I love Wikipedia. I think it is one of the single greatest creations in human history. Reading Wikipedia has become a bit of a passion for me. Though there is always a reason I find myself plowing through a passage, I am never disappointed with what I find.
A couple days ago I read the entry for "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da", one of my favorite Beatles’ songs, looking for the origin behind the phrase Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.
It turns out that Paul stole it from an African conga player and was later sued for royalties.
I also learned that Paul wrote the song but John hated it, eventually forcing a more up-tempo beat after a heated exchange.
Also, the line, "Desmond stays at home and does his pretty face" was a mistake. Paul sung the line incorrectly during a recording session (Molly was supposed to be at home, doing her pretty face), but the rest of the band liked the mistake so much that it stuck.
Yesterday I read the entry for Dirty Dancing, learning among other things that Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze did not get along during much of the filming of the movie, something you might have never guessed based upon the final product.
Also, Dirty Dancing is in large part based on screenwriter Eleanor Bergstein's own childhood. She is the younger daughter of a Jewish doctor from New York, spent summers with her family in the Catskills, participated in "Dirty Dancing" competitions, and was herself called "Baby" as a girl.
Bergstein was apparently talking about herself when she wrote, “Nobody puts Baby in the corner.”
See what I mean? Every entry is a fascinating story waiting to be discovered.
For all it’s greatness, however, Wikipedia does have it's problems. The most glaring (other than a lack of an entry for me) is its frequent need for a professional editor.
This morning I was researching New Jersey Turnpike rest stops for the book I am writing. The Turnpike names each of its rest stops after famous people from New Jersey, and I needed the name of a northbound rest stop close to New York.
Naturally I found it on Wikipedia.
But the list (pasted below) needs an editor badly. The blinding repetition and unnecessary redundancy contained made me want to pull my hair out.
Clara Barton Service Area named after Clara Barton. Molly Pitcher Service Area named after Molly Pitcher. Thomas Edison Service Area named after… you guessed it. Thomas Edison.
And yes, I know that I could edit the list myself and thus contribute a small part to the greatness of Wikipedia, but I am in the midst of writing at least three books (not to mention this blog, a children’s book, a short story, and a dozen other smaller pieces), so my time and energy are best directed elsewhere.
And besides, I try to avoid writing for free at all costs.
Also, there are people in the world who actually enjoy writing, editing and otherwise maintaining Wikipedia.
I enjoy benefiting from their efforts.