Wear Sunscreen is the common name of an essay written as a potential commencement speech by Mary Schmich, and published in a June 1997 Chicago Tribune column titled "Advice, like youth, probably just wasted on the young". The text, giving a series of general advice intended to live a happier life and avoid common frustrations, spread massively via viral email, often erroneously attributed to author Kurt Vonnegut as an actual commencement speech he would have given at MIT.
The essay became the basis for a successful spoken word song released in 1998 by Baz Luhrmann, "Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)", also known as the Sunscreen Song. The song itself inspired numerous parodies.
Chicago Tribune column
Mary Schmich's column "Advice, like youth, probably just wasted on the young" was published in the Chicago Tribune on June 1, 1997. In the column's introduction, she presents the essay as the commencement speech she would give if she were asked to give one.
In the speech, she insists on advising to wear sunscreen, and recites other likewise advice and warnings, intended to live a happier life and avoid common frustrations. She later explained that the initial inspiration for what advice to offer in it came from seeing a young woman sunbathing, and hoping that she was wearing sunscreen, unlike what she herself did at that age.
The essay soon became the subject of an urban legend which said that it was an MIT commencement speech given by author Kurt Vonnegut. In truth, MIT's commencement speaker in 1997 was Kofi Annan and Vonnegut had never been the commencement speaker there. Despite a follow-up article by Schmich on August 3, 1997, the story became so widespread that Vonnegut's lawyer began receiving requests to reprint the speech. Vonnegut commented that he would have been proud had the words been his.
Schmich published a short gift book adaption of the essay, Wear Sunscreen: A Primer for Real Life, in 1998. A tenth anniversary edition was published in 2008.
Baz Luhrmann version
|"Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)"|
|Single by Baz Luhrmann|
|from the album Something for Everybody|
|B-side||"Love Is in the Air"|
|Released||March 9, 1999|
|Writer(s)||Mary Schmich, Nigel Swanston, Tim Cox|
|Producer(s)||Baz Luhrmann, Josh Abrahams, Nellee Hooper|
|Baz Luhrmann singles chronology|
CD-Maxi Capitol 8871762 (EMI) / EAN 0724388717625 
- "Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)" (Edit) (5:05)
- "Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)" (Geographic's Factor 15+ Mix) (4:42)
- "Love Is In The Air (Fran Mix)" performed by John Paul Young (4:30)
The essay was used in its entirety by Australian film director Baz Luhrmann on his 1998 album Something for Everybody, as "Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)". Also known as the Sunscreen Song, it sampled Luhrmann's remixed version of the song "Everybody's Free (To Feel Good)" by Rozalla, and opened with the words "Ladies and Gentlemen of the Class of '99" (instead of "'97", as in the original column). It was later released as a single, in 1999.
Luhrmann explained that Anton Monsted, Josh Abrahams and he were working on the remix when Monsted received an email with the supposed Vonnegut speech. They decided to use it but were doubtful of getting through to Vonnegut for permission before their deadline, which was only one or two days away. While searching the internet for contact information they came upon the "Sunscreen Controversy" and discovered that Schmich was the actual author. They emailed her and, with her permission, recorded the song the next day.
The song features a spoken-word track set over a mellow backing track. The "Wear Sunscreen" speech is narrated by Australian voice actor Lee Perry. The backing is the choral version of "Everybody's Free (To Feel Good)", a 1991 song by Rozalla, used in Luhrmann's film William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet. The chorus, also from "Everybody's Free", is sung by Quindon Tarver.
The song was a top-ten hit across Europe, but largely obscure in the US until Aaron Scofield, a producer in Phoenix, Arizona, edited the original 12" version into a segment of a syndicated radio show called Modern Mix. This show played on many stations in the United States. In Portland, Oregon—where Modern Mix played on KNRK—listeners began requesting the track. KNRK program director Mark Hamilton edited the song for time and began playing it regularly. He distributed the song to other program directors that he networked with and the song exploded in the US.
The song reached number 45 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States, and number one in the United Kingdom and Ireland, partly due to a media campaign by Radio One DJ Chris Moyles. It is played during the end credits in John Swanbeck's film The Big Kahuna, starring Kevin Spacey, Danny DeVito and Peter Facinelli.
There are four versions of the song: the original 7:09 minutes mix from the album Baz Luhrmann Presents: Something For Everybody; a 1999 single release which features an 5:05 minute edit that lacks both choruses; "Geographic's Factor 15+ Mix" that runs for 4:42 minutes and a "2007 Mix" of the original 7:09 minute version released on the 10th Anniversary Edition of the William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet soundtrack on which the opening words are changed to "Ladies and gentlemen of the class of 2007".
There are two videos for the song: one which uses the 1999 5:05 minute single edit of the song (the version in which Quindon Tarver is featured), directed and animated by Bill Barminski; and, another a version using the 7:09 minute edit, made by the Brazilian advertising agency DM9DDB.
