David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 331: Yes (Roundabout)

March 3, 2024

I have been beating a roundabout metaphor to death the last few weeks. I am not saying that it is an unclear metaphor that I talk about in a roundabout way. No, I am actually talking about a roundabout metaphor as appropriate for SMC, perhaps many community colleges around the world. Allow me to bore you with shop talk for a few minutes.

SMC, like many colleges, has a large number of undecided students, students who come to college without a clear sense of a major. About five years ago, SMC created pathways for the "undecided" students that we called General Studies programs, ways to earn 60 credits in an Associate of Arts program or in an Associate of Science program that could represent an achievement, a credential, an actual diploma. As a school so heavily transfer focus, meaning the majority of our students come to SMC to get 2 years of a college degree under their belt before transferring to a 4-year institution to complete a bachelor's degree, these General Studies degrees represent out largest population of students, as well as a significant number of our graduates.

Five years later, we struggle to understand fully the large mass of students (almost half of our annual enrollment) who at some point in their time at SMC declare "General Studies" as their major. In pulling together a task force this semester to analyze the General Studies pathways, I have described the situation as an academic roundabout (it's a metaphor that works well for a Michigan college just across the border from Indiana, a state that loves its traffic roundabouts.) The General Studies pathway could have students going round and round in circles, confirming every ignorant legislator's belief that college is a waste of money. However, the truth is that each student had some reason to enter the roundabout, and almost all will exit, if for no other reason than loss of financial aid. The goal of the task force is to look at all entry roads and exit roads to identify reasons for getting on the roundabout or getting off the roundabout. Even after just a couple of meetings, I feel like I have now gotten on that roundabout with a better picture of what these drivers are doing.

More importantly, to get back to the point of this song series, I have now described this metaphor in at least four separate non-task force meetings, so much so that I now have Jon Anderson's voice permanently in my head: "I'll be the roundabout/the words will make you out and out." It's not a bad thing to have stuck in one's head, as "Roundabout" will always be my favorite Yes song. I just can't say that I ever really understood the title within the context of the lyrics. Anderson's lyrics seem to be referencing "roundabout" in the same way that Australians referenced a "walkabout," a rather extended trip, but not necessarily with the circular intersections associated with Great Britain:

driving through the sound and in and out of the valley/

in and around the lake/

mountains come out of the sky and they stand there/

one mile over we'll be there and we'll see you.

Anderson claims, if we can trust the rock and roll mythology that can even overwhelm the songwriters, that the inspiration came from concert touring and the "so many roundabouts" they encountered.1 Of course, he also admitted to using cannabis on the trip, so that might explain it all. Lyrically, it seems a stretch for me to be thinking of this song when describing my roundabout metaphor for the ka-billionth time.

I just need to remember that it doesn't always have to be about the words. If anything in the Yes song makes me think of the traffic circle, it is the music, in many ways a variety of instruments, beats, and ideas entering and exiting at breakneck speed. The signature change that leads to the middle eight is like the greyhound bus flying in and out of the roundabout, demanding everyone's attention as Anderson's cannabis-induced lyrics seem completely non-sensical, "eagles," "sailors," and "grains of sand."

As the greyhound exits, here comes grandma in her beat-up old junker, slowly working its way around the circle, Anderson quietly exuding "I'll be the roundabout" to get her through safely, so that the maniacal drivers represented by the Rick Wakeman and Steve Howe keyboard and guitar breaks can roll through the intersection all the more dramatically. A the end, with the non-sensical vocalizations, the merging of all this traffic is seamless.

How any of this helps me with my work project, I have no freaking clue. I have another meeting of the task force this week, and probably should have spent my time digging through some more data. Oh, well, you spend your day your way, I'll spend mine my way.

1Wardlaw, Matt (28 June 2015). "Top 10 Yes Songs of the '70s". ultimateclassicrock.com. Retrieved March 3, 2024.

Yes. "Roundabout." Fragile. Atlantic, 1971. Link here.

Day 330: Ginger Leigh "Charge Laughing"

Day 332: Planet P Project "Why Me?"

See complete list here.