In 1973, Hans Fenger was hired to teach music in Langley, British Columbia. The only problem with that was that Mr. Fenger had never taught music before and had no idea how it should be done. But the 1970s were a time of experimentation in education, so Mr. Fenger decided to teach his curriculum topics by introducing his students to popular songs of the day. The longer he worked with his students, the better he got to know them as fully-formed human beings. He started getting a better sense of their fears, their dreams and the whole kaleidoscope of emotions they possessed. As a result, he was better able to tailor his song-based curriculum to suit the personalities of his students. That gave him an idea. He worked in collaboration with the students and their families to record a series of choral renderings of famous songs. All of these songs were recorded in school gyms scattered through Langley. Enough material was recorded to produce two separate full length record albums. The two-album set was called The Langley Schools Music Project. Needless to say, these albums were hits primarily with the families of the students only, but just the same, when all was said and done, Hans Fenger felt that he had captured a realistic version of how children view childhood via the songs they sang. These songs ranged from “Band on the Run” by Paul McCartney and Wings, to “Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft” by Klaatu, several Beach Boys songs such as “God Only Knows”, “Desperado” by The Eagles and much, much more.
The story would have ended there except for a bit of fortuitous luck in the year 2000. A record collector who focussed on finding musical oddities and rare recordings stumbled across one of the Langley Schools Music Project albums in a thrift store. Excited by the haunting quality of the music that was recorded, he searched for the other album and eventually was able to find it, too. Together, they were brought to various record labels in the hope that they could be re-recorded and re-released. Bar None Records agreed that there was something special about these albums and re-packaged them as a double CD set. It was this CD version that ended up having the greatest impact. For starters, it was what inspired the making of the movie (and subsequent TV series) School of Rock starring Jack Black in the role of Hans Fenger. The CD set also fell into the hands of one of music videos’ hottest producers, Spike Jonze. Jonze had worked with just about every band of note during the 1990s and into the 2000s. He had just finished producing his first movie, the quirky Being John Malkovich. At the time that he discovered the Langley Schools Music Project CDs, Jonze had just been hired on to produce the ambitious movie Where The Wild Things Are, which, as you may know, was based upon the famous children’s book of the same name by Maurice Sendak. The CDs had been re-titled and now went by the name Innocence and Despair. In Jonze’s mind, the title of these CDs, along with the amateurish sound of these children working their way through some of the famous songs in the world that dealt with topics such as longing, heartbreak and hopefulness was exactly what he imagined childhood to be from a child’s perspective. Because he felt that Sendak’s book also nailed the idea of childhood as seen and experienced by real children, he decided that the Langley Schools Music Project would guide the making of his new movie, Where The Wild Things Are.
Spike Jonze knew the world of modern music extremely well. So, when it came time to hand the music score over to someone who would understand his vision of what childhood from a child’s perspective was like, he immediately thought of the lead singer of the group Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Karen O. As the 2000s dawned, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs were one of the freshest and most original music acts in the world. Jonze was most impressed by a music video called “Cheated Hearts” (which I highly encourage you to read about and watch here). Not long after that, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs released the groundbreaking music video for the song “M.A.P.S.” (which, again, I highly encourage you to read about and watch here before going on with this story). In both cases, it was clear to Jonze that Karen O. knew how to allow her audience to express their true selves without shame or inhibition so he asked her to score his film. Once Karen O. came on board with the film project, she gathered her Yeah Yeah Yeahs bandmates together, along with other musicians from Alternative/Indie bands such as Queens of the Stone Age and others. These extra musicians became the “kids” who, along with Karen O., wrote the soundtrack for this film. The big song that came from the movie was written by Karen O. and was called “All Is Love”.
“All Is Love” never became a huge hit because it was never intended to be a stand-alone song. It was also never intended to be a song about adulthood. “All Is Love” was written to capture the idea that one of the most important and sad things that happens as we progress through our childhood years is that we learn that we have to temper our emotions. Rarely do we, as adults, allow ourselves to simply “let it all hang out”. How often do we laugh so hard we wet our pants or lose our breath? How often do we run and run and run just to feel the wind on our skin as our hearts pound almost completely out of our chests? How often do we scream cathartically at the top of our lungs in public places? The answer to all of these questions is rarely, if ever at all. Part of the process of growing up requires the reining in of our emotions. The need to fit in, to get along, to know how to properly behave in society means taking the edge off of our most basic instincts and desires. In a world where being good citizens and neighbours has value, this isn’t the worst thing. But, it is a bargain we are forced to make, whether we like it or not. Much of the rationale behind the original storybook version of Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak was to allow children to be children for as long as possible because that was when we are in our purest form. Childhood, in all of its uncontrollable emotional moments, is that time in all of our lives before the social negotiations begin and the tradeoffs take root and we become, not necessarily who we want to be, but the version of ourselves that we have to be in order to be accepted by others. The point of the book was that in childhood, we are our true selves and yet, despite how that sometimes plays out, we are loved unconditionally by our parents and grandparents anyway. It can be exhausting but sometimes that’s just the way love is. The song “All Is Love” by Karen O. and the Kids captures that dichotomy extremely well. As stated, this song was never meant to stand alone so I recommend watching it as it was used in the movie. I will link to that below.
The film Where The Wild Things Are by Spike Jonze was met with decidedly mixed reviews. Much of the reason for this was because people simply didn’t know what to make of a movie that wasn’t told from the perspective of adults and yet, wasn’t a children’s movie, either. Where The Wild Things Are was a movie about childhood in all of its warts and bruises. It was a cinematic rendering of what it is like to be a child and experience the wild swings of emotion that come with it. For what it is worth, in my opinion, Spike Jonze managed that rarest of rare feats…he treated children and childhood with respect. Not many adults accept children for who they actually are. They often believe them incapable of serious thought, and as such, deny them the opportunity to chart their own course and make their own decisions which, in turn, lead to consequences that help fuel future growth. In the book and the movie, it is only when young Max has his tantrum at home and then journeys to the land of the Wild Things in his imagination that he comes to realize that he can be who he truly is and will still be loved by his mother (who has a hot supper waiting for him…the hot supper being symbolic of a mother’s love). Helping children to realize that who they truly are is all that they need to be has immeasurable value to their future wellbeing. It is the reason that Where The Wild Things Are was recently rated as being the #1 children’s picture book of all time and the #4 most checked out book in American Public Libraries (and that includes all adult books, too).
I will conclude by stating that nothing I have written in this post is meant to suggest that children should be allowed to run amok, to do whatever they please whenever they feel like it. Part of being a parent is the responsibility to sometimes limit your child’s desires due to safety reasons or economic ones or dozens of other things, too. However, another part of being a parent…in my opinion, by far and away the most important part…is helping your child to become the best version of themselves that they are capable of being. Part of doing that is respecting your child for who they really are and loving them no matter what. At the end of the day, your child’s formative years are the foundation of the rest of their life. We would be wise to help them build as strong a foundation as possible because, as we all know, being an adult isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be. Let the wild rumpus begin anyway! Let’s all go and have our very best day!
The link to the video for the trailer to the film Where The Wild Things Are can be found here.
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