Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Depressing Songs: "Doomed, Doomed, Doomed"

Another in my bizarre favorite category, the depressing song lyric. This is another song from the great 1954 flop musical The Golden Apple; more about that show and its brilliant lyricist, John LaTouche, here. The Golden Apple was a great, doomed show, and the song I'm quoting is, appropriately enough, called "Doomed, Doomed, Doomed."

The Golden Apple is an Americanized, musicalized version of Homer's Odyssey, and "Doomed, Doomed, Doomed" is part of the show's climactic series of Vaudeville turns: in successive numbers, characters from earlier in the show return as similar characters in the nightmarish city of Rhododendron, where Ulysses and his friends are corrupted and/or killed. Each number sheds some light on what's wrong with the modern world: "Scylla and Charybdis" are two stockbrokers who always do well no matter how many people's lives are ruined by their stock tips; "Calypso" is a society leech described as a "Nympho-megalo-ego-dipso-maniac," and the Sirens as hookers in fashionable Hawaiian garb singing "(By a) Goona-Goona (Lagoon)." The device probably influenced the similarly-structured climax of Stephen Sondheim's Follies, where the themes of the show are summed up in a succession of pastiche showstoppers.

The ragtime "Doomed, Doomed, Doomed" is sung by the actress who plays Minerva, the schoolmarm from Ulysses' hometown, here doubling as a crazy lady scientist who assures Ulysses and his friends that not only is the modern world terrible, it's only going to get worse. LaTouche spoofs doomsday prophecies (all the rage in the '50s, from all corners) and blind faith that science, and in particular the Space Race, can save us. And note that we're still worrying about quite a few of the same things today, fifty years later:

I've prodded the atom to its foundation,
Cross-indexed the human mind,
Reduced the universe to an equation.

What, oh, what did you find?

Oh, the polar cap is slowly expanding,
In a million years we'll freeze to death, I guess.
If the Ice Age hasn't floored us,
There's a planet heading toward us;
When it hits, we'll be an interstellar mess.
Oh, the continent is crumbling and dissolving,
As our rivers wash our topsoil out to sea.
And the land we can retrieve'll
Be devoured by pest and weevil,
And there won't be nothing left for you and me.

Oh, we're doomed, doomed, doomed,
Oh, we're doomed, doomed, doomed,
Oh, we're doomed to disappear without a trace.
For the solar system's cracking up,
The universe is slacking up,
And time is running out at a rather hectic pace.
Oh, we're doomed, doomed, doomed,
Oh, we're doomed, doomed, doomed,
Oh, we're doomed to disappear without a trace.
Because all of us are just
Little specks of cosmic dust,
Oh, it's doom, doom, doom for the well-known human race.

To save our all-too human necks,
I've now invented Gadget X.

A gadget?

A super gadget.
Now, just beyond the planet Mars
Is System Zero, lots of stars
Aglow there.

We ought to go there.

So when destruction starts to fall,
Our Gadget X will save us all.

Our gadget?

A super gadget!
Oh, it's effective, never fear.
Now, which of you will volunteer
To ride it?
I never tried it.

I will be a volunteer!

He will be a volunteer!

(Doc gets into Gadget X -- a rocket -- and is fired upwards and offstage.)

It works! It works! It's plunging past time's track
In twenty seconds flat!

But how is he gonna get back?

Oh, dear! Oh, dear! I never thought of that.
Well.... back to work.

© 1954 by John LaTouche. All rights reserved.

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