In early December 2016 I discovered that four of my PreCalculus students play saxophone in the school band. I challenged them to revive the heyday of the “sexy saxophone.” In the decade or two before they were even born, I recalled sax interludes frequently featured in romantic songs on the radio. The sax also served a functional role in indicating impending intercourse in movies and television.
I told my students that I would then play for them a quintessential saxophone song of the ‘80s. Before even mentioning the title, in both PreCalc classes several students blurted out “Careless Whisper!” Others didn’t recognize it by name, but upon starting to play the George Michael music video, more expressed familiarity with it. And when the blaring sax kicked in, even more shared that they’d heard it before. More than three decades after its 1984 release, Careless Whisper transcends generations.
Following a three-year hiatus from making parody songs/videos, I immediately felt a creative impulse to write a Mathy version of Careless Whisper. Students’ frequent frustrations of making “Careless Errors” on Math assignments and tests instantly provided the title, although ultimately the parody would make little distinction between the perils of sloppy goofs and utter cluelessness.
Heading into our winter break, I wrote lyrics, planned the animated video, and contemplated who I’d ask to participate. Typically we Math teachers provide most or all of the vocals, but this song begged some actual singing skills. I thought of several vocally-talented students who I thought would be a fun fit for the project. In finalizing the lyrics, I aimed for a back-and-forth dynamic of students expressing anguish over making errors on Math tests while their unsympathetic teachers callously taunt that they’re “never gonna Math again.”
On the evening of Christmas 2016 I was drawing sketches for the animation when I learned of George Michael’s sudden death. For years I had not wanted to admit how much I had grown to admire his work, particularly as a solo artist after the glittery-pop days of Wham! Eventually we both came out of our respective closets: him as a gay man, and me as a big George Michael fan.
The tone of my Mathy projects continues to be one of whimsy and attempted cleverness. This time it is also with sincere admiration for George Michael as a gifted singer that I’ve enjoyed developing “Careless Errors.”