Fred Rogers (1928-2003) was one of the kindest, most empathetic people in human history. We need more of his kindness and care in the world. That is one reason why this week’s Plague Song is the theme to his children’s television program Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood (1968-2001).
I think, these days, fans of the show are thinking of this 1969 episode where Mr. Rogers and François Clemmons (as his character “Officer Clemmons”) put their feet in the same wading pool. Lest this seem a small gesture, remember that U.S. public pools were segregated and, when forced to integrate, many cities simply withdrew funding from their public pools. This is one reason why far fewer African Americans know how to swim today.
Another reason I recorded this song is that, during this time of quarantine, I have seen far more of my own neighborhood than I usually do. Nearly every evening for the past 94 days, I have taken a walk through my neighborhood — and surrounding neighborhoods. I think many of us are seeing more of our neighbors these days. At present, these past three months mark the longest period of time I’ve been at home since April 2017. When I reach four months of quarantine, that will mark the longest period I’ve been at home for at least ten years.
Here’s Fred Rogers himself, performing the theme, from later in the run of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.
I say “later in the run” of the show because my personal memory of the theme brings to mind a younger Mr. Rogers, from the early 1970s. And that brings me to a third reason for choosing this song: like “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” (the third in this Plague Songs series), “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” is a song my mother still remembers. If I start singing it, she will sing along and will recall at least some of the lyrics. When I played it for her on Sunday (via Skype), she sang some of the beginning with me, and smiled. These days, songs from her childhood and my childhood yield the strongest spark of recognition.
A fourth reason (and, yes, I’ll stop after #4) for this song is that singing it makes me happy. Though I only started learning it on Friday (guided by this excellent video tutorial), I was not at all anxious about having a passable version for my Monday morning recording. I found the C dim 7 chord a bit tricky — I land on it well about 50% of the time, and not in the above video. But playing the song puts me in Fred Rogers’ headspace — a loving, patient, and forgiving place. He would be glad that I was enjoying his song, and would not mind if I strummed the C dim 7 chord slightly late.
I hope you enjoyed hearing this song as much as I enjoyed playing it for you.
- You might enjoy these interviews with Fred Rogers on Fresh Air. There’s a great one from 1984 (conducted by Terry Gross), and a later one from 2002.
Friends and neighbors, are you seeking a #PlagueSong to perform? Check out this ever-expanding playlist. Of course, you may have a song in mind that I don’t know — and that would be welcome!
- Plague Songs
- Sing. Sing a Song. #PlagueSongs, no. 1 (17 Mar. 2020)
- Do Not Touch Your Face. #PlagueSongs, no. 2 (24 Mar. 2020)
- The Bright Side. #PlagueSongs, no. 3 (31 Mar. 2020)
- It’s later than you think. #PlagueSongs, no. 4 (7 Apr. 2020)
- There doesn’t seem to be anyone around. #PlagueSongs, no. 5 (14 Apr. 2020)
- Be an optimist instead. #PlagueSongs, no. 6 (21 Apr. 2020)
- Kick at the darkness. #PlagueSongs, no. 7 (28 Apr. 2020)
- So far away, but still so near. #PlagueSongs, no. 8 (5 May 2020)
- If you just call me. #PlagueSongs, no. 9 (12 May 2020)
- In the end, they’ll be the only ones there. #PlagueSongs, no. 10 (19 May 2020)
- No matter how I struggle and strive. #PlagueSongs, no. 11 (25 May 2020)
- Love. #PlagueSongs, no. 12 (1 June 2020)
- This is the time. #PlagueSongs, no. 13 (9 June 2020)
- What Is Your COVID-19 Routine?