A word about “Free to Be… You and Me.” I loved this album more than almost anything in my life; I liked it so much I didn’t even ask my parents for it because somehow owning it was too much responsibility. The verse of the title song:
There’s a land that I see
where the children are free
And I say it ain’t far
to this land from where we are
…featured a chord progression that was so intrinsically beautiful to me that I would wait breathlessly every year for Mr. Feuerhelm, our music teacher at Grant Wood Elementary School in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to cue it up. I have to say that one chord progression is the building block of everything I’ve enjoyed since.
FTBYAM, however, was not a simple relationship for me, and it hasn’t aged well. If you click on any of the links from yesterday’s blog, you’ll see how unbelievably dated it looks, and the sentiments almost single-handedly define the wussyism of post-1960s Sensitive America. Some of the ideas, like Parents are People, seem bizarrely self-obvious, and others, like Circle of Friends, are so obviously quaalude-infested that it’s a miracle Kris Kristofferson could get a lyric off.
At the time, it was brilliant casting to have football star Rosey Grier sing It’s Alright to Cry, but it sure didn’t sway any of my classmates in fifth grade. In fact, FTBYAM became a bittersweet curse. At the time, it was considered faggoty for the kids to call other boys by their first name, so I was called “Williams” for years. It wasn’t until prep school that I actually heard my first name used.
Of course, the song every 3rd grader loved from the album was William Wants A Doll, which was easily switched by the entire class to “Williams Wants a Doll,” sung in unison as I died a million deaths. It was truly devastating to hear that “s” after “William” every time, looking around, and noticing that even the biggest losers in our grade were in on the joke, relishing their turn to flog the one person that was even lower than they were.
A few weeks later, I mustered the courage to take “Free to Be” at its word. We were required to do book reports in front of the whole class each month, and frankly, I had already read all of the books that were sanctioned by the cool boys: football stories, The Mouse and the Motorcycle, Encyclopedia Brown – I was sick of them. By chance, I found myself reading one of the girl books – something from the Betsy-Tacy series – and I was stunned to find out they were pretty fucking good. Why were the Betsy books girls-only?
So the day of the book report came, and the same jock fuckwads kept “reviewing” the same book of football stories, and it dawned on me I was screwed. I fumbled for another book to fake, but couldn’t think of one. When I got up in front of the class, I pulled out Betsy and Joe – and the screams of derision were so loud you could hear them outside on the street. I flew into hysterics, started to cry, and because I was a basket case, the teacher sent my ass to the principal.
I don’t know if the irony dawned on any of my teachers that “Free to Be,” the late-20th century tome on tolerance, was being used to ridicule me, or that it had doled out criminally terrible advice. But lesson learned. It’s actually NOT “Okay to Cry” and it’s NOT COOL that “Williams Wants a Doll” and as for being “Free to Be,” you can go fuck yourself.
I hear that schools are better now, that they don’t tolerate that shit as much. I hope so. Because if not, I’m saving pennies to make sure Lucy goes to the most tolerant Quaker Friends school this side of 1974.