Live free or die hard

Free to Be ... You and Me Invitational
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KIDS' TV GONE WILD There's a scene in Half Nelson — a top contender for most depressing scene in a movie loaded with 'em — in which Dan, Ryan Gosling's drugged-out high school teacher, trudges home for a meal with his post-hippie parents. As the evening shuffles into boozy awkwardness, his mom throws Free to Be ... You and Me on the hi-fi, and the sounds of "It's All Right to Cry" fill the house. It's the perfect choice for so many reasons; for Dan, a product of the 1970s, any song off that iconic '72 album would signal bittersweet nostalgia. But the Rosey Grier–crooned "It's All Right to Cry" — which follows the skit "Dudley Pippin and the Principal," an intense two minutes packed with sand table–tipping drama and flute-playing guidance — is also the pitch-perfect choice for an educator on the downward spiral.

I'm also a child of the 1970s. When I was in high school, a friend made the casual observation that everything he needed to know in life he'd learned from Free to Be ... You and Me. And that's basically true, isn't it? If everyone took the lessons of Free to Be literally, there would be no gender stereotypes. People would share a lot more, and they'd be kinder to grandmas, parents, and crybabies. My favorite Free to Be cut was always "Ladies First," penned by Shel Silverstein (himself an avalanche of nostalgia material, what with Where the Sidewalk Ends, A Light in the Attic, The Giving Tree, and the rest). Read by Free to Be's guiding force, Marlo Thomas, it's the poignant tale of a greedy girl who learns it's not always best to be first in line — especially when the line ends at the dinner plate of a hungry tiger.

I didn't realize until years later — when I read That Girl and Phil, poison-penned by her former majordomo Desmond Atholl (with Michael Cherkinian) — that the sweet-voiced Thomas was so worthy of being a tasty tiger snack herself. The knowledge adds a certain cynical slant to lyrics such as "In this land, every girl grows to be her own woman." Her own bitchy woman, that is. It's unclear whether the artists participating in "Free to Be ... You and Me Invitational," the first in the PFA's "Together Again: Collectively Created Compilations" series, take the personality of Free to Be's figurehead into consideration. Curated by Thomas Beard (who'll be there in person) and Nick Hallett, the 55-minute program features fresh takes and mashups of original 16mm copies of the 1974 Free to Be film by video artists such as Big Noise Films, Nao Bustamante, and Lynne Sachs. Intriguingly, the program also features a short "joint jest" that takes on Mary Worth, one of the more inscrutable soap opera comics ever to take up funny-page real estate. (Cheryl Eddy)

FREE TO BE ... YOU AND ME INVITATIONAL

Wed/17, 7:30 p.m., $4–$8

PFA

2757 Bancroft, Berk.

(510) 642-5249

www.bampfa.berkeley.edu

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