"Advice, like youth, probably just wasted on the young", commonly known by the title "Wear Sunscreen", is an essay written as a hypothetical commencement speech by columnist Mary Schmich, originally published in June 1997 in the Chicago Tribune. The essay, giving various pieces of advice on how to live a happier life and avoid common frustrations, spread massively via viral email, is often erroneously described as a commencement speech given by author Kurt Vonnegut at MIT.
The essay became the basis for a successful spoken word song released in 1999 by Baz Luhrmann, "Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)", also known as "The Sunscreen Song". The song reached number one in Ireland and the United Kingdom and 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 Schmich presents the essay as the commencement speech she would give if she were asked to give one.
In the speech she insistently recommends the wearing of sunscreen, and dispenses other advice and warnings which are intended to help people live a happier life and avoid common frustrations. She later explained that the inspiration came from seeing a young woman sunbathing, and hoping that she was wearing sunscreen, unlike what Schmich herself did at that age.
The essay soon became the subject of an urban legend which claimed it was an MIT commencement speech given by author Kurt Vonnegut. In reality, MIT's commencement speaker in 1997 was Kofi Annan and Vonnegut had never been a 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 adaptation 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"|
|Genre||Spoken word, downtempo|
|Songwriter(s)||Mary Schmich, Nigel Swanston, Tim Cox|
|Producer(s)||Baz Luhrmann, Josh Abrahams, Nellee Hooper|
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)". It was released in some territories in 1997, with the speech (including its opening words, "Ladies and Gentlemen of the Class of '97") completely intact. This version appeared in the Triple J Hottest 100 of that year at number 16 in the countdown, and was released on the subsequent CD in early 1998. In the United Kingdom, the song was released on May 31, 1999.
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, appearing at the end and during the credits of the 1999 movie, "The Big Kahuna."
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" authorship 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, edited the original 12-inch 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.
There are four versions of the song: the original 7:09 minute mix from the album Baz Luhrmann Presents: Something for Everybody; a 1999 single release which features a 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".
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. A Brazilian version is narrated in Portuguese by Pedro Bial, and a Swedish version is narrated by Rikard Wolff. A Russian adaptation of the song, recorded live by Silver Rain Radio, was performed by Alex Dubas and Yolka. An Israeli adaptation of the song, named "Matters One Should Know" (דברים שכדאי לדעת), was recorded and released for the Israeli Children's channel in 2004 by Avri Gilad, Rinat Gabay and MC Shiri.
Daily Record wrote, "Luhrmann's single is the biggest spoken-word hit since JJ Barrie topped the charts with No Charge in 1976. The lyrics began life as a newspaper article." James Oldham from NME commented, "Unless you have been holidaying on Jupiter for the last two months, this remarkable and potentially nauseating record will have burrowed its way into your deep subconscious by now." He added, "Luhrmann's postmodern masterpiece is half pisstake, half soul-soothing brain massage and all genius; a DIY pop landmark for the end of the self-help decade. Buy this record. Twenty years from now, in ways you can't even begin to imagine today, you will be glad you did."
The song reached number 24 on the Billboard Hot 100 Airplay in the United States; by the time it was released as a commercial single in the country, radio airplay had declined significantly, and only managed to peak at number 45 on the Billboard Hot 100. In Canada the song peaked at number 11 on the RPM Top Singles chart and topped the RPM Adult Contemporary chart. It also reached number one in the United Kingdom and Ireland, partly due to a media campaign by Radio One DJ Chris Moyles. On August 10, 2008, the song re-entered the UK Singles Chart at number 72.
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 not featured), directed and animated by Bill Barminski; and another using the 7:09 minute edit made by the Brazilian advertising agency DM9DDB.
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
Charts and certifications
American comedian Chris Rock enjoyed great success with his spoken word song "No Sex (In the Champagne Room)" which was in turn parodied on Mad TV as "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.
Angelos Epithemiou's live tour included a parody of the song titled "Don't Muck About".
A parody entitled "Mow Against The Grain" appears on the King of the Hill soundtrack album.
Another parody was created in 1999 by London Capital Radio Breakfast Show host Chris Tarrant, who created a version called "wear slippers" which consisted of him reading an alternative version of the sunscreen lyrics and demonstrated his disdain for Baz Luhrmann's version.
- Alvarez, Justin. ""Wear Sunscreen": The Story Behind the Commencement Speech That Kurt Vonnegut Never Gave". Open Culture. Retrieved January 31, 2014.
- Schmich, Mary (June 1, 1997). "Advice, like youth, probably just wasted on the young". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved April 28, 2020.
- "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 (June 1, 1997). "Original published article". Chicago Tribune.
- Frank Ahrens (March 18, 1999). "The Cyber-Saga of the 'Sunscreen' Song". Washington Post.
- Fisher, Ian (August 6, 1997), "It's All the Talk of the Internet's Gossip Underground", The New York Times
- Mary Schmich (August 3, 1997). "Follow-up article". Chicago Tribune.
- Schmich, Mary (2008). Wear Sunscreen: A Primer for Real Life. Andrews McMeel Publishing. ISBN 978-0740777172.
March 1, 2008 [...] The 10th anniversary edition of Mary Schmich's timeless advice [...]
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