North Korea. Nuclear war. It’s easy to forget the intensely personal side of the immensity of nuclear war. It hit me in the 80’s and I wrote a whole musical about it. This is the song that started my journey into the darkness I hope never comes: “When the End Comes” sung by one of my favorite singers, Janet Greeley.
Back in the 80’s I was living in New York City, playing harp at the Waldorf Astoria by night and writing musicals and chamber music by day.
On my way to work each day I’d see stencils painted on the sidewalk, “2 Miles to Ground Zero” and an arrow, “1 Mile to Ground Zero” – they were all around the Upper West Side. A friend recently told me he saw the same stencils in Berkeley around the same time.
I got curious about them and learned they were part of a kind of Guerrilla Theater called “The Ground Zero Club” that dealt with the anxiety of nuclear annihilation with humor. Their motto was “If we weren’t serious, we wouldn’t be laughing”
The day I finally learned what the stencils meant I was so moved that I went home and wrote the song above.
The song inspired a whole musical that I produced in 1983 with a grants from “Meet the Composer,” the Massachusetts Artist Council and WBEZ television in Boston. I tried to mount the show again in the 90’s but everyone told me nuclear annihilation was passé.
Last may I heard an article on NPR about designer fallout shelters – which was a joke in my musical. Now it’s real.
About 10 or 15 years ago when I was working on a new presentation of the show, I hired artist Heikki Vuorramnaa to draw me pictures of the scenes in the play. This is one of them, a fancy dinner at the shelter.
I keep hoping the need for people to see this play is over. It keeps not being over.
If you feel nuclear war isn’t just political – but deeply personal, please start sharing how you feel, share this song if it touches you and speaks for how you feel – and please share your thoughts with me in the comments below.
(This post was originally written in May 2017 and updated in September 2017)