M*A*S*H Lyrics – Written by a 14 Year Old … In 5 Minutes!

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.

Anyone else?


4 Responses to M*A*S*H Lyrics – Written by a 14 Year Old … In 5 Minutes!

  1. ECA says:

    I know people who watched the series and never the movie…
    The movie took me awhile to see..about 5 years after release.

    The song was great.

    • In watched the TV show a lot growing up, from about the age of 10 or so. It was only in my later teens I learned about the movie and watched it.

      Both the movie and show are excellent. The movie is generally darker comedy overall. But, the show mixes lighter humor and more serious drama, in my opinion, but doesn’t have quite as dark humor.

      I may be misremembering. I need to see the movie again. I just put it on the top of my Netflix queue. The disk should arrive soon.

      Does the fact that the song lyrics were written by a 14 year old change anything about it for you?

      • Rodnikov Magilovich says:

        No! I have not seen the movie, or the series, nor heard the song! But regards the author being only 14 does not change the fact that his genius or inventiveness is superior to that of his elders!
        Creativity is more a function of intellect, and only slightly modified by experience! However there maybe cases in which experience brings such originality to the surface! Give the kid his due!

  2. Rod. I didn’t mean to denigrate the kid’s creativity. The thing about this particular song is that the lyrics sound as if they were written by someone who has far more life experience than one would expect from a healthy 14 year old.

    The lyrics talk about the “pains that are withheld for me” and “the sword of time [that] will pierce our skins”. It’s a view of life I don’t expect from someone who has, quite simply, not experienced the initially slow but geometrically increasing passage of years and the pains that come with it.

    Some highly unfortunate children do experience severe pain. But, even in such cases, I would not describe their experiences as a result of the sword of time.

    I’d be curious to hear if your opinion changes after listening to the full song with lyrics (the second embedded video). If you haven’t heard the song, I’d say it’s 3 minutes well spent listening to it. If you don’t like it, you need not listen to it again.

    The music is certainly mellow enough to be inoffensive. And the lyrics give me comfort that I need not experience the full brunt of the pains that are withheld for me as the sword of time works its way on in.

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