One of my earliest musical memories was when I discovered that songs could be about more than the writer’s direct experience. Music could exist as part of a greater artistic picture, with each portion enhancing the other to make an amazing whole. I learned how songs could inspire artists who were not musicians, and how that would later impact what I wanted to do with my life.
Riding in the car with my dad, I had to be around nine or ten years old, and “Mrs. Robinson” came on the oldies station. In between singing along to the “Woah-oh-oh…” and “Hey-hey-hey” bits in his musical-Tourettic way, he said, “You know, this song was a big deal when it came out.”
“Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio…” We were driving along River Road; it was dark outside. “It was from a movie about a woman who dated a much younger man.”
I don’t remember my response, but I do remember listening more closely to the lyrics. Somehow, I interpreted this information as based on a true story — that there had been a real Mrs. Robinson, and that someone had created both a movie and a song about her story. This intrigued me. I liked the scandal of it all, how someone could defy social conventions and use that rebellion as a source of power. I could see the news stories in my head; I could see how it could all go terribly wrong. I found it fascinating.
If this seems like an odd story to tell a ten-year-old, in retrospect, I know it was one more way in which we bonded over trivia. Music had always been our linking point, for my father and I didn’t always get along when it came to other matters — mostly due to our stubborn and willful personalities that never quite knew when to surrender. He wanted me to know things about the music he enjoyed, and he knew I wanted to inhale all the information that I could.
Hide it in a hiding place where no one ever goes
Put it in your pantry with your cupcakes
It’s a little secret, just the Robinsons’ affair
Most of all, you’ve got to hide it from the kids
Though would you believe that I’ve never seen The Graduate? I don’t know why. One would think that if the song made such an impact on my young life, I would have sought it out as soon as I could, but it never happened. Eventually, I will remedy that gap, but it is as though the song was enough. I had my own story, and knowing that songs could be inspired by films and vice versa, knowing that art could create art — that alone was amazing. It wasn’t until later that I also discovered that the film was adapted from a book, which further impressed upon me the idea of Rabbithole Creativity. One moment leads into another. There are always new layers to discover.
Even if The Graduate is fiction, the secrets it tells still exist. We discover our own stories through the tales of others. Through creation, we relate to one another, and it is from these revealing moments that we become empathetic. “Mrs. Robinson” made me feel, even before I knew what romance could be, that every story had multiple angles. Every story had a reason for unfolding in the way that it did, and from observing the moments of others, I might begin to navigate my own life.