I’ve been stewing for months on a little project that FP hooked me into. She is an officer with a Chicago women’s theater and she is putting together a show. She asked me if I would write a cabaret-style patter song to be included in it. Topic: the history of time. I suppose I am an apt choice for such a project, since I’m not only a lyrical dabbler but also a science dabbler. FP gave me a tape that included a simple, bluesy piano and drum line that I was to write to. It has only been in the last three days that my ideas have reached a boiling point and spilled out onto paper, but that’s how these things often go for me. This is the working draft of the song, subject to further evolution in the course of discussions and rehearsals.
A few notes on the lyrics that follow: I don’t know that these lyrics are going to read terribly well, but I would guess that you, my fine readers, might be able to discern that better than I. The reason for my suspicion in this regard is that the song is written to be sung with very particular syncopation in spots, so if things seem very out-of-meter, that’s why. I should also mention that there were stanzas early on that spoke of Maxwell’s equations, Schrodinger’s cat, and Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle but I would rather this song had a more general appeal, so I have limited most of my specific physics commentary to the work of Albert Einstein. I hope you enjoy it!
Time in Four-Four Time
Oh let me tell you people ’bout this thing called time.
No I’m not going to play it out in pantomime.
Set you back and listen for a while ’cause I’m
Gonna lay it out for you in simple rhyme.
Early people saw the sun up in the air
Rising over here and setting over there.
That risin’ and a-settin’ made a tidy pair.
As a way of keeping time it was pretty fair.
Then they threw some gears in a box,
Shook it all around and started making clocks,
Infected everybody just like chicken pox
With a universal rhythm: tick-tock, tick-tock.
Then came Mr. Einstein. He had deemed
That time was not at all as it seemed.
He gave us his grand mathematical scheme
Written down on ream upon ream upon ream.
It boiled down to this – that energy, E
Is equal to mass times the square of C.
Now if C’s the speed of light, I think you’ll agree
That E becomes enormous exponentially.
Now C denotes a constant, the speed of light,
That never ever varies, not at any height
From the head of Ursa Major to the Isle of Wight.
Whew! That Mr. Einstein was pretty bright!
Now how does time relate to E, M, or C?
It slows as you increase velocity
But speeds up for the observer to a large degree,
And that is why we call it relativity.
Now that’s good news, it means that time
Is free for the taking, and that’s no crime.
On the journey of humanity, its noble climb
To the heighten of enlighten from primordial slime.
Quantum physics showed up and oh, it was dense.
A bit hard to understand unless you’re in Mensa.
Still a theory lacking crucial evidence,
And time no longer making any sense.
Don’t ask about the next one – the theory of strings.
That fly around the universe on tiny wings.
They vibrate and they quiver just like tiny springs
In the tiny little watches that run everything.
So tell me in the end, what have we learned?
And all the physicists, what have they earned?
I’ll tell you what this ordinary brain has discerned -–
I’d like them to invent some time to burn.
So I could keep on singing this funky song
And you could learn the words and sing along.
Now I’m gonna tell you why Einstein was wrong —
But I see I’m out of time so, so long!