Why is a librarian featured in Toto’s song “Africa”?
This post started via a Facebook conversation from my husband:
The song, “Africa,” from Toto’s 1982 album Toto IV, does indeed feature a librarian and a library/jungle setting. The plot seems to revolve around a man — played by lead singer David Paich — on the hunt for a book called “Africa.” There are multiple shots of the librarian, a woman of African descent, giving her very best “librarian glare” to the singer, whilst adjusting her spectacles amidst the usual library props of a wooden desk, book stamps, and bookcases. The music video also includes shots of the band “jamming” on top of a stack of books. Both multicultural AND cultured, eh? 😉
Lyrics that might have inspired the library setting for the video include:
But she hears only whispers of some quiet conversation
I stopped an old man along the way / Hoping to find some old forgotten words or ancient melodies
Gonna take some time to do the things we never had
The Wikipedia entry for this song also included a quote that the idea for the song came from David Paich, about “… a white boy [who] is trying to write a song on Africa, but since he’s never been there, he can only tell what he’s seen on TV or remembers in the past.”
After watching this video, methinks the video came from the idea of a white man trying to film a music video in a library, but since he’s never been there, he can only tell what he’s seen on TV or remembers in the past. 😉
I am a stickler for spelling and punctuation (see my post last week on that anal-retentive trait), so it still bugs me that I can’t ever seem to remember if the librarian in The Music Man is spelled “Marian” or “Marion.” I spelled it BOTH ways in my undergraduate thesis, which still makes me cringe. And that’s probably what inspired this blog post — maybe after writing this, I won’t have to look it up again. 😉
Oh, and if you don’t know who “Marian the Librarian” is, then you’ve probably stumbled onto the wrong blog.
Here’s a quick Google search for “Marian the Librarian”
And here’s a quick Google search for “Marion the Librarian”
Both ways result in tens of thousands of results each. So it’s a relief that I’m not the only person with this problem. Google does provide a big hint in asking on the 2nd search:
So what’s the difference between the two spellings? Is it like Frances/Francis, that one little letter denotes a difference in gender? Wiktionary tells me… there’s really no difference. Both spellings can be for boys or girls, and the idea that “Marion” with an “o” is for boys and that “Marian” with an “a” is for girls is contributed attributed to folk etymology, or common misconception.
I took another route by looking up Meredith Willson, who wrote the original play, which was produced on Broadway in 1957.
Why did he choose the name? I was crossing my fingers for an answer more interesting than it rhymed with the word “librarian.” (Not that I’m against that.) And lo and behold, he based the lead female role on an actual librarian! (I don’t know if that’s a compliment or not to our profession. Guess it depends on how much you like the play or subsequent adaptations.) A little snippet, “A Pair of Marians,” in the March 2005 issue of American Libraries revealed that Willson met Marian Seeley, a medical records librarian from Provo, Utah, in California during World War II. He dubbed her “Marian the Librarian.”
So Willson based his fictional Marian with an “a” on a real Marian with an “a.” 🙂
An interview between the real Marian and her grandson, Dave Kimball, on the Marian Seeley blog (with only one post) reveals even more. Marian Seeley knew Willson through her husband, Frank, who worked with him in the Armed Forces Radio Service during that time. Seeley’s explanation of how “Marian the Librarian” moniker came about:
Well, he [Willson] thought a medical librarian was the stupidest thing he’d ever heard.
In another interview, this one by Heidi Toth in the Daily Herald from Provo, Utah, Marian reflects on whether or not the character she helped inspire was anything like her.
So there you go. A long and interesting answer to a short question. What did we learn?
If referring to “Marian the Librarian” song and character Marian Paroo from Meredith Willson’s The Music Man, it’s spelled with an “a.”
If you’re referring to the real “Marian the Librarian,” Marian Seeley, it’s spelled with an “a.”
I’m sensing a theme… I’ve been musically minded lately (see here and here), so I thought I’d come full circle. So here’s a round-up of fun musical clips from librarian films to perk up your day… or night.
Note: Some of the films are musicals (Good News, Strike Up the Band), some are not (Party Girl, You’re a Big Boy Now). Clips arranged below in chronological order.
Strike Up the Band (1940):
Sample lyrics from the song “Nobody,” performed by Judy Garland as she closes up the public library. The uplifting (!) lyrics include:
I’m just living in a lull / And I’ll confess it’s mighty dull / … But I ain’t got nobody and nobody’s got me
Good News (1947):
I had to search a bit to find an online clip of “The French Lesson,” performed by June Allyson and Peter Lawson. This song also takes place while closing up the library, this time a college library. Interestingly, the film’s original theatrical trailer includes just about every song in the movie EXCEPT the one in the library.
The Music Man (1962 and 2003):
Of course! Repeat after me now:
Marian. The. Librarian.
You’re humming this tune right now, right? No, just me? Ok, sure. ♪ ♫ ♪ And, sorry, not able to confirm nor deny any accompanying toe-tapping. 😉
You’re a Big Boy Now (1967):
A peppy number — “Girl, Beautiful Girl (Barbara’s Theme)” performed by The Lovin’ Spoonful — for the start of this oddball comedy about dysfunctional father-and-son reel librarians. Go-go boots, roller skates, and the public library, oh my!
Fun fact: This film was Frances Ford Coppola’s master’s thesis for UCLA film school
Party Girl (1995):
“If You Believe” (E-Smoove Believer Mix) by Chantay Savage. Gets me going every time! Should be required viewing for all library science majors. 😉
Inspired by my previous post about love songs for librarians, here are some songs about being a librarian. A bit off the road map, I know, but if you love librarians in movies, then you’ll probably like librarians in songs, too.
“I Am the Sub-Librarian” by Piano Magic (1999):
I am the sub-librarian, counter girl, tea-maker
I am the sub-librarian, swan feeder, spectacle breaker
“Librarian” by Jonathan Rundman (2004, from album Public Library):
I bring order out of chaos, I shine light into the dark
because power comes from knowledge just like fire from a spark
“Queens of the Circulating Library” by Coil (2000):
I am a queen of the circulating library
I have declared an amnesty
All books may be returned without a penalty
Return the books to me
“When Spring Comes to the Library” by Robert Lopresti (multi-talented librarian/songwriter/author):
When Spring comes to the check-out desk
The travel books all roam
And garden guides go off on digs
With those who stayed at home
“Reference Librarian” by Robert Lopresti (2003):
Now you come walking over like you’re some old pal of mine
Well, I’ll be glad to help you, but you’ll have to wait in line