The Damn Birthday Song

Birthday Song

Here it is, the dreaded annual event. I don’t mean the day that marks another year of living, I have never been one to fret about getting older. That would be about as productive as watering a dead plant.

No, I am referring to that unavoidable moment when a group of friends and colleagues gather ‘round to honor your time on earth with the most inane 4‐line ditty ever written, “Happy Birthday to You”.

Really? That’s all you can say after all these years? “We know you were born, and we know your name”. Let me fetch my box of medals.

Or is it just something to get quickly out of the way so that we can focus on the real star of the day, cake. If so, then shouldn’t the lyrics be, “I’m so happy there’s cake, I‘m so happy there’s cake, I’m so happy there’s ca‐ake, I’m so happy there’s cake”? Seems like a much more appropriate rallying song.

Even “Jingle Bells” has more of a plot arc. And there is tension. Why just one horse? Can he not get along well with others? Or is he just taking a break from equine relationships that invariably end in separate stalls? And the sleigh is open. Is that really wise during flu season?

The Birthday Song was written in 1893 by a pair of kindergarten teachers in Kentucky, and was originally called “Good Morning to All”. If I had been required to listen to that every day I would have begged my parents for home schooling.

The song has been translated into dozens of languages. Now how hard could that have been? Marilyn Monroe even succumbed to its allure when she slurred it to President Kennedy in 1962. Even in her inebriate state she felt compelled to expand upon the lyrics. Not that anyone was paying attention to the words.

It was the first song to be sung in outer space – by Apollo IX astronauts. Aliens are still hurling meteors at us for that.

And I’m told that Warner Chappell purchased the company owning the copyright for $15 million in 1990. Heck, I’d sing your entire life story in the style of Billie Holiday for a fraction of that.

Next week is my birthday. I will attempt to get through it aurally unscathed. But I know someone out there is humming “you know what” just as I type. It is even the appropriate length for a Twitter tweet.

If cockroaches learn to sing we are doomed for all eternity.


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