Tuesday, February 16, 2010

How Sesame Street shaped me, installment #46

Playing right now: Liverball - Bullet Burn (a CD comp of two EPs released in the early '90s by a band that features Buck Knauer, who plays in the Love Letters with me).

Youtube is stocked with a surprising number of ultra-obscure clips from the early days of Sesame Street. I'm not sure exactly when I started watching the show, but I was two when it premiered and it's always been there as far as I know, so chances are I watched it from the get-go. That show is probably the singlemost reason I connect music with specific images. It so frequently presented nature films or other educational films with hip music in the background. When those clips were repeated often, it made it easy for an impressionable young kid who dug music to retain the melodies and think of certain images with it.

A few weeks ago, I decided to see if anyone had posted an early Sesame Street film and song about what happens to garbage, with a rousing coda where the singer bellows "Goodbye garrrrbage, goodbye garrrbage," as a barge floats down the river loaded with everything we just saw the trucks compacting as they made their way through the city. (Let's avoid the message the clip sends. I don't approve of it and the conclusion it drew in my young mind back then was that the garbage was going to be dumped in the river. Not cool. But I was smart enough to both realize that wasn't the case and that recycling is good. Just had to include that caveat.)

Lo and behold I found the clip:

Most of the catchy songs with vocals from SS's early days featured Joe Raposo singing them. (Confession: I found his voice kind of annoying back then, though now I know better. My mother once thought he sounded like he was trying to be Mel Torme but was more annoying. Maybe that's what soured me.) "What About Garbage," the above song, actually comes from the mind of Peter Schickele, who is probably best known as the creator of P.D.Q. Bach, a character or ongoing performance that spoofs classical music and is considered HI-larious by many people. (I've never seen it.) To me, Schickele's claim to fame is being the father of Karla Schickele, the amazing songwriter and member of Ida. She used to play in the band Beekeeper with her brother Matthew and she also had a solo project called k., which was also amazing.

If any conclusion can be drawn from this clip, it is that great songwriting is hereditary in that family. Maybe lyrically this song doesn't have much, but if you consider its audience, it has all it needs. Besides, when I heard it again, the "ba ba dup ba da da da" chorus came back to me immediately, like a long lost grade school friend. And the piano part has all the trappings of a classic pop song. His voice reminds me of either Mark Volman or Howard Kaylan of the Turtles - pure pop magic. Never has garbage sounded so beautiful.

10 years ago, I was completely enamored with Karla Schickele's songs. I pressed her a couple times, trying to find out what her influences were. Surely there had to be some jazz in her past. Nope, not by a long shot, she politely explained. Hearing this video, I can see that it was something in the genes.


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