Monday, April 5, 2010

Thanks to Tony Woodlief I understand something that baffled me: Why does the theme from M*A*S*H have such bad lyrics?
Movie director Robert Altman hired Johnny Mandel to score his 1970 satire M*A*S*H. The first scene up was a fake funeral, and Altman needed a song for it.

" 'It should be the stupidest song ever written,' " Mandel recalls Altman saying. "I said, 'Well, I can do stupid.' He says, 'The song should be called 'Suicide Is Painless.' "

Altman took a stab at writing the lyrics, but it just wasn't stupid enough.

"[Altman] said, 'Ah, but all is not lost. I've got a 15-year-old kid who's a gibbering idiot. He's got a guitar. He'll run through this thing like a dose of salts,' " Mandel recalls Altman saying.

Mandel went home and wrote the melody. And the director's young son, Mike Altman, wrote the lyrics.
A brave man once requested me / to answer questions that are key / 'Is it to be or not to be' / And I replied, 'Oh, why ask me?' — "Suicide Is Painless"
Robert Altman later said his son made more than $1 million from the song, whereas he got just $70,000 for directing the movie.
(I hope all that money helped Mike Altman bear his father's contempt. Altman senior's movies, M*A*S*H included, always seemed to me the work of a visually gifted, small-minded misanthrope.)