Sustainable Song: A Hard Day on the Planet

This week's Sustainable Song is Hard Day on the Planet by Loudon Wainwright, chosen by our Environmental Sustainability Coordinator Lucy Latham. Here’s why:

I first heard this song at University. I can clearly recall my initial reaction – sadly it was not in response to the lyrics of societal critique and global disharmony; wry, erudite, and humorously macabre as they were - but to Loudon’s toe-tapping, head-bopping intro in which he counts out the tempo whilst clicking his fingers, before giving way to a jazzy bass and tinkling piano which quickly brings us to the climax and the first chorus. His rocking folk/blues style is so seductive, it is hard to resist furrowing your brow, rocking back and forth, and smiling and nodding in appreciation, especially when that sax kicks in!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GPIRzu14viA

This was the first time I’d ever heard Loudon and it was a while before the lyrics - which span environmental degradation, war, and man’s insatiable appetite for growth and expansion - really started to resonate with me. I don’t find it to be a particularly unifying or inspirational number, I don’t feel instantly cajoled into action, or eager to hug my nearest human being (or tree!) - it is fair to say Loudon is never one to over-sentimentalise things. However, there is a refreshing tonic in Wainwrights’ dark satire that I feel holds a lot of potential for stimulating discussion; questioning the establishment, the status quo, our governance structures, the current economic paradigm, the individual versus the collective, and looking holistically at our values framework. Although debatably flippant, even distasteful (he unabashedly refers to rape and exploding aeroplanes), Wainwright makes perceptive and pertinent observations of the human condition, ones which are essential to recognise now and address.

There’s a poignant contrast found between the grim and sardonic lyrics and the backdrop of up-tempo, high-energy music; maybe it won’t make you laugh out loud, but this rhythmic tune filled with incisive wit always makes me smile. As the late Pete Seeger said “Keep your sense of humor. There is a 50 / 50 chance that the world can be saved. You - yes you - might be the grain of sand that tips the scales the right way”.

Here are the lyrics :

The dollar went down and the President said

Who's in charge, now? I don't know, take your pick.

A new disease every day and the old ones are coming back

Things are looking kind of grey, like they're going to black

Don't turn on the TV, don't show me the paper

(I) don't want to know he got kidnapped or why they all raped her

I want to go on vacation 'till the pressure lets up

But they keep hijacking airplanes and blowing them up

It's been a hard day on the planet

How much is it all worth?

It's getting harder to understand it

Things are tough all over on earth.

It's hot in December and cold in July

When it rains it pours out of a poisonous sky

In California the body counts keep getting higher

It's evil out there, man that state is always on fire.

Everyone has a system, but they can't seem to win

Even Bob Geldof looks alarmingly thin

I got to get on that shuttle get me out of this place

But there's gonna be warfare up there in outer space

I've got clothes on my back and shoes on my feet

A roof over my head and something to eat

My kids are all healthy and my folks are alive

You know, it's amazing but sometimes I think I'll survive

I've got all of my fingers and all of my toes

I'm pretty well off I guess, I suppose

So how come I feel bad so much of the time?

A man ain't an island John Dunn wasn't lying

It's business as usual; some things never change

It's unfair, it's tough, unkind and it's strange

We don't seem to learn; we can't seem to stop

Maybe some explosions would close up the shop

You know, maybe that would be fine: we would be off the hook

We resolved all our problems, never mind what it took

And it all would be over, finito, the end

Until the survivors started up all over again

Sustaining Creativity