It's a sad week down by the lake, where you often see a duck and a drake. Those who grew up with ABC's Schoolhouse Rock series of educational videos are mourning the death of Bob Dorough, the jazz musician who set the multiplication tables to music.
Dorough died of natural causes at age 94 on April 23, his son, Chris, told The New York Times. He served as musical director for Schoolhouse Rock between 1973 and 1985 (the show was later revived with updated videos).
Dorough wrote many of the most popular songs from the series, including "My Hero Zero," "Lolly, Lolly, Lolly Get Your Adverbs Here," "Three Is a Magic Number," and, perhaps the most famous one, "Conjunction Junction." It's also his beatifically calm and just-a-little-bit raspy voice that sings many of the top songs.
In this era of 500 cable channels, streaming video, YouTube, Twitch, and more, it may be tough to appreciate how important Schoolhouse Rock was back in its day. Kids of the 1970s had only a few hours of Saturday morning cartoons to luxuriate in before the channels -- yes, all of them -- switched to bowling or golf or some other bland adult programming. And yet, as we sat there with our cereal bowls brimming with chocolate-frosted sugar bombs, we were actually learning.
Schoolhouse Rock famously came about when ad man David McCall noticed that his son was having trouble remembering his multiplication tables, but knew all the lyrics to the latest rock songs. Setting lessons to music was the natural next step, and it worked. Just ask any now-grown American-raised kid of a certain age if they can recite the preamble to the U.S. Constitution, and see if they don't start humming the Schoolhouse Rock version. The order of the planets, the history of women's suffrage, the definition of a pronoun -- Schoolhouse Rock had a song and a catchy video for all of them.
But the lessons of Schoolhouse Rock go beyond the schoolhouse door, and into the boardroom. We can all pick up some career tips from the world of "Interplanet Janet" and "My Hero Zero." Here are three of them that still apply today.
1. What's your function? Stick to it!
In Dorough's beloved "Conjunction Junction," a train conductor compares his job hooking up train cars to the use of conjunctions, which hook up phrases and clauses in sentences. It's a brilliant analogy that taught generations the meaning of a complicated concept. And despite the cartoony distractions of a hot-air balloon, campfire meal, and the charms of a duck and a drake, this conductor sticks to his function like a man on a mission. Our lesson: Know your function and deliver on it, and in the words of the tune, it'll "get you pretty far."
2. Be like Bill: Don't give up.
Dorough didn't write "I'm Just a Bill," but, like "Conjunction Junction," it is among the most popular Schoolhouse Rock tunes. The poor bill in question starts out as "just a sad scrap of paper" sitting on the U.S. Capitol steps, but he quickly recites his "long, long journey" to Washington. Viewers watch the bill wind his way from a hometown idea to a congressman's typewriter (hey, it was the '70s) to heated debate in committee to the president's desk.
Our lesson: Even when those in power are arguing against you, stick to your mission. As Bill can tell you, "Most bills never even get this far."
3. Lolly, lolly, lolly: Words (and ads) do matter.
Perhaps the most office-centric of the Schoolhouse Rock offerings is "Lolly, Lolly, Lolly, Get Your Adverbs Here," which is even set in a family business. Three generations of the Lolly family run Lolly's, an ... adverb store? (Suspend your disbelief, they do good work!) Everyone helps out to the best of his ability (little Lolly uses a skateboard, roller skates and a wheeled ladder to zoom around the store), and they even film a TV commercial touting their way with words.
Our lesson: So many in this one. Advertising works, words matter, family businesses can find a place for everyone, and don't undersell yourself. In Lolly-land, customers can even bring along their old adjectives to be turned into adverbs with the help of an -ly attachment. Does it work? As the video declares, "Indubitably!"