JUNK FOOD: Cheep! Cheep! Cheep!

August 2021

As a babe-in-arms in the mid-1980s I looked out the back window, pointed my chubby, grabby baby finger and declared, ‘Bird.’ This was my first word. And since I made that first backyard ID over 30 years ago I haven’t really stopped talking, which dovetails perfectly with my current junk food: The Music Man.

group of women in feathered hats from The Music Man

Shortly after I started talking my gift for parroting presented itself. To my family’s dismay I could recite entire scenes while watching, practically ruining the viewing experience of anyone else in the room. Though I have (mostly) broken myself of this habit when Music Man has been blaring this past week I have sung along with every note. I didn’t think I’d remember as much as I do, but when the VCR whirred and the unrewound tape led with pick-a-little-talk-a-little-cheep-cheep-cheep I was grinning and, soon enough, singing along. Loudly.

blurred image of tops of women's feathered hats from The Music Man

I have lots—LOTS—to say about this 1962 version of the 1954 musical, which takes place in 1912. The gist is that a flimflamming salesman talks a big game in River City, Iowa only to find that, through his grift, he has become part of the community; the Music Man’s song and dance was the final descant in the town’s swelling score. (As a student of American con artists and mid-century musicals my fandom for this story is layered, and deep.)

The musical both does, and does not age well. Whatever biting gender satire was originally intended in the 50s libretto has dulled in the interceding years, but the Capital-P-and-that-rhymes-with-T-and-that-stands-for______ attitude remains horribly relevant. The music in The Music Man still sings, though; as my TV blared and I belted I saw my neighbor stop watering her flowers to listen until she recognized the song and a smile creep-creep-creeped across her face as she, too, began to sing along.