By Paul August
It’s somewhat of an American tradition to bash teachers in songs: “No more pencils. No more books. No more teachers’ dirty looks.” Anti-teacher songs were common as I grew up. The Coasters’ sang about “Charlie Brown,” the kid in school who caused trouble. “School Days,” by Chuck Berry, complained about getting up each morning just to go to school. Pink Floyd pictured school kids as, “Another brick in the wall.” Other songs sang of kids unhappy with teachers.
So, I decided to write a song about a teacher unhappy with a student. Since I taught at Oakland High at the time, this song has an urban setting and street lingo.
During the 1980’s, I sang teacher activist songs along with rock ‘n roll. This song started when I was in Washington D. C. at the National Education Association’s teacher’s convention. A group from Pennsylvania proclaimed themselves to be “United Mind Workers.”
I condensed this to “Mindworker” and began working on a song that would become the title cut to my first CD. As with most songs, it grew out of my own life experiences.
The song begins with a teacher confronting a hostile student in the classroom. This is nothing new if you’ve taught inner-city kids. And, as in every fictional piece, the story quickly began to define itself.
As a songwriter, I know to keep it simple. Consider The Beatles. Their songs are full of words like love, arms, hold, lips, kiss and other monosyllable words, repeated with melody, harmony and a beat. It sounds simple. There are not, however, many musicians out there singing Beatle songs because of the complex interaction of the chords and lyrics.
Some words don’t sing well but I used them anyway: “Don’t make me the target of your vulgar darts. I’m gonna drive your mind right out of the dark.” Target … vulgar darts. These are not common words for lyrics but I wanted to get the sense of conflict across.
I used street language to characterize the young student: “You better lighten up dude, get outta my face.” Again, most inner city teachers soon come to understand, and sometime use, the inner city students’ vernacular
The song has somewhat of a surprise twist when the Mindworker tells the student, “I was a more sarcastic kid than you.” And it twists again when the student gets up for another confrontation with the teacher but instead says, “Hey man, you know, I mean like, thanks.”
Writing the song is only the beginning. I worked with an LA producer, Paul Chiten, who added the Beatlesque complexity to the tune. He built a solid instrumental foundation. I shared my music writing credit with him. When it came time to record in San Francisco, Chiten wanted to use David La Flamme, from It’s A Beautiful Day, to do the lead vocal instead of me.
It was kind of like being fired from singing my own song. However, I quickly agreed because David (who appeared at the Psalms in Winters on Sat. Oct. 17th) has sold millions of records, including his hit, “White Bird”. My lifetime total sales were more like 210 albums to relatives and friends.
Paul August is a local writer and singer.
He also writes for the San Francisco Chronicle and The Union
You may buy his song Mindworker at cdbaby.com