Seeing as yesterday was Friday the 13th and there is a puppet king for that, I thought I’d share some thoughts on one of the more obscure inspirations for ‘In Your Neighbourhood’. If you watch the video and listen to the glockenspiel melody, they might summon to mind elements of the US children’s television show, Mr. Rogers’ Neighbourhood, which ran from 1968 to 2001. It wouldn’t be a completely wild connection to make.
Mr. Rogers’ Neighbourhood wasn’t a show I ever watched as a child (although I did avidly watch fellow PBS network show Sesame Street which of course has its own neighbourhood-based song) but something I stumbled on by accident when reading a seemingly endless feed of grim news. It was the “look for the helpers” quote which caught my eye and led me to clips of the series on YouTube. I’d sat there ready to roll my eyes at a bunch of naff characters making flutes out of vegetables or laugh at some stuffy presenter, but to watch it is to feel like you have momentarily stepped inside an entirely different world, with its charmingly bizarre puppets and unparalleled, deliberately slow delivery, which gently encourages its young audience to be present, tolerant, engaged and visible, without being patronising. In one episode, Mr. Rogers talks about managing feelings, acknowledging and dealing with them constructively, as opposed to the advice erring on the side of suppressing them (which although relevant now, is a whole other conversation). His speech at an awards ceremony where he times the audience in near silence whilst asking them to think of someone who has “loved them into being”, is capable of disarming even the most militant of misery guts. Even if you can’t get behind any of that, he successfully sued the KKK for targeting children with racist messages, rallied for VCR taping of programmes, gave George Romero his first filming job and introduced musicians such as Wynton Marsalis and experimental pioneers Bruce Haack and Esther Nelson to an audience of kids who may not have experienced jazz or electronic music otherwise.
Where the song ‘In Your Neighbourhood’ differs though, is in the erosion of belonging and highlighting the creeping influence of pure nostalgia, which brings so much into conflict, often without any good rationale behind it. A few months before I moved from my hometown to a more remote hillside, I felt like many people in the UK, weirdly unsettled and like I didn’t really understand people’s motivations for things anymore. I couldn’t find the helpers. My sense of place felt warped, because of a negativity I couldn’t quite comprehend. If only the ‘good old days’ we’d alluded to were the good old days of ‘the neighborhood’, where, seemingly, everyone and anyone was welcome.