News & Opinion » Columns

The XX Files

Jeremiah was a wino


It's hard to be a liquored-up fornicator, but someone has to do it. In an era when conservative policymakers promote abstinence and substance abuse programs that are ineffectual at best and dangerous at worst, someone has to stand up for the truth.

Of course, suggesting we need to return to a more honest, tolerant approach to teaching kids about sex and booze, I risk being called a lush. Or a slut. Or a slutty lush. A sloshed slit. A luscious sot. A shlursss...

OK, maybe I had one too many this morning. But I've finally cracked. The straw that broke the camel's back wasn't the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program for 5th graders which, it's been widely reported, does not reduce drug use among children and may, in fact, increase it.

Nor was it the disturbing new statistics showing that students who undergo abstinence-only education have more pregnancies and STDs than students who learn standard sex ed. When groping in the backseat, the teens who took vows of abstinence are totally unprepared for their hormone-fueled passions. Politicians take note: These kids have sex at the same rate as other kids. Ironically, the fire-and-brimstone abstinence advocates are right. Knocked-up and infected, these kids really are in Hell.

What caused me to crack, though, was a benign outgrowth of all these misguided attempts to manipulate children's behavior: new sanitized lyrics to Three Dog Night's "Joy to the World" as sung by my son's middle-school chorus. Here's an excerpt of the original 1971 version.

Jeremiah was a bullfrog

Was a good friend of mine

I never understood a single word he said

But I helped him a-drinking his wine

And he always had some mighty fine wine

The cleaned-up version replaces the last two lines with this blather: "And he always had a mighty fine time / Yes, he always had a mighty fine time."

Later, when the narrator sings, "If I were the king of the world," he tells us what he'd do: "Throw away the cars and the bars and the wars / And make sweet love to you." The neutered new lyrics: "And spend more time with you."

This song, uncensored, is fantastic and upbeat and, well, groovy. Released during the Vietnam War, it spent weeks at the top of the charts and served to celebrate what was good in a world torn apart by a devastating war and powerful new feelings about sex roles and racism.

What's got me hitting the bottle this morning is that well-meaning people are serving pabulum to kids who not only could handle the original lyrics, but might actually benefit from them. Say the little morons titter at the "make sweet love to you" line. What's so bad about that? And isn't that what terrific school programs, like my son's choral group, are for? To introduce ideas, sounds, and experiences in a controlled environment?

If the only exposure kids get to sex in popular culture happens outside of school --- in cynical movies and TV shows, Google searches for "butt," and porno found in dad's sweater drawer --- haven't we lost a chance to redefine the topic?

Liberal Christian critics of the religious right's abstinence movement posit that --- in addition to spreading pregnancy and disease --- it teaches young people their natural urges are shameful. I don't know much about Christ, but I'll wager he's a lot more tolerant of human displays of emotion and sexuality than some of the folks teaching on his behalf. What better expression of humanity can there be than offering a tender promise of making "sweet love" to someone?

"Joy to the World" even captures the spirit of Silent Spring author Rachel Carson by elevating the lowly bullfrog's status to "good friend." My husband cautiously agrees, but he notes the song might promote man-on-frog relationships, driving innocent children into the sticky webfeet of the North American Man/Frog Love Association (NAMFLA).

Even Jeremiah's "mighty fine wine" has a place in the world of civilized children --- it's a major Bible refreshment and something of an art form in the creation. Making wine --- like making a good meal, making a work of art, and even making love --- requires patience, artistry, and a little help from Mother Nature.

Kids can learn about moderation by sipping small amounts of diluted wine on special occasions without being, as the DARE program implies, drunks. They can learn about patience in sex education classes that teach them to control sexual urges without feeling like sinners.

Don't go erasing our phone number from your playdate roster. I'm not going to dance naked while serving your little whippersnappers Pinot and Oreos. I talk a big game but trust me; no one will be more oppressed than my kids as they navigate the temptations and dangers of adolescence.

I just wish that as a society we could teach our kids to anticipate the pleasures of adult life instead of hypocritically shunning and repressing things we actually enjoy. Kids see right through this.

And it's just so coarse. Americans, in our soul-crushing attempts to control behavior, replace connoisseurship --- which can be applied to food, wine, romance, art --- with crass commercialism as it flashes across screens everywhere we look. It's depressing. It's enough to drive a girl to drink. Pass that mighty fine wine this way. Hey, that frog is kind of cute.