One of the outstanding discoveries on rock nyc LLC Donna McElroy’s Ipod is the 1972 Marlo Thomas album Free To Be… You And Me, nascent feminism and gender roles made simple for children.
As Donna’s husband Joseph noted in an email earlier this week “I must attend to my wife, whom I am afraid is leaving us gracefully on this earth,” and that is whatJoseph is doing as Donna is moved to hospice and awaits a major transition into a different form of consciousness. Along with Donna’s sisters, mother and brother, Joseph plays her Ipod , and we who are less brave watch on the sidelines.
I asked Joseph what is on my friend Donna’s Ipod and I will be sure to try and get a closer look at some point but what immediately came to my attention is Marlo Thomas’ Free To Be You… And Me. Marlo is, of course, the daughter of Danny “Make Room For Daddy” Thomas, the 1950s sitcom and she herself starred on the beloved “That Girl” sitcom in the 1960s. In 1972, Marlo wanted to explain to her niece the limitations of gender roles. With funding from the Ms. Foundation For Women, Marlo was joined by friends Alan Alda, Mel Brooks, Rosey Grier, Cicely Tyson, Carol Channing, Michael Jackson, Shirley Jones, Jack Cassidy, and Diana Ross , to sing songs and tell stories, perform skits, supporting gender equality.
Opening and closing with the New Seeker’s “Free To Be You… And Me” and soon followed by Diana Ross’ lovely “When We Grow Up” with its punchy “I like what I look like and you’re nice small, you don’t have to change at all” gentle aphorism, this is magic realism. The rest of the songs don’t quite scale these heights but remember, part of what their job is is to instruct. Besides which, any album that gives you the chance to hear Jack Cassidy (David Cassidy’s father) and his then wife Shirley Jones together on “Girl Land” is worth taking.
The skits and stories are fun and to the point, especially the Mel Brooks and Marlo “Boy Meets Girl” with two babies trying to figure out what sex they are. Carol Channing sounds so much like Carol while telling us that that woman on television enjoying scrubbing pots and pans is smiling BECAUSE SHE’S AN ACTRESS GETTING PAID!
The stories, the album, is unthreatening and yet steady through its positive force. It attacks nobody but remains true to its vision of a world where opportunities for both girls and boys are blossoming and people are free to be who they are. Donna must have been 8 years old when she heard it for the first time and you can see why she’d have embrace the concepts of gender freedom so much that decades later it is still on her Ipod.
Here is an online art project Donna and Joseph made several years ago. Joseph wrote: “Donna and I made an online art piece a few years back about freedom to live and express yourself…I modified it a bit to express Donna’s joy of living our life.”
Between the two, they place Donna’s art and equality, freedom and frivolousness on a constant arc of steadfast self awareness central to the woman she is.
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