Category Archives: The Music Man

My Visits to the Recycling Depot and Meredith Willson’s “The Music Man”.

I was brought up on musicals–pre Andrew Lloyd-Webber musicals–like South Pacific, Oklahoma, Annie Get Your Gun and West Side Story. My father’s favourite was Show Boat. I think my favourite has turned out to be Meredith Willson‘s “The Music Man“, a story of a trickster and fraud who sells boys’ bands and is himself tricked by falling in love with a town’s librarian. The show had its American premiere in 1957 and several of the songs became hits, not least “‘Til There Was You“, which was covered by many artists, including Peggy Lee. The Beatles heard Peggy Lee‘s version and it became a standard in their Hamburg days and was one of the songs they sang in their audition for Decca records in 1962. The song even appeared on the “With the Beatles” album. Paul McCartney has been quoted as saying that he didn’t know the song came from “The Music Man” until much later.

The Music Man
The cover of the 1962 original soundtrack recording of “The Music Man”.

Several times a week I trudge off to the recycling depot with detritus resulting from the shopping done in the previous days. I cannot get my head round the amazing amount of plastic, paper, metal and glass that two people can generate in such a short time. And just thinking about the environmental consequences of
a. producing all that material, and
b. recycling it all
makes my mind boggle!

I almost long for the “good old days” when one could go into the grocery store and pick biscuits out of a tin (the broken ones were cheaper), have your ham sliced in front of you knowing that it was home cooked and not delivered to the shop in a plastic pack. Meredith Willson‘s and Franklin Lacey‘s characterised this type of highstreet shop in the “Rock Island” introduction/overture to “The Music Man” as “a little 2 by 4 kinda store“.

So, what’s “The Music Man” got to do with recycling? Well, the opening scene/overture is set on a train with a crowd of travelling salesmen on their way to River City, Iowa. They get into a discussion on the conditions for notions salesmen (itinerant salesmen who went from town to town knocking on doors to sell their wares). The discussion is orchestrated to sound like the noise of a train. One of the salesmen suggests that the decline in sales is due to the arrival of the Model-T Ford, which allowed people to travel to town to buy their goods. Another suggests that it wasn’t the Model-T at all, but the establishment of department stores (“modern, departmentalised grocery stores”, in the words of the song). However, a third salesman chimes in with the REAL reason why  travelling salesmen have hit on harder times. He blames packaging of goods:

“Why, it’s the U-needa biscuit
Made the trouble
U-needa, U-needa,
Put the crackers in a package, in a package,
The U-needa biscuit
In an air-tight sanitary package
Made the cracker barrel obsolete, obsolete.”

Yet another salesman confirms that the cracker barrel indeed disappeared like a list of other things:
“Cracker barrel went out the window
with the Mail Pouch cut plug chawin’ by the stove
Changed the approach of a travelin’ salesman
Made it pretty hard.”
And the first salesman bemoans the loss of other things:
“Gone with the hogshead, cask and demijohn. Gone with the sugar barrel, pickle barrel, milk pan,
gone with the tub and the pail and the till.”

And there you have it–the link between “The Music Man” and recycling! If the Nabisco Company hadn’t put its Uneeda biscuit in “an airtight sanitary package”, packaging of groceries might never have become the problem it is now and I wouldn’t have to visit the recycling centre several times a week!