I was about 10 years old when music really entered my soul. That was the time when I would constantly replay songs to master the lyrics so I could stand in front of the mirror with a brush in hand, giving a passionate concert to the toiletries that covered the bathroom counter. Besides providing inspiration and plenty of daydreaming, music also served a valuable teacher in the art of language.
The other day I was texting with a friend and used the phrase “it’s a moot point” if she didn’t do something. Every time I use that word I think back to the time Rick Springfield taught me the true meaning of moot.
In “Jessie’s Girl,” Mr. Springfield says:
I play along with the charade
There doesn’t seem to be a reason to change
You know, I feel so dirty when they start talking cute
I wanna tell her that I love her
But the point is probably moot
I thought he was singing mute and simply saying it incorrectly so it would rhyme. Frustrated, I checked the sleeve of “Working Class Dog” and found the lyrics printed right there for me to see … moot. I then checked the dictionary for the meaning.
The Police also helped me broaden my vocabulary. In “Don’t Stand So Close to Me,” the men offer:
It’s no use, he sees her
He starts to shake and cough
Just like the old man in
That book by Nabakov
I couldn’t figure out what the hell they were singing, so again I checked the album sleeve on “Zenyatta Mondatta” to solve the mystery, which led me further to research who Nabakov was and the book the band referenced. In case you never knew, they are talking about novelist Vladimir Nabokov, who wrote the book, “Lolita,” about a middle-aged man who becomes obsessed and sexually involved with a 12-year-old girl. Not my favorite discovery, since I hoped the girl in the song was somewhat older than prepubescent.
One song was so full of history references, teachers across the country used it in their classrooms. “We Didn’t Start the Fire” by Billy Joel still lives on eBay, where you can find all sorts of lesson plans and activities revolving around that one song.
Harry Truman, Doris Day, Red China, Johnnie Ray
South Pacific, Walter Winchell, Joe DiMaggio
Joe McCarthy, Richard Nixon, Studebaker, television
North Korea, South Korea, Marilyn Monroe
Rosenbergs, H-bomb, Sugar Ray, Panmunjom
Brando, “The King and I” and “The Catcher in the Rye”
Eisenhower, vaccine, England’s got a new queen
Marciano, Liberace, Santayana goodbye
All that before the chorus. That’s a whole semester of activity for a cool teacher to present to otherwise bored students.
There are other lessons one can learn from music, of course, some not quite appropriate for a younger audience. When Mr. Carter is jamming out to Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer” or Maroon 5’s “Sugar,” I am grateful he’s not yet asking what they mean, since those are subject matters for an older time.
It has been proved that music can be a healing tool for those with mental disabilities. I’m not surprised, since music has been expanding my mind for decades and will always be a source of comfort—a habit Julie Andrews taught me in “The Sound of Music:”
I go to the hills when my heart is lonely
I know I will hear what I’ve heard before
My heart will be blessed with the sound
And I’ll sing once more.