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Amanda Palmer: Ukulele Anthem

February 15, 2013

This is “What’s Making Me Happy This Week,” a weekly feature inspired by the Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast. It’s pretty self-explanatory.

What’s Making Me Happy This Week is a song I heard for the first time this week, “Ukulele Anthem” by Amanda Palmer. This song is a B-side from Palmer’s latest album, Theatre is Evil, which is available for free legal download (or name your price) on her website. Palmer is famous for her work on the ukulele, including releasing an EP of Radiohead covers entitled Amanda Palmer Performs the Popular Hits of Radiohead on Her Magical Ukulele. The song is beautiful and I highly encourage you, dear reader, to listen to it now. It’s OK – I can wait the 5-1/2 minutes for you to return.

What makes this song so sublimely special is not just Palmer’s voice and playing, but the deeply moving lyrics. If you haven’t given it a listen yet (it’ll only take 6 minutes!) then I encourage you to read them now instead:

Sid Vicious played a four-string Fender bass guitar and couldn’t sing
And everybody hated him except the ones who loved him
A ukulele has four strings, but Sid did not play ukulele
He did smack and probably killed his girlfriend Nancy Spungen

If only Sid had had a ukulele, maybe he would have been happy
Maybe he would not have suffered such a sad end
He maybe would have not done all that heroin instead
He maybe would’ve sat around just singing nice songs to his girlfriend

So play your favorite cover song, especially if the words are wrong
‘Cause even if your grades are bad, it doesn’t mean you’re failing
Do your homework with a fork
And eat your fruit loops in the dark
And bring your etch-a-sketch to work
And play your ukulele

Ukulele small and fierceful
Ukulele brave and peaceful
You can play the ukulele too, it is painfully simple
Play your ukulele badly, play your ukulele loudly
Ukulele banish evil
Ukulele save the people
Ukulele gleaming golden from the top of every steeple

Lizzie Borden took an axe, and gave her mother forty whacks
Then gave her father forty-one, and left a tragic puzzle
If only they had given her an instrument, those puritans
Had lost the plot completely
See what happens when you muzzle

A person’s creativity
And do not let them sing and scream
And nowadays it’s worse ‘cause kids have automatic handguns
It takes about an hour to teach someone to play the ukulele
About the same to teach someone to build a standard pipe bomb

So play your favorite cover song, especially if the words are wrong
‘Cause even if your grades are bad, it doesn’t mean you’re failing
Do your homework with a fork
And eat your fruit loops in the dark
And bring your flask of Jack to work
And play your ukulele

Ukulele, thing of wonder
Ukulele, wand of thunder
You can play the ukulele, too
In London and down under
Play Joan Jett, and play Jacques Brel
And Eminem and Neutral Milk Ho-
Tell the children
Crush the hatred
Play your ukulele naked
If anybody tries to steal your ukulele, let them take it

Imagine there’s no music, imagine there are no songs
Imagine that John Lennon wasn’t shot in front of his apartment
Now imagine if John Lennon had composed “Imagine” for the ukulele
Maybe people would have truly got the message

You may think my approach is simple-minded and naïve
Like if you want to change the world then why not quit and feed the hungry
But people for millennia have needed music to survive
And that is why I promised John that I will not feel guilty

So play your favorite Beatles song
And make the subway fall in love
They’re only $19.95, that isn’t lots of money
Play until the sun comes up
And play until your fingers suffer
Play LCD soundsystem songs on your ukulele

Quit the bitching on your blog
And stop pretending art is hard
Just limit yourself to three chords
And do not practice daily
You’ll minimize some stranger’s sadness
With a piece of wood and plastic
Holy fuck, it’s so fantastic, playing ukulele
Eat your homework with a fork
And do your fruit loops in the dark
Bring your etch-a-sketch to work

Your flask of Jack
Your vibrator
Your fear of heights
Your Nikon lens
Your mom and dad
Your disco stick
ukulele_anthemYour soundtrack to “Karate Kid”
Your Ginsu knives
Your rosary
Your new Rebecca Black CD
Your favorite room
Your Bowie knife
Your stuffed giraffe
Your new glass eye
Your sousaphone
Your breakfast tea
Your Nick Drake tapes
Your giving tree
Your ice cream truck
Your missing wife
Your will to live
Your urge to cry
Remember we’re all gonna die
So play, your ukulele

I could spend hours writing and talking about the meaning of that song. Instead I invite you to listen to it a few times and take your own meaning from it. All I’ll say is that I find it both profoundly sad and uplifting at the same time.

And that’s What’s Making Me Happy This Week.


PS Here’s some video that might make you happy:

“Ukulele Anthem” Live at Occupy Wall Street 10/12/11

Nirvana’s “Polly” performed by Amanda Palmer & the Grand Theft Orchestra

From → Music

  1. you shoudl throw a video of the ukulele anthem on here! Great post keep up the hard work. Check these out IStillGotMyGuitar.

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