Me: I used to love That Girl.
Marge: What girl?
Me: Marlo Thomas.
Marge: Marlo Thomas wasn’t in That Girl. What’s-her-name was in that show. Oh, what’s her name? You know the one who was in that show with Ed Asner?
Me: That’s Mary Tyler Moore, Mom.
Marge: Isn’t that who you are talking about?
Me: No, she wasn’t That Girl.
Marge: What girl?
To me, there was only one girl. The girl whose voice still echoes in my head some 42 years after the release of Free to Be You and Me. As the album's producer, Marlo’s voice shaped the record—as well as the psyche of young girls in the 1970s. We felt emboldened when Marlo told us that mommies can do many more things than change diapers. We felt accepted when Diana Ross told us that we can look any way we look and still be okay. We felt understood when Rosey Grier told us it was alright to cry. Who needed therapy when you had such powerful messages? Throw Mister Rogers into the mix, and it’s truly baffling why any of us now needs anti-depressants as adults. There was enough Peace, Love and Understanding going on to make the pharmaceutical industry quite nervous.
Musically, the '70s were a booming time. We had the Bee Gees and B Man (Copacabana, anyone?).
There was EJ and BJ and Cher. Personally, I preferred her sans Sonny, but that’s a whole other discussion. Before there was the multi-talented JT of this generation, we had the JT who rocked us to sleep with Sweet Baby James. No flashiness. No dance, just song. Pure, unadulterated song. Now, things have gotten so complicated. Today, if you ask someone if they like Bread, their response is likely to be, “Oh, no. I’m gluten-free.” C’mon, people! Baby I’m-a Want You? If? Get your head out of your freekeh!
It may be hard to believe, but there was life before Rhapsody and Spotify and Amazon Prime. Granted, it was a challenging life… To listen to my favorite song, I had to wait patiently by the radio, tape recorder in hand, ready to push "record." If my finger missed the button or my sister stormed in and demanded to know where her Bonnie Bell lip gloss was, the moment was gone. It was either back to waiting or simply settling for America to begin their song with “…but I got so damn depressed”. The whole experience could be damn depressing. But we learned patience and we learned that music is still wonderful even with partial songs and scratchy recordings.
Mabel walked in and asked what I was writing about. “Marlo Thomas,” I said. Her face screwed up as if she had smelled something bad, “Who? Whatever. Hey, where’s that iTunes gift card I had? I want to download some music.” As she walked out, I realized that she took it for granted that she could listen to her song of choice with a swipe of a finger. And she took it for granted that strong, powerful women – women like Marlo Thomas and, yes, Mary Tyler Moore—came before her and paved the way for our girls to be strong, powerful women.
“There’s a land that I see where the children are free and I say it ain’t far to this land from where we are.” I’m free to be me. Mabel is free to be who she is, and, though my daughter may not know your name, we both say, “Thank you, Marlo.”
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