Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Music to Write By: Emily Lubitz's "Dumb Ways to Die"

Why Listen? For good-hearted irrationality, aural enjoyment, and a noteworthy approach to placing messages in art.

How do you like incongruity in your humor? If you're a fan of Tom Lehrer (the artist previously featured in this ongoing series), you enjoy lots of wry wit and a heavily sardonic tone that makes you smirk even as you snigger. But that's not the only way to serve up absurdity, as Emily Lubitz's "Dumb Ways to Die" shows us.

Believe it or not, "Dumb Ways to Die" might be one of the most sonically relaxing songs out there. Folksy, fingerpicked guitar, understated drum riffs, and spare piano improvisation underpin Lubitz's tuneful, almost girlish voice. It's enough to make you want to kick back in a favorite chair with your favorite chilled beverage -- until you start paying attention to the lyrics:
Set fire to your hair.
Poke a stick at a grizzly bear.
Eat medicine that's out-of-date.
Use your private parts as piranha bait.

Dumb ways to die.
So many dumb way to day.
Well, you have to say that the catchy little ditty is appropriately named. And not only will its melodic hooks have you humming about gruesome dismemberment, the video might make you want to share the wonton violence with family and friends. Animator Julian Frost populates it with pastel-colored people who dance along to the catchy chorus as they perish in increasingly awful (and funny) ways. A victim of explosive decompression waves his eyeballs back and forth in time with the beat. A pet rattlesnake dangles from its owner's face as he jives. An organ donor who unwisely sold both kidneys online proudly brandishes the earnings.

"Dumb Ways to Die" succeeds, no doubt about it. Yet it might've remained nothing but a cultural curiosity if not for its message. Oh, yes, this combination of cheer and grue is actually a PSA for the Melbourne, Australia, metro service. It ends with a trio of characters dying due to their own stupidity near railroad tracks. Current taste seems to frown upon overt "messages" in art, but perhaps it's instructive that the good-hearted irrationality of "Dumb Ways to Die" was racked up 83 million views on YouTube.


Rhonda Parrish said...


I didn't even press play on the video but now that song is totally stuck in my head. I mean, I love the song (and the video) but after posting this I need to revise... a horror novel. I'm not sure dumb ways to die is the best head music to accompany that LoL

Loren Eaton said...

Just imagine what happens to the spaceman. That the most visceral death in the whole thing, I think. Quite the mood setter.