First, here’s the suicide scene from the movie with a partial song, only 3 stanzas.
Alternately, here’s the complete song with lyrics.
Now here’s my take on the song. The lyrics make it one of my favorites of all time. I know all of the lyrics by heart. Though, I often get the verses out of order. I find the song hugely uplifting in the sense of knowing that when life is no longer better than the alternative, I always have a way out.
The song makes a great sales pitch for death with dignity.
I have long assumed that the lyrics were written by someone wise and probably at least middle-aged. I assumed they were already feeling their body beginning to deteriorate, given that view through the early morning fog of the pains that are withheld for me.
I assumed a lot about the author of the lyrics in particular.
So, imagine my surprise when I learned this from the wikipedia page about the song. (Emphasis mine)
The song was written specifically for Ken Prymus (the actor playing Private Seidman), who sang it during the faux suicide of Walter “Painless Pole” Waldowski (John Schuck) in the film’s “Last Supper” scene. Robert Altman had two stipulations about the song for Mandel: first, it had to be called “Suicide Is Painless”; second, it had to be the “stupidest song ever written”. Altman tried to write the lyrics himself, but found that it was too difficult for his 45-year-old brain to write “stupid enough”. Instead he gave the task to his 14-year-old-son, Michael, who apparently wrote the lyrics in five minutes.
On the upside, for those of us who love the song and especially its lyrics:
Robert Altman said that his son had earned more than a million US dollars for having co-written the song while he only made US$70,000 for having directed the movie.
So, should this change how I feel about the song? The message is the same regardless. And yet, I can’t help feeling that the fact that it was written by a 14 year old kid in 5 minutes takes a bit away from it.