schoolhouse rock.

“You should do a benefit record for inner-city teachers.”

That’s what started it.  It was doug from cuppa joe, who was a teacher himself.  doug believed (as I do, more so today than I did then because of circumstances) very deeply in the importance of teachers, and he took a job teaching in inner-city Trenton.  It wasn’t the type of job that other teachers considered to be “desirable,” but that’s the job doug wanted because he wanted to be able to provide quality learning opportunities to kids that normally didn’t have that luxury.  He explained to me how the better teachers wanted to teach in the suburbs, where the drama was less and the kids were “better” kids, where they didn’t fear for their safety and where they felt they could instruct kids that were more likely to care.  When some of them suggested that after his first year of teaching in Trenton, doug should look for a “better” job in the burbs, doug explained that he already had the job that he wanted.

doug did a lot of things for the principle of it, and that was definitely no exception.

I learned a lot from him, and he was explaining the concept of institutional racism to me – this was a concept that he touched on in the song “bottlerocket,” and one that was very dear to him.  And he was explaining how the inner-city schools had so much less money to operate with than the large, upscale, suburban schools, and how the teachers really needed more help than the school districts were able to provide.

And then he started trying to sell me on the idea of doing a benefit record.

I don’t think doug actually thought I’d buy into the concept, but I saw some things that I liked.  First of all, I really enjoyed turning that $500 over to the food bank after the Elizabeth release party.  It felt good to do something punk rock, and contribute to a local charity.

Second of all, something like that could provide more PR mileage for Dromedary than I was capable of generating on my own.  If I could come up with a cool concept for a record, get some good bands involved, and do it for a good cause, I was sure to get some strong press coverage – for a tiny label, we got pretty strong press coverage as it was, and I thought a record to benefit teachers – and thus, kids – was a pretty novel concept.  Certainly not something that any punk rock labels were doing at that point (although Simple Machines was constantly contributing time and money to various causes, they didn’t do it in quite this way).

One night, Rich came over, and the three of us were just randomly chit-chatting.  I don’t know who mentioned it first (although it sounds like something Sandy would say), but I think we were talking about the old cartoons we used to watch as kids.

And somebody mentioned Schoolhouse Rock, the old musical shorts that were on ABC inbetween Saturday morning cartoons when we were kids.

This was before the days of YouTube – there was no internet as we know it today.  The web was very much in its infancy, and so you couldn’t just jump online and search for video copies of the old Schoolhouse Rock shorts, or a list of all the different songs that had been created – you had to actually remember them with your own brain.  

So we started trying to remember all the songs we used to watch as kids.  “Conjunction Junction.”  “Lolly, Lolly, Lolly (Get Your Adverbs Here).”  “Verb! (That’s What’s Happening).”

“Man, some of those were great songs,” somebody said.

“We should do a compilation album of Schoolhouse Rock cover songs,” someone else said.

“Holy shit, can you imagine American Standard doing “Verb!,” or Melting Hopefuls doing “Interplanet Janet?” Sandy said.  

“It could be a benefit album, just like doug suggested,” I said.  “The money could go to benefit teachers, or to kids in inner-city schools.”

We sat for a few minutes in silence, and then Rich said “Would it be another Nothing Smells Quite Like Elizabeth?  Jersey bands?”

“No,” I responded, quickly.  “I’d want Footstone and cuppa joe.  But that’s it.  I’d invite Toast, Gapeseed and The Mommyheads to do songs, since they’re Dromedary bands.  But I’d also want bigger-name bands.  I’d also want to actually have some input into the creative process on this one.”

“What do you mean?” Rich asked.

“I mean that when we put out someone’s album, they give us the art, they give us the DAT.  If I’m lucky I have some input into which songs will be on the record. This time I want to get to know the songs, and then I want to choose a band that would record the song best.  Then I’ll ask that band to do that song.  If they won’t do the song I want them to, they won’t be on the record.”

“Only if American Standard gets to do ‘Verb!'” Sandy said.

“Fine.”

“What would Footstone do?” Rich asked.

“Footstone gets to pick their song.  Whichever one they want.  They get first pick,” I responded.

“They should do the Rufus Xavier Saspirilla song,” Sandy said.  We had taken to calling Ralph “Rufus” for some reason.  

“Fuck the Travel Guide; this is a great idea,” Rich said.  “This is the kind of thing that puts Dromedary right up there on a whole different playing field.”

I agreed.  I wasn’t going to play around with this one.  I was going to plan it out – find the right charity, reach out to the perfect bands, ask them to do specific songs.

I began making lists of my favorite bands: Pavement.  The Posies.  Sebadoh.  Tsunami.  Scrawl.  Spinanes.  Unrest.  King Missile.  Then I started trying to remember all the Schoolhouse Rock songs I could think of.

Meanwhile, Rich finished up the creation of the screens for the cuppa joe CD booklet.  It was a four-page booklet (essentially, one piece of paper folded in half).  It was an ambitious, two-color silkscreen job, which we were going to do in purple and a tangerine color, on gray recycled paper.  We had the paper cut down to size, and all we needed to do was actually paint the booklets and tray cards (which would be just one color – purple).

The artwork looked great, and to test it out and show the band what it would look like, we actually screened one and sent it to them.

“It looks okay,” doug said.  “Kind of DIY-looking.”

I don’t know what steve thought of it.  He seemed noncommittal – I figured that he was the artist, and he’d rather see his work printed professionally on high-quality paper.  Given the cost of doing a CD, though, that wasn’t going to happen. 

We weren’t in any rush to actually screen five hundred booklets – we figured we could do it any time, it would take about a day to do, and there was no point in doing it until the CDs were done.  We hadn’t even received a test cassette yet.

We decided to move onto the Mommyheads CD, and also to pursue the Schoolhouse Rock idea.

~ by Al on April 28, 2009.

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