The Armageddon Playlist

The ICBMs have been launched. This is it – the End of the World – so what would you like to watch or listen to in the few minutes before a massive EMP wipes out all electronic communication?

There is an urban legend that Ted Turner, founder of CNN, planned to capture this demographic with a pre-Apocalypse video to be played as the last broadcast on his channel, before the bombs fell. It turns out to be true, as reported in the Guardian, and you can see the video here.

Well, what do you think? I think it’s the expression of everything that made a nuclear war possible – sentimental jingoism, aided and abetted by a military band, to convince patriotic Americans that their sacrifice was worth the cause of defeating communism. Appropriating Nearer My God to Thee, famously played by the ship’s band on the Titanic, is particularly cynical. The iceberg was a blameless force of nature, nuclear brinkmanship a calculated political decision.

So what else might we while away the minutes with? Tom Lehrer, who gave up satire when real life began stealing his best lines, brought us this.

See? We’re all in this together. On the other hand, communal spirit sounds suspiciously like communism, so perhaps we shouldn’t go with that. What’s needed is some old time religion, conflating Jesus with the atom bomb.

For myself, the song that’s most associated with the end of the world is Waltzing Matilda. That’s because of¬†Stanley Kramer’s powerful yet understated 1959 film about nuclear annihilation, On the Beach. Nuclear war in the the Northern hemisphere has wiped out all human life, but Australia is unscathed. Unfortunately, radiation is drifting into the Southern hemisphere and Australia waits to see if it will survive. It doesn’t. Everybody dies.

Waltzing Matilda threads its way through the soundtrack, in many different tones and arrangements, as a haunting refrain to the inevitable death of the human race. Here’s the opening scene.

And here’s the final scene.

What’s more sad than a song with no-one left to sing or dance to it?

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