Saturday, June 7, 2014

“Schoolhouse Rock” interview: songwriter Dave Frishberg

Introduction to the Schoolhouse Rock interview series (including the list of interviewees).

How old were you when you began writing for Schoolhouse Rock?

In my 40s.

What else were you doing professionally at the time?

Playing piano with bands, jazz group, singers, recording dates.


Where were you living at the time?

Los Angeles.

What did you think of the
Schoolhouse Rock concept when you first heard it?

Anything that Bob Dorough was connected with was usually excellent.

How were you hired? Were you originally hired to write multiple songs, or just “I’m Just a Bill”?

As I recall, I was hired to write one song.

Did you have any say in which topics you got to write about?

I was usually given a choice of several topics.

Did you propose any songs/topics that were rejected?

Yes. I wrote “Prepositions Are Lonesome Words.” The topic had already been covered. [“Busy Prepositions,” 1993]

How long would it take you, on average, to write a
Schoolhouse Rock song? Did you do your own research or were you presented with which facts to include?

I did my own research. Usually finished a song in 2-3 days. Dorough’s orchestrations then suited my ideas beautifully.

How hard was it to explain legislature to children in writing “I’m Just a Bill”?

I find good songs are difficult to write for both children and adults, no matter what the topic.

Schoolhouse Rock song you wrote was your favorite and why?

My prepositions song was my favorite. Too bad they didn’t need it.

What did you think of the finished animated musical shorts?

I was impressed with the quality of all
Schoolhouse Rock products.

How were you paid—salary, flat fee per song, royalty per song, other?

Flat fee per song.

At what point did you realize “I’m Just a Bill” in particular had evolved from one of a series of an animated musical shorts into a classic of pop culture?

I regarded the whole series with respect and admiration.

Did you in any way foresee its popularity?

Of course not. It’s nearly impossible to foresee matters of popularity.

What do you consider your career highlight to date?

I have no idea. It’s a miracle that I’m still interested in music.

Where do you live?

Portland, OR.

If you have kids/grandkids, what did they think of your
Schoolhouse Rock songs?

My kids were duly impressed. They never seemed particularly interested in my music.

Has anyone else ever interviewed about this? If so, when and for what publication?

Schoolhouse Rock songs are mentioned in many interviews that I’ve had.

Do you still have any ongoing connection (professionally or personally) to
Schoolhouse Rock?

Not really. Twenty-five or 30 years have passed. Dorough and I have been friends since long before
Schoolhouse Rock existed.

Have you appeared at any fan conventions to sign autographs? If not, would you?

I would comply with appropriate requests.

What is your perspective on the longevity and legacy of
Schoolhouse Rock?

Congratulations to all involved.

How do you look back on the experience?

It was fun, and we turned out a first-class product. Bob Dorough is a remarkable musician and the whole series reflects his taste and his excellence.

Anything you’d like to add? 


11/19/21 addendum: Dave passed away 11/17/21.

Next: Essra Mohawk.


Captain Blog said...

Thanks for the interview.
No disrespect, but he seems a bit unruffled by it all. A bit distant.
I guess I was hoping for a gushing reminisce. I have such a great love for the material that I had high expectations. I have used it to teach and it still resounds.
He seems to be very professional, though and I am very happy he was an indirect part of my childhood.

Marc Tyler Nobleman said...

Captain Blog: no disrespect taken. In most any interview series, some will not deliver as much as you would like. I am thrilled just to find people and get them to open up on some level...

Our LIfe With ADHD said...

This is absolutely amazing. Tomorrow my son is giving a presentation on Dave Frishberg as the creator of "I'm Just A Bill" and it's impact on American society pertaining to law and justice. Like so many of our generation, our first introduction to the legislated process was Schoolhouse Rock's "I'm Just A Bill".

Thank you for this interview.

We live in the Portland, OR Metro Area.

Marc Tyler Nobleman said...

Our Life With ADHD - this made me happy, thank you. Good luck to your son!