Sunday, December 13, 2009

In the Year 2525

[The Summer of '69 stories start here.]

In the year 2525
if man is still alive,
if woman can survive,
they may find.

"This song is so stupid."

I would put an exclamation point there, but Terri said it with a sigh, not excitement, so I don't think it deserves an exclamation point.

We both groaned whenever it came on. Anguished soft cries of "They may find what ??".

We were allowed to have a radio on in the shop. Not too loud. Terri liked 77 WABC. Remember Top 40 AM radio? These people do.

I'll get right back to that. But first let's clear up what's going on.

I was not Terri's replacement. Like antique stores, Schoolmaster Books had more traffic in the summer, and Sue the owner was out more often to buy. So she needed two helpers. When she was out, Terri was able to run the shop with me assisting.

People coming in were only part of it. There was a catalog that Sue typed up and duplicated and sent out a few times a year. Because of this we had to visit the post office almost every day, and track everything we sold in the shop or by mail that was in the catalog. You might be interested to know how we did all this without computers. I started to write it out but it's crazy long. I'm just going to say that it involved a lot of paper and handwriting.

The first day I worked, a beautiful Saturday in late June, Terri took me for a walk to the post office. It was great. Don't ask me why. It just was. I felt good.

The post office was only a few blocks from the shop. On the way we made pointless complaints about the size and weight of two book packages we were taking to send out. When we got there Terri showed me how to pay the postage and get receipts, and where our box was and how to open it with the key. We made more pointless remarks about how old the set of post office box windows seemed to be. Maybe fifty years then, I think now.

It was fun going to work. Learning how they did things gave me enough excuses to talk to Terri without my brain going numb, and I got used to it. I had a nice new life going on. Change was good.

And we could spend some time in the big front room commenting on songs on the radio.

From the last week of June, I was working full time, Wednesday to Sunday. The WABC Top 20 included some songs I liked listening to.

Three Dog Night, "One"
Blood, Sweat and Tears, "Spinning Wheel"
Elvis Presley, "In the Ghetto"
The Beatles, "Get Back"
Creedence Clearwater Revival, "Bad Moon Rising"
Desmond Dekker and the Aces, "Israelites"
Checkmates Ltd, "Black Pearl"

I know it's just a list, and if you weren't there a list of artists and titles doesn't do much for you. But they're all on Youtube. Go ahead. You won't be sorry.

And the one that bar bands perform the most today is "Bad Moon Rising", isn't it? Ah, Creedence. "There's a bathroom on the right."

But you know what got the most airplay that summer.

If you're lucky, it's been years since you've heard the Zager and Evans opus "In the Year 2525 (Exordium and Terminus)". Sweet puppies of Babylon, that is the full title.

If you're young, you're even more lucky : maybe you've escaped hearing it entirely.

Here, don't miss the fun. Turn up the volume.


The Wikipedia page for the song is a thing to behold. It's got scholarly comment like this:

... the pattern as well as the music changes, going up a half step in the key of the song, after two stanzas, first from A Flat Minor, to A Minor, and, then, finally, to B Flat Minor, and verses for the years 7510, 8510 and 9595 follow. The song has no chorus.

Well, duh. The truckdriver's gear shift. You know. You've heard a big truck shift gears as it goes up the hill, vrooooooom, vraaaaaaam.

They go up a half step because things are getting so boring that we'll lose our minds if they don't do something! I'm not talking about changing key to enter a new part of the song : I'm talking about changing key and then just repeating the same melody in the new key.

If there was an Official Scorer for pop music, this would get an error. You might not lose the game, but you're going to have to do something good to make up for it. I heard Bruce Springsteen's "Glory Days" playing the other day as I was thinking about this, and he shifts real good going into the third verse, but I think he redeems himself.

One might argue whether it's chorus or verse that's missing in "2525", but whatever you call it, the brief four-line melody repeats a mind-numbing eight times as they go from 2525 to 9595. Not only is the music the same, but the lyrics also follow a lockstep pattern. Shift, please. In fact, let's shift twice, we need it!

The song annoyed me in so many ways, I am not sure where to start.

Terri and I got some laughs out of it. We'd cry "oh no" when it came on, and try to find something new to complain about each time. It was like what they later did for movies in Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Let's start with this. It bothered me just simply that they jumped ahead by thousands. It was so far. I didn't see how we could imagine one thousand years into the future and say anything sensible. A hundred years is hard.

Looking back now, see what trouble you get into with that:

In the year 6565
ain't gonna need no husband, won't need no wife.
You'll pick your son, pick your daughter too,
from the bottom of a long glass tube, whoa-oh.

6565? We can pretty much do that in 2009, for pity's sake! By the way that "whoa-oh" is where he shifts the truck into second gear.

