Monday, August 23, 2010
Ira Glass, the perennial soothing voice on Chicago’s This American Life, pointed it out. You’d think by now I had noticed it myself. But I hadn’t. It came up in a conversation with his sister, who is a producer at Disney films. Ira reviewed the 1937 film, Walt Disney’s first full length animation, and complained that Snow White was more like a Broadway musical than a motion picture.
“Ira,” she corrected, “that opening song… it’s the archetypal wish song.” And then she explained that all those great movies open with the “wish song.” It’s the hook. It connects you with the character, and launches the story line. So when Snow White looks into that reflecting pool and sings, “I’m wishing (I’m wishing – echo) for the one I love to find me today; I’m hoping (I’m hoping) and dreaming of the nice things he’ll say,” she establishes the entire plot line and draws the audience in to the character. We sympathize. We empathize. We care. Those lyrics pull us in like a powerful magnet. In the hearing, we are wishing right along with her. We wish for her dream to come true, and maybe ours, as well.
With that idea planted, all those other familiar wish songs came to Ira’s mind. Like Tevye, the Fiddler on the Roof: “If I were a rich man, Ya ha deedle deedle, bubba bubba deedle deedle dum. All day long I’d biddy biddy bum. If I were a wealthy man. I wouldn’t have to work hard…” and Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady, “All I want is a room somewhere, Far away from the cold night air. With one enormous chair, Aow, wouldn’t it be loverly? Lots of choc’lates for me to eat, Lots of coal makin’ lots of ‘eat. Warm face, warm ‘ands, warm feet, Aow, wouldn’t it be loverly?”
Don’t forget the Little Mermaid as the film opens, “…I’ve got gadgets and gizmos aplenty, I’ve got whozits and whatzits galore, (You want thingamabobs? I got twenty) But who cares? No big deal – I want more…”
Then there is Quasimodo in the Hunchback of Notre Dame, who sings from his tower hideaway, “Safe behind these windows and these parapets of stone, Gazing at the people down below me, All my life I watch them as I hide up here alone, Hungry for the histories they show me. All my life I memorize their faces, Knowing them as they will never know me. All my life I wonder how it feels to pass a day… Not above them… But part of them…”
Maybe the most famous wish song of all is Dorothy’s. Trapped in a black and white Kansas, dreaming of anywhere but here, over that horizon on the edge of the big sky over the flatlands, she sings, “Somewhere, over the rainbow, way up high. There’s a land that I heard of, Once in a lullaby. Somewhere, over the rainbow, skies are blue. And the dreams that you dare to dream… Really do come true.”
So it should be no surprise when our kids decide that it’s time to explore that world beyond the one we introduced them to. It’s painful, hard to let them go. We want to be their interpreter and guide. We think we know better then they about what they’ll find out there and what they must avoid and the dangers that lurk in the shadows. We want to steer them and advise them and warn them not to step on the landmines that got us back when; and the pitfalls and potholes we tripped over and fell into, we’ve got plenty of insight. But off they go. On their own. We bought them the videos, read them the stories and took them to the movie theater and theme parks. All those wish songs. Should we be shocked?
Longings are powerful, maybe more powerful than logic or rules or boundaries. We know some of those yearnings can get us into trouble. They need to be checked. But when the capacity for longing is extinguished, well, the dark clouds form over a life. The absence of longing may well be a prime symptom of depression. It signals despair.
So Ira Glass tries his hand at writing his own “wish song” for his radio show, which he performs. “I only wish these stories will be gripping and special… you’ll remember what they said, and mention them at dinner… bring on the conflict! Make the people speak! It’s radio! I wish for decent stories on the radio!”
Well, it’s not Rogers and Hammerstein, but we get the point.
So today, what are your yearnings? For what do you pine? What colors your hopes and your dreams? Hollywood has known for nearly a century that tapping into those longings will build an eager audience every time. We can dismiss it as manipulation. But what do you really care about? Care about so much that we can call it a longing.
I remember those longings that made Carolyn an obsession back when I was a twenty-one year old with hopes and dreams that could hardly be contained. It got us to the altar. That was forty-one years ago today.
And the longing is still alive.
Copyright Kenneth E Kemp 2010