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Featured column: Not So Happy Birthday
At the risk of confirming your suspicions that I’m at worst a curmudgeon or at best a grump, I am going to go ahead and say this: I am not a fan of one of the most popular songs on the planet. In fact, I have come to despise a tune that everyone knows (and tries to sing).
With all due respects to celebrants everywhere, I do not like “Happy Birthday.”
Don’t get me wrong, I like birthdays (although I am not as fond of my own as I used to be). I like parties, gifts and even games. I love cake. It’s just the song I don’t like. There are several reasons for my disdain for “Happy Birthday!”
First, you cannot attend a birthday bash without being forced or pushed into singing it. For non-singers like me, it’s similar to pushing a non-swimmer into the deep end. Many of us cannot carry a tune in a pointed birthday hat, yet our vocal shortcomings become obvious if we sing or we are the biggest party poopers around if we stay silent.
Second, very rarely is there musical accompaniment so it’s hard to sing, especially in a group. Without music to sing along with, no one sings “Happy Birthday” at the same pace, resulting in a rabbit-and-hare version where some people motor through the song, getting to the last “to you!” while some of us are still on one of the earlier “Happies.”
If you think about it, the lyrics are pretty boring, too. It’s just the same thing over and over again. It’s like the “Louie, Louie,” of the grade school scene. It’s not just school children, however, who have to sing the song. It’s all of us at parties for children, at events for senior citizens, at office get-togethers and even dinners out at restaurants.
We are part of a small group that meets weekly as part of our church. Once a month we celebrate birthdays for the month. I love the special desserts, but, well, let’s just say I love the special desserts. The problem is when we try to include everyone’s names in the singing. If there are more than one or two birthday honorees, I’m apt to forget the names (just like most everyone else). Even if we do remember to include them, good luck in making “Happy Birthday, Allen, Sally, Bob, James, Laura, Brittany, Sam, Carol and Wendy,” sound good. Nobody is able to sing them all in unison. (After all, we can’t even sing the rest of the song together.) Plus, if we do make it through the long list of names — which makes “Happy Birthday” about as long as “The Twelve Days of Christmas” — we need oxygen, not cake.
After hearing us sing, I’m sure birthday boys and girls don’t feel much like celebrating (unless there are really great gifts). Let’s give them a great present: the promise of no more ear-splitting “Happy Birthday” singing.
I suggest that we try celebrating birthdays without the song. How about a countdown before blowing out the candles? We could even count backwards from the age of the guest of honor. (Or not, that might even take longer than the big list of birthday honorees.) Let’s at least find some way to do without the tune. It’s got to go because I can’t think of any song as abused as “Happy Birthday.”
Unless it is “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” butchered by broadcasters, athletes, politicians and celebrities at ballparks across the nation. Or the National Anthem. Maybe “Happy Birthday” is not so bad after all.
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