Did you ever read “Pollyanna?” — the turn of the century novel by Eleanor Porter? It’s not the completely saccharine Disney movie with Hayley Mills. You could pack it in the same box set with Secret Garden & Little Princess or Anne Shirley. All spunky girls, orphaned and resilient using imagination and personality to create a world of joy and adventure. It must have been something the water that decade, as all the books came out within a few years of one another.
By the 40s, Judy Garland was warbling that she was no “Pollyanna” looking on the bright side of life, as she pluckily sang her way into a happily ever after. And by the 21st century my daughters were exhorting me not to be so “Pollyanna-ish”.
While the Disney movie gets a little smarmy, ok, there are points you feel a real empathy for the dour and long-suffering Aunt Polly — the book is a little more robust and less precious. In both versions, at one point Pollyanna is sent to the kitchen for a punishment meal of bread and milk. It rather fails as she finds joy in her conversation with Nancy, the housekeeper. That’s the secret of her “glad game”, turning an unpleasant reality into something palatable, even joyous!
That, ultimately, may be the point. When the girls tease me about being “pollyanna-ish”, it’s not that they think I don’t recognize the vagaries of life — they are acknowledging that I am reframing the discussion. Don’t get me wrong, there are things that are just plain lousy — ask, we have a list. However, what I’m trying to teach the girls and what I’m thrilled to see them understanding lies in that notion that how you face something is just as important as what that something is. Don’t you know those people that constantly believe the world is out to get them, believe that the world is a place of darkness, the basic “life sucks and then you die” approach? Or those eager to share dark clouds, and unwilling to see the silver lining lurking just behind, the joke concealed within the moment of grim reality?
In a world where spring comes every year (albeit too slowly), where daughters giggle as they finish each others sentences, and where discussions can jump from music to politics to cute boys in the rhythm of a conversation — reframing darkness into the short time before “rosy-fingered” dawn allows us to leap into the unknown, “glad” to have the chance….
- Happy (Pharell Williams) — the ultimate “bright side” song, its hook literally makes it ridiculously easy to cover — you can find versions from all over the world, even as political
- Revolution(Beatles) — for the longest time, this was one of my favorite Beatles’ songs — and I adored the flat-out rejection of ideologues, even cooler to hear now!
- AC-Cent-Tchu-Ate The Positive(Dr. John) — Dr. John’s version may not be the one I grew up with my Mom singing in her enthusiastically off-key voice, but the message of not messing with “Mr. in-between” still resonates.
- Conqueror(Estelle and Jussie Smollett) — when I was a kid, my brother would call me about his favorite show, Dynasty, whenever a fight broke out between the padded shoulders of Joan Collins & Linda Evans. This year’s fantastic nighttime soap opera, Empire, has that dynamic with music, good music. The way Dynasty showcased “B” list actors, Empire guests musicians you wonder why you haven’t heard in a while — like this fantastic song featuring Estelle
- On the Sunny Side of the Street(Maria Muldaur) — another one of those classic “bright & shiny” songs that’s been covered by a million people — I like Muldaur’s version — she has this warm, rolling rasp in her voice that bring its jazzy origins to the forefront
- Come on Get Happy(Daddy a Go Go) — Daddy a Go Go does “hipster” family music, and this cover of the Partridge Family’s theme song just smiles against your ears.
- Keep your Head Up (Andy Grammar) — peppy little pop song with a laid-back CA vibe that quickly went viral for this former Santa Monica busker.
- Shine(from Robots, Ricky Fanté) — OK, I like kid movies – and I like soundtracks — and this one is silly and manic and delightful. Ricky Fanté’s Sam Cooke-ish vocals mellow this perfect “be yourself” song
- Always Look on the Bright Side(from Spamalot) — loved this song from the time I 1st saw Eric Idle break into song in Life of Brian. The girls fell in love with the cheeky song on the Spamalot
- I Whistle a Happy Tune(from The King & I) — a song very much like Sound of Music’s I Have Confidence….. all about taking that doozy of a first step into whatever awaits you!
- Touch of Grey(Grateful Dead) — considered the Dead’s highest charting song, it was also a stratified — in that the diehard Deadheads considered fans that showed up in the wake of this song more or less bandwagon jumpers — even though the concept “I will get by/I will survive” is.
- Big Bright Beautiful World(from Shrek, the Musical) — Musicals again, and another based off of a movie.
- On Top of the World(Imagine Dragons) — much more poppy/peppy than some of the other tracks on Night Visions, it will be interesting to watch their evolution fro BYU bar band….. like a Western REM, maybe?
- Rise Up(Diane Birch) — one of those singer/songwriter amazing women who do the sexy, jazz slide voice though a song
- Waiting on the World to Change(John Mayer) — so, how can you love a song — and not really love/like/you quite possibly loathe the singer? I love this song so much against my better nature — he’s just problematic
- A Change is Gonna Come(Terence Trent D’Arby & Booker T & The MGs) — Sam Cooke’s iconic song about racism, has been covered as a Civil Rights anthem – a neat thing is that part of the reason he wrote was because he thought Dylan’s Blowing in the Wind was such a perfect “change” song, and Cooke thought someone who had lived the inequality should have something to say too.
- Seize the Day(from Newsies) — so the girls and I must have seen seen this little ode to Unions produced by Disney (?) possibly a million times — this anthem to join and make a new world is just ridiculously infectious
- Bright Side of the Road(Van Morrison) — the iconic Irish rocker is all mellow and dappled sunlight on this song — which makes me think of lemon-green grass and air scented with apple blossoms & dew
- Put on a Happy Face(from Bye Bye Birdie) — whether it’s Dick Van Dyke, a Broadway album or a kid at a HS musical — this song just bubbles pleasure, and even better, I remember singing it (albeit croakily) to the girls when they were little
- Standing Outside the Fire(Garth Brooks) — I know, Garth who? His moment has kind of passed — but this song is so earnest and leap into your life positive — I had to include it.
- It’s Good to be Alive (Imelda May) — I first heard her sing the old Les Paul/Mary Ford song, How High the Moon and Jeff Beck (!) was playing guitar and it was beyond cool. IRL, quite often her guitarist is her husband — and her song choices are absolutely perfect word pictures!
Without leaps of imagination or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities. Dreaming, after all is a form of planning.–> Gloria Steinem