Gin Blossom Dearie or, What I Learned from Schoolhouse Rock.

Blossom DearieOnce upon a time, when the world was young, there existed an animated educational series which aired on Saturday mornings entitled Schoolhouse Rock. If you are anywhere near my age– or younger, perhaps– you know it well. The songs were catchy, fun and informative. It is the sole reason that many of my generation know the Preamble of the United States Constitution by heart.

There was one song in the series, however, that unnerved me. Ostensibly a memory aide for multiplication, “Figure Eight” is a surreal look into a classroom-bound girl’s daydream of figure skating, which includes: a little boy’s near-death from hypothermia, a muffler-clad octopus, and finding herself wedged between the legs of Uncle Sam. I sensed a darkness to this song, which surfaced like the blinking, periscope-encased eyes that emerge from the cartoon’s broken ice. And the voice that lent itself to the lyrics was unsettlingly childlike. It was so creepy to me that I felt the need to leave the room every time it aired.

Many years later, my college roommate Craig came home with a compact disc he said I absolutely had to listen to– Needlepoint Magic by Blossom Dearie. “It’s the woman who sang the adjectives song from Schoolhouse Rock!” was all he said. I planned to listen politely in order to humor him. I was going to sit there for a few minutes with a fake smile on my face, pretending that I didn’t loathe this woman whose name was as childish as her voice; this woman who had historically sent me running away from my much-beloved television.

And then it took about 30 seconds to realize that I actually loved everything about this woman’s voice. Sure it was childlike, but there was clearly an adult behind it. It was witty and wistful. It was thin– almost fragile-sounding– but it was beautiful.

Scabiosa Blossom

The Scabiosa is not technically a blossom, but its name was irresistible. Please forgive.

Someone once said of Miss Dearie that her voice couldn’t reach the second story of a doll house, but I could care less. Anyone who can take a song as saccharine as Tea for Two and turn it into something seductive earns a permanent place in my heart.

We listened to her all summer long.

On a trip to New York one Autumn several years later, I conned my boyfriend into seeing Miss Dearie at the now-defunct Danny’s Skylight Room– a small, dingy cabaret space tucked behind Danny’s Seafood Palace on W. 46th Street.

As we walked in from the cold, I noticed a tiny blonde woman in a pale yellow twin set standing up from her stool at the bar after polishing off a plate of food. She made her way to the host desk, where my boyfriend immediately handed her his coat and scarf. She hesitated a moment at the gesture, then smiled and asked for my coat as well.

“For God’s sake, that was Blossom Dearie, not the hat check girl,” I said, more than a little mortified.

“How the hell was I supposed to know who she was?” he replied. I couldn’t think of a good answer before she returned from the closet with our ticket.

All I could think of to say to her was “thank you.”

As we sat in the back of the darkened, tiny cabaret, I looked at the other members of the audience as we listened to Blossom play. I was struck by the fact that my boyfriend and I were the only couple in there who could not qualify for AARP. More importantly, I was also struck by the idea that all of these couples seemed to be very much in love. I looked over at my boyfriend, who looked attentive, but bored.

I pushed the stale New York cheesecake I’d ordered around in its strawberry goo with my fork. We weren’t in love. It hit me that we would never grow into an old couple who sat holding hands, listening to cabaret singers. I downed what was left of my second two-drink-minimum gin martini.

I felt trapped both inside and out. If a fire had broken out, we would all have burned in its flames. Much more than could be said for my relationship, I thought, which never caught fire in the first place. I wanted to drown myself in another martini, but thought better of it. Instead, I let myself be taken in and under by the music.

There was no one song that caused it, but it was there in that awful room that I finally understood what it was that made me uncomfortable listening to the “Figure Eight” song as a child.

It was the sense of longing , the trap of reality, and the idea that the only way to satisfy the longing and make the escape in childhood was through one’s own imagination. I couldn’t have articulated it as a boy, and I didn’t dare articulate it then. But I understood.