The other predictions made no sense at all. Try this one:

In the year 4545
ain't gonna need your teeth, won't need your eyes.
You won't find a thing to chew.
Nobody's gonna look at you.

What? Mind you, I don't want to give up eating and seeing, but am I supposed to get worried about this?

I can't even imagine everyone having a test tube baby, because the traditional method of conception is fun if it works for you. But even less can I imagine people deciding they're tired of eating, or tired of seeing. Why would that ever happen?

Oh, I feel like an idiot for even telling you why that verse is stupid.

But that's nothing. We're not done here.

Suddenly after 6565 we get Christian eschatology! Yes! After all, what's a more logical progression than this: we think about artificial sexual reproduction, and then we think about judgement day. There are people who always think of those together.

In the year 7510
If God's a-comin' He oughta make it by then.
Maybe He'll look around Himself and say,
Guess it's time for the judgment day.

In the year 8510
God is gonna shake His mighty head.
He'll either say I'm pleased where man has been
or tear it down and start again, whoa-oh.

What's this 7510? Why not 7575? Oh, I'm sure it's because "seventy" has an extra syllable and Zager and Evans didn't want to stumble through saying it twice in one line. In other words mechanical considerations trump meaning. There was no other reason to shorten the gap to 945 years, was there?

God must be an Ent. He looks around, and then a thousand years later, he shakes his head. Let's not be hasty.

"Whoa-oh", slam it into third, we're rollin' now.

Shouldn't it be "Exordium et Terminus" if we're going to get all Latin about it? Terri liked that one. She'd had Latin too.

I think it was Terri who jumped first on the problem with the pretentious summing-up section, namely the starting line:

Now it's been ten thousand years.

Ten thousand years since what? Does he think the human race started in the year zero?

Oh, wait just a minute. Is he saying that the decline of humanity started with the birth of Jesus? We laughed evil laughs at that one. It's Satanic! And you don't even have to play it backwards! Why did no one else see it?

To be comprehensive we tried to think what happened In the Year 1515 and In the Year 505 that got the pattern started. We couldn't come up with anything. We had the 1911 Encyclopædia Brittanica handy (and I mean the real one on paper, not Project Gutenberg!), and the two of us betrayed what school rats we were by looking through it intensely to find something significantly decadent that happened in those years. As if.

I think we were looking up the history of different countries that we thought existed at those dates. We read aloud little-known facts that had nothing to do with anything. It was nice being silly together. We got a little off topic, but who cared. OK, back to that stanza:

Man has cried a billion tears
for what he never knew.
Now man's reign is through.

To be consistent with verse 1, "man" refers only to male humans. So implicitly "woman" will finally be in charge after the year 9595. Probably a network of witch covens. Hee hee. That might be all right, if we can get back to eating and looking at each other. Maybe not till the year 105105, which is a 95,510 year gap, but who's counting?

We're getting to the real meaning now. This song with its hypnotic repetition is intended to addle our brains and speed the apocalypse, turning the centuries into days, even hours. Yes. Let us greet the end of days. O Zager. O Evans.


Their followup single on RCA-Victor, "Mr. Turnkey" (a song about a rapist who nails his own wrist to the wall as punishment for his crime), failed to chart.

Go figure.

His wrist, huh?

Robin Gibb once said something significant about all this, and considering I co-wrote a biography of him and his brothers, I should be able to quote it, but I can't find it. Anyway the gist of it was that hearing a pop record can bring back vivid memories of a time in your life when you first heard it. He's right.

Look what "In the Year 2525" does to me. I'm back there, with a little radio on, "days I'll remember all my life" as Ray Davies said a year earlier. I hate the song, but I liked the times. The world was simple and the future bright.

The image of Zager (left) and Evans is from the video.  Detail of Das Jüngste Gericht by Hans Memling, painted 1467-1471.

[The next Summer of '69 story is Cake and the Moon.]

Next time: Cake and the Moon.


  1. Great song! Z&E were prophets! You will be proven the year 10,001 (or when a billion tears have been shed, whichever comes first).

  2. The timescales may be misjudged, and the lyrics may not be born of original thought, but by God I do beleive that this song has come of age in 2012.

  3. The song is pure genius, how you fail to comprehend that is sad.

  4. Never heard it when it came out and I didn't care. Saw the album cover, and wrote them off immediately. Summer '69 saw me listening to the Dead, Quicksilver Messenger Service, and Jefferson Airplane, saw the Airplane with Joe Cocker 2 weeks before Woodstock at Fillmore East - there was a show!!! Saw Spirit in October with a friend, they were very good. Kinks opened but Ray Davies was drunk. They previewed some of Arthur...