Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Jennifer Joy, She Made a Toy

I have the best parents in the world. Seriously. They are A-MAZ-ING people, both of them, and they have always put a lot of effort into parenting me and my sister and brother.

Like many kids of the 70s, I had a record of Free to Be You and Me, the children's music and spoken word recording by Marlo Thomas and a passel of other celebrities. I listened to that record I don't know how many thousand times. There were stories, songs, skits, poems performed by voices I would decades later realize were famous. People like Harry Belafonte, Diana Ross, Alan Alda, Mel Brooks and many others. I know in the case of Alan Alda, for instance, I knew him on MASH but always felt like I knew him from somewhere before. I only just figured this out.

Mom (Mommy back then) would hold me or sit by me and listen to the whole thing. She'd take time to explain what different lyrics meant and what the philosophy was behind them, actually talk to me like an equal about it.

One of my favorite lyrics, because it contained my name, was from the Helping song:

"Zachary Zugg took out the rug/
And Jennifer Joy helped shake it/
And Jennifer Joy, she made a toy--/
And Zachary Zugg helped break it!/
And some kinds of help/
Are the kind of help that helpings all about/
And some kinds of help are the kind of help/
We all could do without.

Mom and I always sang the Jennifer Joy line as loudly and happily as we could.

That's the thing about Free to Be You and Me--the songs were pretty great, the writing was funny, but it was really all about the messaging. These were songs, poems and sketches that were written in direct retaliation to the predominant gender biases in society. I learned it was OK for boys to play with dolls, or show their feelings, that women could grow up to be strong and independent and just as fast and smart as boys, that brothers and sisters rule, and that helping was fun and that I could grow up to be a construction worker or a doctor or a policeman or a mom, anything I wanted.

I was free, you see, to be me.

Today, a lot of people would call that cheesy idealism, but I loved it then and I love it now. It shaped my worldview. There's something so pure and joyous about these songs, an innocence beyond irony. As a friend of mine likes to say, I dig it.

I've never forgotten those songs. I've gone for long periods without thinking of them, sure, but they are a part of me now. I happened across the record in my parents' garage last summer. Not the best place for it to spend the past three decades, as it was warped in all kinds of twisty ways. I was a little sad, but it's OK. I've probably gotten warped in a lot of twisty ways since then, too.

Today, I was mentioning that album to a friend and he said I could probably find it all over YouTube. I didn't think about it at the time, but I thought later, why would a record be all over YouTube? So I went to visit. Wow. Turns out, that the 1972 album was made into a 1974 television special with even more celebrities. I had no idea. It was a complete trip seeing how people chose to animate or choreograph all the soundtrack to my childhood. It's so odd that I know these songs so well, yet never saw these 35-year old images until a few hours ago.

Here, are some of the recreations I found from that special. I literally think of the "It's Alright to Cry" song every time I'm fighting off serious tears. I think the fact that it's sung by Rosey Grier, the former NFL player and bodyguard, is fantastic.

Intro--Free to Be You and Me. Notice how they ripped off Mary Poppins, another favorite of mine, at the end.

Helping (by Shel Silverstein)--I like the album version better, but still.

It's Alright to Cry, sung by Rosey Grier

And, because my sister Laura and her husband Kyle are this week both at work for the first time since becoming parents in December, I thought I'd post this one in their honor. Play it for Abby, someday, sis. Even better if you dress up in some of these get-ups. :)

Parents Are People


Laura said...

Those are great, and thanks for the tribute. ;-) One question: How many babies are they toting in those double-wide buggies? Wow.

jennybee said...

Haha. I can see where you'd be alarmed at the mechanics of toting around so many infants back then.

Anonymous said...

Jennifer, when Roger was at seminary, they put on Free To Be You And Me. Roger was the narrator. That was when he used your (really my) bear and called it his. You called out Daddy! That's my bear! I love that musical.

Wordweaver said...

I enjoyed remembering those songs and records. You also inspired me to go ahead and starta blog.
Love you!