I know what you’re thinking– that I’m reading too much into a math-based cartoon. I’m sure I am, but I always do. I’ve been both blessed and cursed with an active imagination.

And the final take-away from my little epiphany in the back of Danny’s Seafood Palace? It certainly wasn’t the cheesecake. In fact, it didn’t occur until this week, when I decided to sit down and really think about Miss Dearie’s music and the effect it’s had on me, so hear it is:

Daydreaming is a great, if temporary, escape from an unsatisfactory life. It’s healthy exercise for one’s imagination, but spending too much time in a Walter Mitty-like state only makes one’s reality all the more unsatisfying.

The trick, I suppose, is turning the daydreams into reality.

It may have taken me several decades to figure that out, but I am grateful that I have. And, in a roundabout way, I have Blossom Dearie and the fine people behind Schoolhouse Rock for that. Who would have thought I’d find more to learn from them than multiplication, grammar, and civics?

So I’m saying thanks again, Blossom but, this time, I’m buying you a drink. Make that two. Minimum.

Gin Blossom Dearie

The Gin Blossom Dearie

Cool as a cucumber; as floral and sweet as her name, but with a little bit of a bitter edge. The blossoms of Spring may have faded and dropped their petals but this, dear readers, is my blossom of Summer. I plan on having several, though not all at once. Ideally, I’ll find a refreshing breeze and someone to peel my grapes for me as I lounge and sip; happy to know that The Best Is Yet To Come.

Makes one Gin Blossom Dearie. If you need to make more– and I know you will– please refer to Schoolhouse Rock if your ability to multiply is shaky.

Ingredients:

2 ounces dry gin
1/2 ounce St. Germain liqueur
1/2 ounce simple syrup
3 dashes of orange bitters
2 slices of cucumber
A good squeeze from a lime
Ice for chilling
Superfine sugar for garnishing the rim*

Preparation:

1. In a cocktail shaker, place  two slices of cucumber. Muddle the hell out of it. Next, add ice cubes, simple syrup, St. Germain, gin, bitters, and lime. Stir well, but gently, my dear, gently.

2. Wet the rim of your cocktail glass (I prefer a coupe as seen in the above photo) on a damp paper towel. Place the now-wet rim of the glass upside down onto a plate of superfine sugar, to achieve a thin, even coating.

3. Having made certain that your cocktail glass has been returned to its upright position, strain your Gin Blossom Dearie into its cold, gaping, glassy mouth.

Pour into your own gaping maw. Repeat as often as necessary.

*I am currently taking my Gin Blossom Dearies without the sugar rim. However, it does dress up an otherwise naked cocktail. I follow the mixology dogma of Mame Dennis, who feels that olives take up too much room in such a little glass. I extend that philosophy to nearly all of my cocktails, including this one, so no garnishes.

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About Michael Procopio

I write about food and am very fond of Edward Gorey. And gin.
This entry was posted in Celebrities, Liquids and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

39 Responses to Gin Blossom Dearie or, What I Learned from Schoolhouse Rock.

  1. A lovely, lovely memory of love not yet found and music that made you realize it. Thank you for sharing. A great glimpse into your past. And thanks for the Figure Eight reference. That song always kind of spooked me too. It’s such a melancholy tune it made me feel bad for the number 8.

    • Thank you, Brooke. I don’t think I can ever look at “Figure Eight” again without thinking of it as an adolescent girl’s sexual fantasy. Now I think I should go mine “Conjunction Junction” for hidden meaning.

  2. I love that you’re a gin man. Great story, even better looking drink.

  3. Lana says:

    I did not grow up in the US, but my husband did. Believe it or not, you have unearthed a monster here with your post: he is still playing the Schoolhouse Rock videos on YouTube!
    I was not touched by the sense of nostalgia, but I enjoyed your post nevertheless. I had to laugh with guilty embarrassment over the coat-check girl faux-pas. I recognized the feeling of disappointment when we realize that the person sitting next to us will not be there for eternity.
    And I absolutely love the drink! Cheers!

