The influence of Mister Rogers has only increased since his death in 2003. From Tom Hanks in Hollywood to a Chicago puppeteer we recently profiled, Fred Rogers made an impact on all kinds of neighbors. Now a local recording artist is focusing on the music of Rogers.
Daniel Knox, songwriter: Everybody likes to be reminded that they’re unique. Everybody likes to be reminded that they’re special, and these songs do that in a way that is so direct that it can’t possibly be corny or cheesy. It’s just a true, accurate statement about you that makes you feel good and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Marc Vitali: Daniel Knox is a self-taught piano player and singer-songwriter who tours with the Handsome Family and recorded with Jarvis Cocker of Pulp. And the Hubbard Street Dance Company has danced to his songs while he provided live accompaniment.
Knox: The directness is something that spoke to me immediately. There’s not a lot of songwriters that can achieve that, where you really feel like you’re being spoken to specifically.
The difference between him and, not just children’s entertainers and songwriters, but songwriters in general is, he doesn’t make the negative emotions melodramatic. He doesn’t make them extraordinary and weird and dark. They’re just a normal part of everyday life.
He can take a feeling like shame or guilt, doubt, anger and put it right next to joy and imagination and, and excitement and silliness even.
Vitali: When he’s not writing music – and there isn’t a pandemic – Daniel Knox is a projectionist at the Music Box Theater. That’s where he once performed for filmmaker David Lynch, who Knox thinks shares traits with Fred Rogers.
Knox: They kind of make companions for each other and you wouldn’t think that, but I feel like David Lynch and Mister Rogers have a lot more in common than you might think. They’re two very imaginative guys who have this sort of gentle way about them. They’re both trying to bring you into an imaginary world and encourage you in one way or another. There’s obviously a fork in the road there, but I do think the two have a lot in common.
Vitali: Growing up in Springfield, Illinois, Knox was an early fan of Fred Rogers.
Knox: I was a kid that liked to be sad. I didn’t like being teased, and I liked testing my emotions, and I think one of the great things about his songs is they normalize some of those extreme feelings that kids are told not to have. They’re told, ‘Oh don’t act up, don’t cry, don’t scream.’ And there is not a better time to do any of those things.
Knox’s new recording is called “You Are My Friend,” and he wants you to know that the cassette comes with a digital copy.