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We are the Music Makers

April 26, 2009

The first time (or first 50 times) I watched Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, I had no idea hiw snarky lines were snippets of texts from a range of sources.  After Veruca dares to question Mr. Wonka’s assertion that the “Snozberries taste like snoz berries,” he responds with a line from Arthur O’Shaughnessey, “We are the music-makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams.”    When we showed our boys the film for the first time today, as a warm sunny morning dropped 35 degrees into a chilly evening, they kept asking how I knew what people were saying in the movie before they said it.  I told them I’d seen it before, and that they do they same thing for movies they know.  Fair enough, but it got me thinking about the songs in the movie as the “oompa loompa” song went on a seemingly endless loop during bathtime.  The night before it was “Let’s Go Fly A Kite” from Mary Poppins.  In both, the versions of the song highlighted words and phrases they remembered, repeating a chorus whenever necessary or they didn’t know any other part to sing.  It reminds me of a great website,, filled with misheard song lyrics.  But more so it made me think about the many times I’ve heard a song only to find out years (decades?) later it wasn’t by the performer I first heard it from.  This week I had a student refer to the “Parking Lot” song by the Counting Crowes.  I didn’t have the heart to correct him by naming Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi.”  But why should I?  I loved R.E.M.’s “There She Goes” for years before I made it to the Velvet Underground, and I can name endless examples of that.  Just the other day I was listening to the deluxe version of Otis Blue / Otis Redding sings the blues and was trying to play the “which came first” game with “Change Gonna Come” before I realized it simply had to be Sam Cooke’s recording that brought that song into the world.  So what’s the difference between the original and a cover, between watching the movie and just quoting it?  What would Walter Benjamin think?  Little did I realize how many lines from Willie Wonka are a part of my daily speech.  When I read Hamlet with my Senior English classes, they are always excited to read the “To be or not to be” soliloquy, amazed to see the “real version” of it, and I’m never quite sure what that means, but today, when my oldest son first watched Willie Wonka sing about the “world of pure imagination,” I was reminded of how truly special such an encounter can be.

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