(Roughly) Daily

“It is a cliche that most cliches are true, but then like most cliches, that cliche is untrue.”*…

Although its, uh, cultural cachet, I suppose, has fallen in recent decades, a doofy poem called “The Desiderata of Happiness” used to be something that you’d see on the walls of doctors’ and dentists’ offices, at your grandmother’s, a great aunt’s house, or maybe in the very home that you yourself grew up in, during the 1960s and 70s. (At one point the hippies even adopted it.)

You don’t see it so often today, but it’s still around. Now that you’ve had your attention called to it, the next time you see it (normally as a varnished wooden wall plaque in a junk shop) you’ll remember this post (and wince).

Here’s an example of the proto-New Age almost meaningless wisdom you will find in “The Desiderata of Happiness”:

You are a child of the universe,

No less than the trees and the stars;

You have a right to be here.

And whether or not it is clear to you,

no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

“The Desiderata of Happiness” was written in 1906 by a lawyer named Max Ehrmann, but it was unknown during his lifetime. Its slow burn to popularity began in the 1950s when a Baltimore pastor printed it up in some church materials. The poem’s advice to be humble, live a clean and moral life and to even have respect for dipshits (it doesn’t use that exact term, of course) seems simplistic even by Forrest Gump standards, but for whatever reason this thing struck a chord with the public. (You can read more about its history at Wikipedia).

In 1971, a “groovy” American radio talkshow host by the name of Les Crane (once married to Gilligan’s Island‘s Tina Louise and considered by some to be the original “shock jock”) narrated a spoken word/musical version of the poem (avec gospel choir), that reached #8 in the Billboard charts and won a Grammy for Best Spoken Word Performance of the Year. It was on the British pop charts for 14 months.

The following year, a parody version titled “Deteriorata” was created by the National Lampoon’s Michael O’Donoghue, Tony Hendra and Christopher Guest (The words were Hendra’s, the music is Guest’s) released as a single and on the classic Radio Dinner album. Melissa Manchester sings on the record. The humorously ponderous reading was handled by Norman Rose, who was THE voice over announcer of the era. You’ve also heard his voice in Woody Allen’s Love & Death and The Telephone Book.

There are a few then current references in the song that might need some context for listeners almost fifty years later: The line about your dog’s diet refers to a TV dog food ad which wondered, “Is your dog getting enough cheese in his diet?” The “Remember the Pueblo” bit refers to a rightwing bumper sticker rallying cry about the capture in 1968 of the USS Pueblo by North Korea. “Do not bend, fold, spindle or mutilate” was a phrase employed on government checks. And again, bear in mind that narrator Norman Rose would be the equivalent to say, Morgan Freeman or James Earl Jones reading it today…

A cultural history of cultural oddity, “The Desiderata of Happiness”: “The Universe Is Laughing Behind Your Back,” from the ever-illuminating @DangerMindsBlog.

* Stephen Fry

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As we become one with the universe, we might note that today is The Day of the Dude, he annual sacred high holy day of Dudeism, a religion, philosophy, or lifestyle inspired by “The Dude,” the protagonist of the Coen Brothers’ 1998 film The Big Lebowski.  Dudeism’s stated primary objective is to promote a modern form of Chinese Taoism, outlined in Tao Te Ching, blended with concepts from the Ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus, and manifest in a style personified by the character of Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski (the character portrayed by Jeff Bridges in the film).

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