You know how humans turn to music to keep them going during tough times? That has been very true for our family during the pandemic. In our house, Bill Wurtz is one musician in particular who has helped us the most in the this long, stressful year.
Last spring, our son E (who was ten at the time) introduced us to a video he’d found called “history of the entire world, i guess” by a guy we’d never heard of named Bill Wurtz. We liked it. It was weird and funny and informative and full of little bits of music that made the whole thing more charming. (My personal favourite musical moment is at 2:37-2:42.)
My son, being the curious guy he is, quickly found a lot more videos that Bill has created to go with his own longer songs. E made his own audio playlist and shared it with me.
The first thing I liked about Bill Wurtz’s music was how it evokes easy listenin’, like a happy commercial jingle or a sitcom theme from my childhood, while at the same time doing crazy things with key changes and time signatures. Not that I would consider myself a fan of actual “easy listening”-type music (and really, Bill’s music defies genre), but there’s something about his melodies and instrumentation that is serenely whimsical and unexpectedly exhilarating, even as he sings about bizarre and sometimes devastating things.
That’s the next thing that intrigued me: the lyrics. I started paying attention to them when I heard Bill sing, “I’m having a bad day/ It’s turning into a bad year/ All the things I’m supposed to do/ and places I’m supposed to go/ are cancelled…”
WHAT. He posted that song, called “i just did a bad thing,” on December 25th of 2018. Now here we are and he has described pandemic life as we know it. HOW DID HE KNOW.
And that just kept happening. Suddenly lyrics were popping out at me with their pandemic relevance in almost every song.
[Side note: Bill Wurtz actually styles his name “bill wurtz”. And his songs are all lower-case as well, at least on YouTube – but I’ve capitalized them for ease of reading. No disrespect meant, bill.]
Also in the song “I Just Did a Bad Thing“: “Hey – what’s the name of this game/ how do you play it/ and how long does it take?/ How many times is the game going to change?/ Hey, get me out of this place/ out into the real world where maybe things can go my way…” Tell me that doesn’t describe lockdown angst.
In “Mount St. Helens Is About to Blow Up“, Bill sings “The Dow Jones just fell down to zero/ and it’s gonna be a fine swell day […] All of these business suits that I’ve just purchased/ gonna have to throw them all away/ and slip into something more reasonable/ and dance the night away.” I mean really. Has there ever been a more lucrative year for the loungewear industry? (Not to mention that dance parties have been trending.) Even the lines “the people in my office went on vacation/ because they say that I haven’t been paying them/ very much anymore” sounded kinda Covid-y, under the circumstances.
In “La de Da de Da de Da de Day Oh“, we have “I went down to the mall/ then they closed down the mall/ guess they don’t want me going to the mall…” The first time I heard these words, they had literally just closed down the mall. And I couldn’t help but think of my sister and her husband, separated by the Canada-US border for so many months, when I heard the line “It’s a wonderful world but still no you/ It’s a wonderful world for two.” And who can possibly miss the impact of the recurring line, “Where did all the good times go?”
The song “Outside” has a chorus that just says “I wanna go outside” many times. This applied especially to all those people who were so severely locked down that they couldn’t actually go outside beyond their balconies… but come to think of it, it’s a feeling that seems to have possessed all of us. At least in our community, it’s been clear that people have taken solace in spending time outside when there are so many other things you can’t do. This song also says, “Can’t go back to where I come from/ ’cause I’m not welcome/ and it’s not fun there.” Words for all those innumerable stranded travellers, many of whom were still trying to get home at this time last year. (Maybe some still are?)
“The Moon is Made of Cheese” contains the lines “the ants crawl on the earth’s surface/ and the turtles roll through the street/ and the orchestra’s playing symphonies for free.” Remember all the wildlife that took over for a while, when traffic went on hiatus? And remember how musicians, suddenly without gigs, gushed music (much of it gratis) out into the online world to help comfort everyone?
