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Clarinet for Beginners (1993) 

Week of October 5, 2005

Ron Reynolds is an aging clarinetist from Dayton, Ohio. He wears a thin white beard and a thin gold chain on his neck. In Clarinet for Beginners, a 53-minute instructional video for middle schoolers, Reynolds is joined by an expert 12-year-old musician with Easy-Bake Oven hair and a blouse that obscures any baby fat. Behind Reynolds, in virtually every frame, is an ancient IBM computer and a poster that says "Proud To Be Drug Free."

Reynolds' teaching style is like Fred Rogers on heroin. He is why most Americans choose not to pursue musical careers, or even hobbies, and is so boring as to justify the federal government's deep slashes in public music education. But these flaws are harmless. What's dangerous is the poster.

When impressionable adolescents view Clarinet, they'll be apt to say, "Man, is this guy Reynolds a drag." And then they'll see the anti-drug poster and assume he lays off the hash. The undeveloped teenage mind will assume that if they want to be boring, then they should not do drugs; but if they want to be exciting, maybe drugs are worth a try. And most kids -- and adults, for that matter -- want to be perceived as exciting.

So if President Bush and his recently appointed drug czar, John Stamos, are serious about drug prevention, Clarinet for Beginners should be immediately recalled from shelves nationwide, especially in affluent suburbs such as Creve Coeur.

Each week the author treks to the Schlafly branch of the St. Louis Public Library, where a staff member blindfolds him and escorts him to the movie shelves. After selecting a film at random, Seely checks it out and reviews it.

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