The song also appeared in Germany, and was soon followed by a German version with the title "Sonnencreme". The German translation is narrated by the German actor Dieter Brandecker. There is also a Brazilian version which is narrated in Portuguese by Pedro Bial as well as a Swedish version, narrated by Rikard Wolff. A Russian adaptation of the song, recorded live by Silver Rain Radio, was performed by Alex Dubas and Yolka.
On August 10, 2008, the song re-entered the UK Singles Chart at number 72.
American comedian Chris Rock enjoyed great success with his spoken word song "No Sex (In the Champagne Room)" which was then subsequently parodied on Mad TV called "Ain't No Blacks on the TV Screen" in the style of Rock's stand-up. The song was also parodied in an episode of Disney's House of Mouse performed by Jiminy Cricket. The comedy group Three Dead Trolls in a Baggie also made a parody entitled "The Sunscreen Marketing Board". Jegsy Dodd and the Original Sinners' version, "Grumpy Old Men" was voted favourite track of 2005 by BBC Radio 1 listeners in their annual Festive 50 poll.
Charts and certifications
- Wear Sunscreen (Andrews McMeel Publishing, 1998) ISBN 0-8362-5528-3
- Alvarez, Justin. ""Wear Sunscreen": The Story Behind the Commencement Speech That Kurt Vonnegut Never Gave". Open Culture. Retrieved 31 January 2014.
- "The Sunscreen Song (class of '99)" is used as an alternative title on the cover of the single; see also the single's "Editorial Reviews" on Amazon, and "The Cyber-Saga of the 'Sunscreen' Song" by the Washington Post.
- Mary Schmich (1997-06-01). "Original published article". Chicago Tribune.
- Frank Ahrens (1999-03-18). "The Cyber-Saga of the 'Sunscreen' Song". Washington Post.
- Fisher, Ian (1997-08-06), "It's All the Talk of the Internet's Gossip Underground", The New York Times
- Mary Schmich (1997-08-03). "Follow-up article". Chicago Tribune.
- Steffen Hung. "Baz Luhrmann - Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)". australian-charts.com. Retrieved 2014-04-01.
- "Something for Everybody". Something for Everybody. 2002-12-05. Archived from the original on 2002-12-05. Retrieved 2009-07-14.
- "Lee Perry (I)". Imdb.com. 1959-12-16. Retrieved 2009-07-14.
- Baz Luhrmann Goes to the Top of the Class By Applying His Sunscreen. Billboard Magazine. 1999-04-03. Retrieved 2009-12-20.
- "Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen) Bill Barminski's version". youtube. 2007-05-24. Retrieved 2010-06-01.
- "Everybody's Free to Wear Sunscreen! DM9DDB's version". youtube. 2006-12-12. Retrieved 2010-06-01.
- "everybody's free (to wear sunscreen)". Brainfusion. 2001-01-22. Archived from the original on 2001-01-22. Retrieved 2009-07-14.
- "Sonnencreme (Everybody's...) [Import]: Baz Luhrmann: Amazon.com". Amazon.com. Retrieved 2011-04-13.
- "О пользе солнцезащитных кремов" (in Russian). Blog of Alex Dubas. 2009-12-20. Retrieved 2011-02-19.
- Steffen Hung. "John Safran - Not The Sunscreen Song". australian-charts.com. Retrieved 2014-04-01.
- "Ultratop.be – Baz Luhrmann – Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)" (in Dutch). Ultratop 50. Retrieved May 6, 2012.
- "Die ganze Musik im Internet: Charts, News, Neuerscheinungen, Tickets, Genres, Genresuche, Genrelexikon, Künstler-Suche, Musik-Suche, Track-Suche, Ticket-Suche – musicline.de" (in German). Media Control Charts. PhonoNet GmbH. Retrieved May 6, 2012.
- "The Irish Charts – All there is to know" (insert "Baz Luhrmann" into the "Search by Artist" box, and select "Search"). irishcharts.ie. Irish Recorded Music Association. Retrieved May 6, 2012.
- "Nederlandse Top 40 – week 29, 1999" (in Dutch). Dutch Top 40 Retrieved May 6, 2012.
- "Norwegiancharts.com – Baz Luhrmann – Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)". VG-lista. Retrieved May 6, 2012.
- "Swedishcharts.com – Baz Luhrmann – Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)". Singles Top 60. Retrieved May 6, 2012.
- "Baz Luhrmann – Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen) – swisscharts.com". Swiss Singles Chart. Retrieved May 6, 2012.
- "Archive Chart" UK Singles Chart. Retrieved January 15, 2012.
- "Baz Luhrmann Album & Song Chart History" Billboard Adult Pop Songs for Baz Luhrmann. Retrieved May 6, 2012.
- "Baz Luhrmann Album & Song Chart History" Billboard Hot 100 for Baz Luhrmann. Retrieved May 6, 2012.
- "Baz Luhrmann Album & Song Chart History" Billboard Pop Songs for Baz Luhrmann. Retrieved May 6, 2012.
- "British single certifications – Baz Luhrmann – Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved May 6, 2012. Enter Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen) in the field Search. Select Title in the field Search by. Select single in the field By Format. Click Go
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