes to bulge out. Even he admitted that one was a bust.
As luck would have it, the seemingly haphazard education my dad gave me proved to be the instruction I needed for life as a songwriter. The things he taught me have come in handy time and time again, as when I’m reaching for a way to explain the type of violin solo I’m looking for and I can pull from my CD collection a little known Dan Hicks album that I learned about when I was ten.
So this morning Stella is listening to “Dreams (Glee Cast Version)” in her room. She heads off to school and I’m standing in the kitchen doing dishes, humming the song…and I suddenly notice the phrase “like a heartbeat, drives you mad…in the stillness of remembering what you had…” Oh, wow! Stevie Nicks is alluding the “The Tell-Tale Heart.”
Channeling my father, I call Stell, who is in the car with her dad on the way to school, and I say, “Trivia question! You know that song ‘Dreams’ that Glee did on the Fleetwood Mac episode?” “Yeah…” “What short story that you studied this year is referenced in it?” She doesn’t know the lyrics as well as I do, so I sing the pertinent line and she goes “Omigod! The Tell-Tale Heart!” “Yes! See why I love studying literature? You get to make connections like this! Doesn’t that give you a deeper feeling for the meaning of the song?” “Yeah!” she says, and I tell she really does think – despite my English Lit geekdom – that it is pretty cool.
Thank you, Glee! And thank you, Dad.