March 11, 2012

Updating Gilbert's lyrics: a fun tradition

"Scharfrichter" (Executioner)
No one can improve on the witty, urbane and virtuosic lyrics of W. S. Gilbert in the memorable operettas he turned out with his partner Arthur Sullivan.  But, seeing as how so much of his humor consists of satire on the society of his own time, it's hard not to wish the old chap was around today to aim his barbs at our culture.  What a field day Gilbert would've had with American politics, reality TV, rock music...  the mind reels.

Since we can't really dig him up and re-animate the real Gilbert, modern-day directors often wind up channeling him by adding verses to some of his songs.  A prime example is Ko-Ko's number in Act I of The Mikado, "As some day it may happen".  This is the song in which, from his lofty position as Lord High Executioner of Titipu, Japan, he shares with us the various irritating types he wouldn't mind adding to the waiting-line for execution.  His list isn't all that "little", actually; it goes on for three verses with examples like these from verse two:

There's the banjo serenader, and the others of his race,
And the piano-organist - I've got him on the list!
And the people who eat peppermint and puff it in your face,
They never would be missed - they never would be missed!
Then the idiot who praises, with enthusiastic tone,
All centuries but this, and every country but his own;
And the lady from the provinces, who dresses like a guy,
And who "doesn't think she dances, but would rather like to try";
And that singular anomaly, the lady novelist -
I don't think she'd be missed - I'm sure she'd not be missed!

Wonderful; clever; droll.  But again: if Ko-Ko lived in modern times, who would be the latest to be sent to his poetic death-row?  LOTS of people think they have a fair idea, including the creative team behind Virginia Opera's current Mikado, and also including ME! ...your humble blogger.  Here are a few of many, many, examples, concluding with my own newly-composed version.

From Monty Python:
There's interior designers, window dressers and that sort,
Bank robbers who retire to Spain the minute they get caught;
Or those who have their noses pierced or men who dye their hair;
Or idiots who host chat shows and disc jockeys everywhere,
And customs men who fumbling through your underwear insist;
They'd none of them be missed; they'd none of them be missed!

From Stewie Griffin, the erudite infant on the Family Guy animated series:
There's the white kid with the baggy clothes who's talking like he's black,
The girl you date who doesn't get the jokes in Caddy Shack;
The Asian guy who cuts in front of every single line,
And Britney Spears for accidentally showing her vagine;
And Bill O'Reilly's ineffective dermatologist,
May none of them be missed; may none of them be missed!

There are other updatings on the Web, e.g. from a singing librarian, from a retiring administrator at SUNY-Potsdam;  well, you can go to Google and YouTube and spend all day compiling your own little list of little lists.

But on to MINE.  You want to see MINE, don't you?  Of course you do - because it's MINE.

Well, if you insist...  <blushes modestly>  And here we go!  By the way, I wrote this during a period when it seemed there was a Republican presidential debate pretty much every day of the week, so I had Newt and Mitt & co. on my mind... just for a little context for y'all...

The oval office seeker who wants cities on the moon,
His rival who says "I'm like you!" though he's a big tycoon;
Those wild-eyed church fanatics who just love to make a scene
At military funerals, and think themselves so keen;
Those irritating saps who go on Facebook every day
With constant status updates, though they've not a thing to say
But "I love pie" or "I'm at work", and think we actually care
About the endless photographs of cats they feel that they must share;
Those "Housewife of New Jersey" shows which, sad to say, persist;
They'd none of 'em be missed; they'd none of 'em be missed!

Giada de Laurentiis, Paula Deen and Rachel Ray,
And other TV chefs who foist upon us an array
Of dietary horrors filled with butterfat and cream
So rich that when we weigh ourselves it causes us to scream;
People who when eating chew their food with open lips
So we can watch them masticate their blasted fish and chips;
And all those hacks who write new words they think should co-exist
With those of Mr. Gilbert; oh dear Lord, THEY won't be missed!

My new book The Opera Zoo: Singers, Composers and Other Primates is now available from Kendall Hunt Publishing. Order online at or by phone from the Customer Service line at 1-800-344-9034 ext.3020. 

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