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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Nice, Nice, Very Nice/Ambrosia


In The Life of Fiction, Jerome Klinkowitz points out that "in 1975, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. became the first American writer to be quoted by a starting pitcher in the World Series while at the same time having a song in the Top Forty."  The pitcher was Bill "Spaceman" Lee of the Boston Red Sox (among other things, he cited "In nonsense is strength" from Vonnegut's 1973 novel Breakfast of Champions).  The song was Nice, Nice, Very Nice by Ambrosia, from their self-titled 1975 debut album. The lyrics are adapted from Vonnegut's 1963 novel Cat's Cradle.

In the book Vonnegut created Bokononism, a religious movement indigenous to the poverty-stricken Caribbean island of San Lorenzo, where much of the action takes place.  Bokononism teaches that all religions are based on lies--especially Bokononism--but by embracing these harmless untruths (called foma by Bokononists) we can live some semblance of a good life.  In keeping with its Caribbean origins, many of the key precepts of Bokononism are set down in the form of calypsos. The lyrics to "Nice, Nice, Very Nice" are drawn (with some embellishment) from the 53rd Calypso of Bokonon, as quoted in Chapter 2 of Cat's Cradle.

Oh a sleeping drunkard up in Central Park
Or the lion hunter in the jungle dark
Or the Chinese dentist or the British Queen
They all fit together in the same machine
Nice, nice, very nice
Nice, nice, very nice
So many people in the same device

Vonnegut was delighted with the song, and shared a writing credit with the band. Ambrosia founding member Joe Puerta told Classics Rock! in an email: "It was quite a thrill for me, being a huge Vonnegut fan, to share writing credits with one of America 's foremost writers." 

In January 1976 Vonnegut wrote a letter to the band (addressed "Dear Ambrosia") in which he said:

I was at my daughter's house last night, and the radio was on. By God if the DJ didn't play our song, and say it was number ten in New York, and say how good you guys are in general. You can imagine the pleasure that gave me. Luck has played an enormous part in my life. Those who know pop music keep telling me how lucky I am to be tied in with you.
 
And I myself am crazy about our song, of course, but what do I know and why wouldn't I be?
 
This much I have always known, anyway: Music is the only art that's really worth a damn. I envy you guys.

The letter is reproduced in its entirety in Ambrosia's 1997 CD Anthology.


Cat's Cradle (Kindle Edition)


Submitted by Bob Hicks
With thanks to Joe Puerta

1 comment:

  1. Yea Nice Nice Very Nice is a Classic song off Ambrosia's brilliant debut album!

    ReplyDelete