Time these days seems to be passing at an incomprehensible rate, and the undeniable sense of growing older and growing apart from what had long ago been comfortable and familiar is creeping up on me on the outskirts of this thing called adulthood. It is in this light that tonight I was reminded of a monologue spoken to song that hit the airwaves in the States back in 1998/99. At that time, I was thirteen years old–a relentlessly difficult and awkward thirteen–and the truth I found resonating within its verses moved me profoundly even then. I distinctly remember sitting on the hard-wood floor in the corner of my small room, waiting for it to come on so I could record it on tape. And when the radio announcer finally put it on play, I couldn’t help but cry.
This song I speak of–read like a graduation speech–came to be commonly known as the ‘Sunscreen Song‘ and was originally a column that appeared in the Chicago Tribune on June 1, 1997, under the title ‘Advice, Like Youth, Probably Just Wasted on the Young’. Written by Mary Schmich, it was later published in her book titled Wear Sunscreen, and came to be so popular that it caught the attention of Australian film director Baz Luhrmann (Romeo + Juliet, Moulin Rouge), who then contacted Schmich and took Quindon Tarver‘s ‘Everybody’s Free (to Feel Good)’ from the Romeo + Juliet motion picture soundtrack, remixed it, and hired actor Lee Perry to read it. And that is how the following seven-minute ‘speech’ swept through the nation and became the most popular all-encompassing critique and advice on life in the 90s–and certainly nothing has come close in magnitude of mainstream impact since:
‘Sunscreen Song’ (1997)
Ladies and Gentlemen of the Class of ’97:
If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it.
The long term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists,
whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable
than my own meandering experience.
I will dispense this advice now:
Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth;
oh nevermind–you will not understand the power
and beauty of your youth
until they have faded.
But trust me,
in 20 years you’ll look back at photos of yourself
and recall in a way you can’t grasp now
how much possibility lay before you
and how fabulous you really looked.
You’re not as fat as you imagine.
Don’t worry about the future;
or worry, but know that worrying
is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation
by chewing bubblegum.
The real troubles in your life are apt to be things
that never crossed your worried mind–
the kind that blindside you at 4pm on some idle Tuesday.
Do one thing everyday that scares you.
Don’t be reckless with other people’s hearts,
don’t put up with people who are reckless with yours.
Don’t waste your time on jealousy;
sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind
the race is long, and in the end, it’s only with yourself.
Remember the compliments you receive,
forget the insults.
If you succeed in doing this,
tell me how.
Keep your old love letters,
throw away your old bank statements.
Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know
what you want to do with your life.
The most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22
what they wanted to do with their lives.
Some of the most interesting 40 year olds I know still don’t.
Get plenty of calcium.
Be kind to your knees,
you’ll miss them when they’re gone.
Maybe you’ll marry, maybe you won’t;
maybe you’ll have children, maybe you won’t;
maybe you’ll divorce at 40,
maybe you’ll dance the funky chicken
on your 75th wedding anniversary…
Whatever you do,
don’t congratulate yourself too much,
or berate yourself either.
Your choices are half chance;
so are everybody else’s.
Enjoy your body, use it every way you can.
Don’t be afraid of it, or what other people think of it;
it’s the greatest instrument you’ll ever own
Dance–even if you have nowhere to do it
but in your own living room.
Read the directions, even if you don’t follow them.
Do not read beauty magazines,
they will only make you feel ugly.
Get to know your parents;
you never know when they’ll be gone for good.
Be nice to your siblings; they are the best link to your past
and the people most likely to stick with you in the future.
Understand that friends come and go,
but for the precious few you should hold on.
Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle
because the older you get,
the more you need the people you knew when you were young.
Live in New York City once,
but leave before it makes you hard;
live in Northern California once,
but leave before it makes you soft.
Accept certain inalienable truths:
prices will rise, politicians will philander,
you too will get old.
And when you do,
you’ll fantasize that when you were young
prices were reasonable, politicians were noble,
and children respected their elders.
Respect your elders.
Don’t expect anyone else to support you.
Maybe you have a trust fund,
maybe you have a wealthy spouse,
but you never know when either one might run out.
Don’t mess too much with your hair,
or by the time you’re 40, it will look 85.
Be careful whose advice you buy,
but be patient with those who supply it. dd
Advice is a form of nostalgia,
dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal,
wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts,
and recycling it for more than it’s worth.
But trust me on the sunscreen.
Brother and sister together we’ll make it through
Someday your spirit will take you and guide you there
I know you’ve been hurting, and I know I’ve been waiting
to be there for you.
And I’ll be there, just tell me now, whenever I can.
– Mary Schmich
Compiled by Baz Luhrmann
Music by Quindon Tarver
Read by Lee Perry
See also: Something For Everybody: Baz Luhrmann (Album)
Sarah Badr © MMVI