    • I’m still playing Schoolhouse Rock videos on YouTube, so he’s got company. As for the coat check faux pas, I can’t fault my ex-boyfriend, since he had no idea what Blossom Dearie looked like, but I’m now so glad it happened because it wound up being my sole person-to-person interaction with her, and that makes me happy. And that moment of realization you mention is truly a painful one, isn’t it?

  4. Lindy says:

    My oldest son loved Schoolhouse Rock, I can remember him sitting in front of the TV “somewhat” singing the songs. Thank you again for sharing a part of your life with us! You sir, always make my day and for that I thank you!

    • “Somewhat” singing? I’m right there with him, but I’ve been brushing up on the lyrics lately, just in case I am required to give an impromptu recital. I’m just delighted that there are people in the world like you who find these parts of my life interesting. Thank you.

  5. Thea says:

    When I asked for Hendrick’s gin martini at the Langham Huntington bar, it was served with a gorgeous cucumber corkscrew – dark green varigated skin outlining pale green curl of cucumber. Wonderful. And wonderful, I should think, with your Gin Blossom Dearie. I really feel the lady would approve.

  6. Jay Floyd says:

    …and now I’m stuck in a loop of watching Schoolhouse Rock on YouTube. Gawd, they were good.

  7. Wow. You’ve brought back some memories for me. I don’t think Schoolhouse Rock exists anymore, but it’s as ingrained in my memory as my first movie (Bambi) and my first kiss. Thanks for sharing the story of Blossom Dearie – and of you.

    Now, onto the drink. If it includes gin and St. Germain, I already know that I’ll love it.

    • They do exist on dvd and YouTube and in the hearts and minds of a generation. (I felt very Walter Cronkite-ish typing that, just so you know). You just caused me to watch the scene from Bambi in which his mother dies. Damn. That get’s me every time.

  8. Lawrence says:

    Just as I was taking a break from hand-shredding the chicken for your version of Coronation Chicken (for my Book Group tomorrow,) I thought to check here.

    Darn you, darn you and your little (?!!) cotton socks! I LOVE(D) Blossom Dearie, and have several compact discs. I can indulge in her voice, even though I no longer indulge in gin. Wherever it makes taste sense, I almost always add juniper berries.

    Having grown up in the 1970s, I saw most of the School House Rock! series freshly minted. Unlike some I could name, but won’t, I was mesmerized by Ms. Dearie’s voice. (Fortunately, so was Ma, and she had some lp’s.)

    My 9th grade math teacher was indignant when ALL of us printed “infinity” as a closed sideways “8.” Very strictly speaking, it is not supposed to be closed. Rest in peace, Mrs. F.

    Your challenge, should you accept it, is to come up with a delicious beverage that is alcohol optional.

    Bemusedly yours,

    Lawrence in Ohio.

    • You’re hand-shredding the chicken? The English kings and queens (the ones killed, at any rate) are historically sliced up (think: Charles I, Richard III, and Anne Boleyn) not torn to pieces. You may very well be eating Regicide Chicken Salad, so I’d be careful if I were you. Of course, this train of thought leads to all sorts of other royal murder-related recipes. A William II kebab? Edward V smothered onions? Watch this site for future recipes.

      As for a Blossom Dearie beverage sans alcohol, I am using up the last of a wonderful elderflower syrup I made with my friend Elise from foraged blossoms. It is delicious with soda over ice.

      • Lawrence says:

        Incidentally, Book Group inhaled Coronation Chicken. It went very well with the discussion of Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English, by Natasha Solomans.

        I was told, in no uncertain terms, that I have to “make this again, Lawrence.”

        Thank you, Michael!

        Lawrence in Ohio

  9. Robin says:

    I was introduced to Blossom Dearie by my Mom and Dad (yes, one of those “couples in love”). They both adore her. I too was seduced by her pixie-ish voice. And Schoolhouse Rock, wow, what a trip down memory lane! Michael, you are such a gifted writer! Your words conjure such vivid images, sounds, smells and emotions. Thank you.

