Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
And remember what peace there may be, in silence.
If that sounds vaguely familiar, you may even heard a heavenly choir rising behind those spoken words in your memory. If you were alive in America in 1971, you would have been hard-pressed to avoid the cultural phenomenon of Desiderata.
Written in 1927 by Max Ehrman, the prose-poem remained largely unknown during his lifetime — used in an Episcopal collection of devotional materials and distributed to soldiers during World War II. It remained obscure until rights changed hands in 1967, when it began to spark notice for its inspirational message.
In late 1970, Les Crane released this recording, complete with choir.
This spoken word version gained widespread airplay across multiple radio formats, soaring to #8 on the U.S. Billboard charts. Ehrman’s inspirational poem started showing up in sermons, graduation speeches, and wedding vows across the land.
Posters went up everywhere, especially in university dorm rooms. Other performers released their own versions.
The song even went international, including popular versions in Spanish and German.
Inspirational as it is upon initial listening, like so many overplayed. radio hits, it suffered from massive overexposure, the sort that naturally provokes parody.
Enter the National Lampoon and the Detiorata.
Written by Tony Hendra and released on the National Lampoon Radio Dinner album, this got plenty of play at our college house, Thistle.
We were already huge National Lampoon fans, but this song captured the early 70s so perfectly, we played it again and again and again — especially if we had visitors who had not heard it. It practically became the Thistle theme song. We even put up one of the posters in our living room!
Hits come and hits go and parodies wear thin when the target loses popularity, so both versions — the “original” version and the “perversion” — had faded from my mind by the time we all left Thistle. National Lampoon moved on to produce the brilliant Woodstock-parody, Lemmings, on the way to making their major motion picture debut, National Lampoon’s Animal House.
Meanwhile, a couple from our second wave of Thistle roommates, Ace and his girlfriend, Cheryl, decided to get married. Ace asked Mac to be his Best Man, and since he couldn’t have two Best Men, we joked about me being Second Best Man (officially just another groomsman). Truthfully, both Mac & I felt this marriage was a seriously bad idea on Ace’s part, and considered refusing his request. Finally, after the two of us talked it over, though, we decided if our friend really was making a big mistake, all the more reason to stand by him.
At the altar, Ace was suitably nervous, nearly dropping the ring, and Mac and I were suitably serious, if not quite somber. We’re sneaking glances at each other, hoping for the best, and we’re doing just fine right up to the point the minister starts the selected reading, saying, “Go placidly…”
We both nearly lost it right there.
I don’t remember what brought these two songs to mind last week, luring me down the rabbit-hole of the internet. I verified the background of the poem & recordings, found videos of both, and researched both songs. That’s when I discovered that the poem had actually made a couple of rather public appearances before Les Crane’s version. For one, the legendary Joan Crawford recited it after a TV interview with David Frost in January 1970. Even more intriguing though, was discovering a version titled, “Spock Thoughts.”
That’s right, Leonard Nimoy included this on his 1968 album, Two Sides of Spock.
One interesting note: this version, as well as some others, changes the start of the second-to-last line from “Be cheerful…” to “Be careful…”, both admirable admonitions. I suppose a Star Fleet officer should advise caution, but I suspect they just figured Spock saying “Be cheerful” might sound odd.
Whether you choose to channel Spock’s thoughts, Les Crane’s mega-hit or Hendra’s parody, rest assured that they all recommend that we: