See That Building: Broadway musicals, Studs Terkel and location-based storytelling

Ah the serendipity of radio.  Last night I was station-surfing, driving home across the Golden Gate, when I caught a broadcast of the song “Something to Point to (See That Building),” from that improbable and fabulous Broadway musical, “Working,” inspired by Studs Terkel’s book of the same name.  Lyrics below, or you can watch this endearing video

of some high school kids performing it.

I’m hereby designating “See that Building” as the official theme-song for this blog.

It’s about one building, and every line in the song involves a different person “pointing to” the building and singing the story of how they are connected to it.  So you hear from the stone masons, the architects, the security guard, the janitor, the office worker, the elevator operator… you get the point.  “See that building/ I ran the crane that lifted the beams/ I was the guy that worked up above/ look at those bricks, those bricks are mine/ see that building/ look how my door hangs in the frame/ see that building/ forty flights up i scratched my name.”

I hadn’t realized how much that song influenced me as a journalist until last night. I first heard it years ago when “Working!” was produced by my own high school drama department (gotta love Bay Area high school drama departments).   Corny as it sounds, it gave me chills.  Four years later, for my college honors thesis, I did an oral history about a group of workers who *had* scratched their names high up on the ceiling of Yale’s Sterling Library when they were building it in the 1930s.

So thanks to Studs and his musical collaborators for their pioneering work in location based storytelling. Everyone should have something to point to.

Something To Point To (See That Building)

Lyrics by Craig Carnelia

See that building
I was the one who did the design
I was the one who drafted the plan
Every detail and every line
See that building
I ran the crane that lifted the beams
I was the guy that worked up above
Look at those bricks, those bricks are mine

See that building
Look how my door hangs in the frame
See that building
Forty flights up I scratched my name

See that building
I’m on the staff, i work as a guard
I clean the floors and I clean ’em good
People don’t know my job is hard
See that building
Five days a week I work at a desk
I do the books, I handle the mail
Nine on the dot I punch my card

See that window
Up by the ledge
Ten from the top
See that window
Count from the left
One, two , three, stop
That’s where i work

Everyone should have something to point to
Something to be proud of
Look what I did
See what I’ve done
I did the job
I was the one

Everyone should have something to point to
Someway to be tall in the crowd

See that building
Day after day after day after day
That’s where I put myself on the line
That’s where I sweat to earn my pay
See that building
That’s where I put the food on our plates
That’s where I’ve lived a piece of my life
Where I can bring my kids and say

See that building
The lumber was cut
Decisions were made
See that building
The windows are washed
The site was surveyed
The memos are typed
The concrete was laid
The records are kept
The office is run
The coffee is sold
The digging was done
The building was built
For all eyes to see