Then there’s “Got to Know What’s Going On“, which says “What’s going on/ everything’s broken but it feels so strong/ what’s going wrong/ just wanna know so I can sing my song/ […] And we’ve got to know what’s going on/ we’ve got to know so we can be strong/ It’s time to come home but it’s been so long/ and we’re broken.”
I think it’s all summed up by this, from “Long Long Long Journey“: “I remember the moment that my dreams were broken” and “It’s a long long long journey that we’ve been on […] It’s a long long day/ we’ve come a long long way/ and it’s a long long long way back.” WORD. What a damn long journey.
So as you can see, Bill is magical and all-wise.
There are other lyrics I love because they make me chuckle aloud, or they’re perfect in their absurdity, or they remind us to be meditative or prioritize love or maintain hope or just go ahead and be sad sometimes. Several songs make reference to climate change; some lyrics are very political or downright tragic, but veiled in a groove that distracts from the gravity. And some are just the kind of quietly rebellious words that we need at a time like this: “I’m gonna do everything that you’re not supposed to do/ I’m gonna open to page one and then skip ahead to page two…” After all, as he sings, “if I came here to lose, then I still might win“.
Other things I like about Bill:
- His voice is incredibly easy to listen to. He makes singing seem effortless (which maybe it is for him); even his falsetto is seamless.
- He’s mostly easy for me to sing along with, because of his range. I love a good singalong song.
- Along with this, a bunch of his songs contain scatty nonsense syllables, and singing along with those is especially good for the soul.
- He never misses an opportunity for a melodic fill in between lyrics, and they range from fun to truly thrilling.
- He is a percussion MASTER. The rhythms – again, complex but somehow nonchalant – are almost my favourite part.
- The videos are entertaining – I like his fully animated ones, and I soak up all the extra text tidbits he puts in, but I like best the parts where you can see him playing (either real instruments or ones he drew in later).
- I appreciate his surfer/puppy vibe along with the nerd + hip-hop styling… no idea where this lands on the deliberate irony scale, but I enjoy it. And his messy apartment that says, “I’ll stick with the life-changing magic of music rather than tidying up.”
- His songs are very complex, but they sound natural. To illustrate, here is a professional musician analyzing the elaborate structure of “La de Da de Da de Day Oh”, and here is a different professional musician going nuts over “Mount St. Helen’s”. My hunch is that Bill just has this gift – that he doesn’t carefully plan for his modulations and time adjustments to be intricate, but rather that he’s a full-on savant who plays from his gut/heart and this is what he creates. Though I do also think he is a perfectionist, and thus his layers and details are exactly as he likes them.
- He makes what he wants. I’ve learned enough about Bill to know that A) he was creating stuff for many years before the world took notice, and B) he has never really tried to get the world to take notice, he just kept making stuff. And C), now that he has millions of subscribers, he just continues to make what satisfies him. There’s something about that concept that gives me a happy little shiver. Just MAKE THE ART THAT FULFILLS YOU. And someday, somewhere, someone’s day will be brightened by it.
- We can all agree on Bill Wurtz in our house. The kids love it as much as I do, and we’ve brought Sean into the fold too. We add the new songs as soon as they start streaming. We’ve listened to our playlist countless times and none of us is sick of it. In fact, back in September, I played a couple of Bill Wurtz songs/videos for some of my classes, and they loved them just as much. They were inspired to hear that he is self-taught. And they felt what we’ve all felt as we listen: the inexplicable feeling of well-being, that sensation of the sun coming out, when the harmonies twinkle in a certain way. (And they liked the random animals, especially the owl playing the clarinet.)
It seemed immediately appropriate to me that “Here Comes the Sun” was the name of the first song that Bill released after a long hiatus – three months ago, just coming up on a year of pandemic in North America. I like it more each time I listen to it.
So B/bill, if you ever read this, I know you’re planning to lift up the whole entire world when you get older. Just know that we think you’re doing a pretty great job already.