    • I was already rather fond of your parents, Robin, but knowing that they adore blossom dearie makes me like them even more.

      I’m so glad to know you’re reading my blog. Thanks so much for this wonderful comment!

  10. Stephanie says:

    Michael- my kids play School House Rock in the car all.the.time. {probably because they haven’t figured out how to set the up the wii back there…} and they unanimously HATE ‘Figure Eight’. So much so, that they refuse to learn their 8 times tables. They do, however, love ‘I’m just a bill’. I hope that doesn’t mean they want to go into politics…

  11. MixnSip says:

    You’ve introduced me to a little Americana I never knew. With a name like Blossom Dearie I would have expected her to be English. “Tea For Two” brings back fond memories of my parents singing and enjoying a libation or two at home with friends. I found a clip of Blossom singing on youtube and you’re right, she does make it sexy.

    • Her name does sound rather english, doesn’t it? Like some sort of grandmotherly character on EastEnders. I’m very glad I could introduce her to you. Oh, and thank you very much for stopping by and taking the time to comment.

  12. Mike says:

    Wow! I came across your blog very indirectly (I think it started with an article on the Today Show web site), and I was amazed to see a picture of Blossom Dearie right at the top of the page! I love her work, and it’s always a thrill to find other people who appreciate her.

    I regret never making it to Danny’s Skylight Room – both the venue and the wonderful Ms. Dearie are now gone. As is Brett Somers, who also performed there when the spirit moved her.

    My favorites of her songs are “Rhode Island is Famous for You” and “Down With Love,” which wasn’t used in the Rene Zellweger movie because it’s twice as fast as any other version out there.

    • Well, that is rather indirect, isn’t it? Thank you for mentioning the article, because I wasn’t aware of it.

      I, too, have been really thrilled to find other people who appreciate Miss Dearie. I love both of the songs you mentioned. Plus, I can sing “Down With Love” just as fast as Blossom.

  13. Charlotte says:

    I’m always glad to find another Schoolhouse Rock enthusiast! At one point, I had many of the songs memorized. Grammar Rock was always my favorite, but I’ve always been an English-minded girl. I was never creeped out by Figure 8, though I can see how one could be.

    By the way, after watching the video, I don’t think the boy gets hypothermia – I think he’s cold, and scared by the octopus who comes out of the water after him. Though why the octopus is wearing a scarf, we’ll never know.

    Gin is delicious – I’ll be trying this drink soon!

    • I am well on my way to having many of these songs memorized again. As for the boy, it’s simply my interpretation. I mean, he’s freaking blue… Maybe it’s just how I see the world. Oh, and please let me know how you like the drink! Thanks ever so much.

  14. i did not grow up in the US, but I understand how a program can be lifechanging as i think back to the ones (here in Italy) that changed (or rather formed) me… good sharing, good reminiscing: salute!

  15. p.s. just coming back from watching the figure eight video on utube… it brought back awesome memories of similar cartoons from my 70s upgringing…

  16. Adri says:

    You know, for total immersion you could purchase the Schoolhouse Rock! 30th Anniversary edition – seriously.

    • Oh, god. I somehow missed this comment. I am terribly sorry. I would love to have these on dvd. I bought a set of VHS tapes in the early 90′s w/ Cloris Leachman doing weird dances with annoyingly precious children . I pray the dvd lacks such charming extras.

  17. Susan says:

    Hi Michael

    After all these years that were filled with memories of feeling so alone on Saturday mornings watching school house rock, I realize that I wasn’t alone after-all!

    I see things in a different light. Thank you Michael!

  18. martinet says:

    Didn’t get to this until someone on Metafilter linked from today’s Santorum Cake recipe (fabulous)–and now I understand why I’ve had the perplexing tendency to tear up over the end of “Figure Eight” (both as a child and as an adult listening to my stepdaughters’ DVDs). You put your finger on it. Thank you.

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