By GWEN OREL
“We Got Dreams” is a great title for a song about high school commencement.
What is in store for the future? What dreams are waiting to be pursued?
But when Montclairian Lily Vakili wrote the song, she was not planning on using it to reflect her daughter Claire Ellis’ senior high school class.
The lyrics are in a Bruce Springsteen vein and reflect despair, hard times, resilience.
Jenny works at the corner store
Making nothing but hoping for more
Saves her pennies for a home of her own
Maybe a double-wide with its own carport …
She got dreams and she won’t let go
No matter how many times people tell her so
Her life is hard times on a broken door
But she sings
Nah,nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah
Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah
Then COVID-19 happened.
The schools closed.
Proms were canceled.
“My daughter said that she and her friends felt invisible,” Vakili said. “She said, ‘Just normal would have been great.’
“Just normal would have been great.
“Forget all the aspirations for prom, blah blah. Just normal.”
The Lily Vakili Band had planned to release the song anyway as the first single from “American Storyland.”
She thought, the kids are “going through something transformational that none of us have lived through.
“Some of them have lost family members. Claire lost a great-uncle. So some of the things I was singing about in the song applied to some of these kids, I know it.”
Vakili talked to the other members of the Lily Vakili Band, and everyone agreed to create a video that would include the seniors in it, to create a public place, a statement, to acknowledge them at this point in their lives.
They reached out to parents, to Project Graduation. It came together in three weeks.
The music video was released on Friday, June 12.
In titles before the music starts, it states, “For students everywhere, including the senior class of Montclair High School. It also meant the loss of a long-awaited shared celebration. This song is for you.”
The video begins with the sound of a class bell, the sound of kids laughing. There is a still of the members of the Lily Vakili Band, arranged as if they are in an old-fashioned class portrait.
Then comes footage of the amphitheater at Montclair High School, with a sign that says
“Montclair Public Schools closed.”
The song begins, and footage of Montclair is interspersed with the band singing. Shots of empty bike racks, empty train stations, people wearing masks. Montclair streets. Stores with signs that say “Closed to the public.”
Vakili wanted to make sure there was a representative group of kids, that the video would be a snapshot of the MHS seniors.
he videographer got footage from the high school. From the amphitheater, where they would have graduated. Some yearbook photos of kids, some snapshots of kids.
The results have a yearbook-like feel, but that was all the videographer: Nothing was taken directly from the yearbook.
“I love the fact that it’s this great mix of casual and formal, really serious and goofing around. It was really emotional to look at these faces,” Vakili said.
Fortunately the band had recorded themselves singing “We Got Dreams” before lockdown happened, so the video is able to include clips of the band interspersed with footage of the town and pictures of the seniors.
The Lily Vakili Band has been together for about six years. She was working as a solo artist before that.
The song lyrics always had a sense of possibility in them even though they were written about adults in hard times.
“Having lived through some hard times myself, I know that it doesn’t always end well for people, and that people go through hard times,” Vakili said. But though the lyrics are dark, the song itself has a catchy melody and a hopeful feeling in it. The message, she said, is to hold on.
“A lot of my songs have this element of realism,” she said. “It’s about looking at peoples’ lives and not sugarcoating what people experience.
“But that doesn’t mean that individuals don’t have this deep desire to express themselves and to have dreams. I think maybe at this juncture, given what we’re going through, it’s critical to say ‘Don’t let go. Keep doing this. Keep on.’ You know, even if you lose that job.”
Her daughter has seen the video.
She loved it. Vakili can tell, because her daughter said, “Yeah, yeah. That was good.”
That’s high praise, Vakili said with a laugh.
The video ends with the words “We got dreams,” printed in varsity letter font, and a title card that says “Class of 2020! Hold on to your dreams — pursue them with compassion, resilience and integrity. Love from all of us.”
Vakili wanted to capture what the kids were feeling: “It’s one small part of many efforts to try to acknowledge them, as they make their way into adulthood in these extraordinary times. It’s a way to say ‘We love you. We wish you well.’”