With the Grain
Spoken Softly
It's time for environmental music, but big music is owned by big business, so we can't expect too much too soon. Therefore, in a socially conscious tradition, The Environmelodist offers hints for homegrown tunes. And remember: if your lyrics are too depressing, look around -- at least there are endless ideas for new environmelodies!

Borrow Liberally

Ira Gershwin might forgive you for updating a few lyrics from the thirties. For example, his brother George was there to cook up an earthy tune embracing the philosophies of composing and composting:

Compost me, bi-o-degradable you.
Compost me, my cultivatable you.
Without you, like stone, my soil would harden in me;
You, and you alone, bring out the garden in me...

Perhaps you could clear the air about why it was such a Foggy Day. Every decade offers its top ten. Freshwater fish in industrialized countries gurgle along with Stingin' in the Rain, or the classic Bridge Over Rubbled Water. You'd rather name your own tunes?

Make sure the song is entitled to last

When the style and name match, the song is more memorable. Shouldn't a song about reusing things be called a Rag? Perhaps a Round about recycling, or a Lullaby about carbon monoxide? The Ocean Blues?

However, these titles reveal a dilemma: what if the atmosphere seems too dreary? Too many chainsaws, nuclear dumps, and dirt bikes just too close to home? What if the emissions are, so to speak, too personal?

If so, this means that at heart you are an artist. Your soul mourns as the world rushes, crushes, flushes itself down. Merrily they roll along. To stay sane, you must provide the looney tunes. First you must relax...

Enjoy the calm before the brainstorm

Picture a quiet woodland spot; cool, green. Imagine a stream nodding nearby in its lush bed. A handsome trout floats alone by the bank. Float a loan by the bank? Ah-ha! This is the perfect spot for a new shopping mall! Now, select an obvious title: perhaps Bulldozer Stomp, a tedious, perpetual polka. Let yourself become heavy equipment. See what the yellow blade sees. Then, just start off in all directions:

Let's go find a forest glade
where all the turtle eggs are laid, and
    smash it to bits; smash it to bits;
    smash it to bits; smash it to bits.
Let's go find a grove of trees
with bears, and bats, and birds, and bees, and...

Accompany with crushing and bashing choreography. Allow a few bars of grunts and shrieks between choruses, to scrape up the very next verse. (Remember, you are an earthmover. Never think ahead!) By taking turns, a few singers can unearth new wildlife victims indefinitely--just like heavy equipment!

Now you've found long-buried creativity--alive again, with frustration out of your mind, or out of your mind with frustration. Either way, you're on track.

Be as vocal as possible

You may not need a great melody, just a little rhythm. The simpler the tune, the more people will join in. It seems fitting to add more people, more people, more people... So, to pass time on long trips through timber country, rip into a rendition of:

99 giant old trees in the world; 99 giant old trees.
    You chop one down and sell it in town--
98 giant old trees in the world.

Along the ocean coast, you'll be buoyed up by:

99 dolphins are left in the world; 99 dolphins are left.
    You spread your nets and feed 'em to pets--
98 dolphins are left in the world.

This swan-song approach works for the whole endangered list. To remain honest, and avoid tedium, use small numbers. Get down to zero quickly, then move on, as in the past. By the way, don't forget the late greats already extinct. If this is too overwhelming, try: "99 species are left in the world..." Much more direct.

Feeling more lyrical? Try a Green-Grass-Grows-All-Around sort of tune that just goes on and on:

Oh, the lead's in the paint... and the paint's in the can...
    and the can's in the dump... and the dump's by the swamp...
        and the swamp's by the lake... and the lake's where we swim...
and the toxins float all around all around,
and the toxins float all around.

Honestly, once you start a song cycle like this, the kids will remember it forever! This brings us to the realm of folk music, where we come face to face with the reality of realty. Yes, a building permit means never having to say you're sorry.

Keep digging up new ideas

Learn from hardship. Drop your voice down deep--deep as a dragline in a bog. To build where Nature never intended, where no man had lawn before; ditching the wetlands; ditching the blame. Think of the minstrel's pain as his construction loan dwindles. He drains both his bank account and the living land. What pain. What a drain. What a pain in the drain. Mucking along, he sweats through a few strains of:

You dredge sixteen tons, and what do you get?
Another day older and muddy and wet.
St. Peter don't you call me 'til I plant my lawn;
I won't give up 'til the habitat's gone.

Oh, ladies and gentlemen, the humanity of it! As you scrape down to your ethnic roots, consider brewing up your own version of the Oil Barrel Polka.

Roll out the barrel, with benzene and old PCB's.
Roll out the barrel, and toss in your used antifreeze.
Make lots of money, dumping whatever you please,
just the way we do with oil: in the broad, green seas!
Isn't that slick?

Get everyone involved

To improve participation, start with the most universal of lyrics--that means television theme songs. Kids of all ages will rock along as Fred and Barney describe the stone-age approach to solid waste:

Landfill, site a landfill;
Don't recycle or reduce your trash!
Or incinerate it, then we'll have a pile of toxic ash!

Singing is not instrumental

You don't have to sing to play. Jazz players say it without words, as in the old loggers' standard There Will Never Be Another Yew. However, jazz vocalists may enjoy a little Stormy Weather:

Way up high, there's no ozone in the sky, Global Warming...

Still disheartened about the world's priorities? If a song doesn't work, don't give up--just try another mode of expression. If you can't think of the right word, don't be discouraged: it's always darkest just before it dawns on you. And remember, the Environmelodist's golden oldies rule: if your lyrics are too depressing, look around--at least there are endless ideas for new environmelodies!

Classical players, take a more baroque approach:

Prelude in A Major (Industrial Polluter)

Toccata in A Flat (Economic Outlook)

Fugue in A Sharp (Increase in Toxic Emissions)

Postlude in A Minor (Concession to the Environment)

Many familiar titles and melodies are copyrighted; original lyrics are copyright With the Grain, Inc., 1991. Please use the ideas and lyrics here for personal enjoyment, as we have. Consider all copyright laws before using these materials otherwise. We appreciate the understanding of the original copyright holders in this presentation.

© 1991 WTG All Rights Reserved.
With the Grain - - Box 517 - - Mattawan, Michigan - - 49017-0517 - - wtg@wtgrain.org

...head home now!
Reason to Plan Preservation Spoken Softly Waiting to Die