Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Sunscreen Song

Everybody's free to wear sunscreen.

Sound familiar? Anyone who listened to popular radio or music during the late 90s (1999 to be exact) is aware that this line is from "The Sunscreen Song," an adaptation of an essay that was turned into a song by Baz Lurhmann. This song was changed from an essay originally titled "Advice, like youth, probably just wasted on the young" by Mary Schmich and published in the Chicago Tribune in 1997.

A friend of mine randomly put this song on, and so many memories piled into my mind. I had totally forgotten about this song. It takes me back to early high school where I ate up every word and copied some lyrics on a folder. It was an innocent time. Years later, here I am, looking back on the words to remember how true they are and which ones now seem more important or that I understand more now that I am older and more experienced at life. These lyrics seem to be aimed at a high school class (as the song addresses the audience as the class of 1999), and now that I am out of high school, I can better appreciate the lyrics.

Here they are.

Wear sunscreen.

If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it. The long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists, whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience. I will dispense this advice now.

Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth. Oh, never mind. You will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they've faded. But trust me, in 20 years, you'll look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can't grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked. You are not as fat as you imagine.

Don't worry about the future. Or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindside you at 4 p.m. on some idle Tuesday.

Do one thing every day that scares you.


Don't be reckless with other people's hearts. Don't put up with people who are reckless with yours.


Don't waste your time on jealousy. Sometimes you're ahead, sometimes you're behind. The race is long and, in the end, it's only with yourself.

Remember compliments you receive. Forget the insults. If you succeed in doing this, tell me how.

Keep your old love letters. Throw away your old bank statements.


Don't feel guilty if you don't know what you want to do with your life. The most interesting people I know didn't know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don't.

Get plenty of calcium. Be kind to your knees. You'll miss them when they're gone.

Maybe you'll marry, maybe you won't. Maybe you'll have children, maybe you won't. Maybe you'll divorce at 40, maybe you'll dance the funky chicken on your 75th wedding anniversary. Whatever you do, don't congratulate yourself too much, or berate yourself either. Your choices are half chance. So are everybody else's.

Enjoy your body. Use it every way you can. Don't be afraid of it or of what other people think of it. It's the greatest instrument you'll ever own.

Dance, even if you have nowhere to do it but your living room.

Read the directions, even if you don't follow them.

Do not read beauty magazines. They will only make you feel ugly.

Get to know your parents. You never know when they'll be gone for good. Be nice to your siblings. They're your best link to your past and the people most likely to stick with you in the future.

Understand that friends come and go, but with a precious few you should hold on. Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle, because the older you get, the more you need the people who knew you when you were young.

Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard. Live in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft.


Accept certain inalienable truths: Prices will rise. Politicians will philander. You, too, will get old. And when you do, you'll fantasize that when you were young, prices were reasonable, politicians were noble and children respected their elders.

Respect your elders.

Don't expect anyone else to support you. Maybe you have a trust fund. Maybe you'll have a wealthy spouse. But you never know when either one might run out.

Don't mess too much with your hair or by the time you're 40 it will look 85.

Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it's worth.

But trust me on the sunscreen.

Now I ask you, why does he insist on the sunscreen factor? Even though it's so obvious, I never really dissected it before. Is it because he didn't care for his skin when he was young, and sunburns cause wrinkling which is unpleasant with age? No young person thinks that much ahead. We all think we're invincible. What do you think?

Which lines have you learned from after high school? Which do you think aren't so important?

What have you learned after high school that you would include if you wrote your own address?

1 comment:

shelalaboooom said...

its so hard to even pin point any one line in this song, cuz every example has a meaning, so its not fair to choose one over the other making one more important...i too thought of this song maybe a month ago, i actually thought about making it my myspace song, but for some reason didn't i think i should rethink that...