On one of those beautiful Iowa September Saturdays recently, my husband Dave drove to his hometown of Atlantic to enjoy the Coca Cola Days we’d seen advertised on television. Because of one little thing I saw at the Coca-Cola Museum, I came home hours later contemplating “What happened to us Baby Boomers?” And more specifically, “What happened to me?”
The catalyst for these profound questions was a photo of the 1971 commercial, “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing.” Remember that Coca-Cola commercial? It was an amazing marketing tool that used a catchy pop tune, capitalized on Coke’s “It’s the Real Thing” blitz, and used great camera technology that started with close-ups and panned an entire hilltop. Interestingly, it came about when an ad executive used the jingle “Buy the World a Coke.” Set in Italy, the commercial used people from many different countries and nationalities, a truly diverse advertisement. The lyrics of the song to this day evoke the “peace, love, and harmony” and the use of kitschy, what-on-earth-does-that-mean poetry of the late 1960s-early 1970s: The so-called hippie/love/idealogical generation. My generation.
The song itself became so popular, it was re-recorded full-length and dropped references to Coca-Cola. If you remember the Coke commercial, I’m betting you’ll be humming or singing the lyrics below:
I’D LIKE TO TEACH THE WORLD TO SING (by Bill Backer, Billy Davis, Roger Cook and Roger Greenaway)
to build the world a home/And furnish it with love/Grow apple trees and honeybees/
And snow white turtle doves
“I’d like to teach the world to sing/In perfect harmony/I’d like to hold it in my arms/And keep it company”
to see the world for once/All standing hand in hand/And hear them echo through
For peace throughout the land/(That’s the song I hear)”
We Baby Boomers resonated with that song. After witnessing war, racial tension, political assassinations, and a nation divided by profound differences between we, the young and invincible with high ideals, and our stupid elders with their outdated ethics and laws, a song about peace and love was ideal.
But now, almost 50 years later, I wonder what would it be like to teach the world to sing? To sing instead of having to double-check Snopes.com to confirm or deny the truthfulness of so many Twitters or Facebook posts. To sing instead of hearing the cries of those who suffer unbearable losses of health, love, and life. Because I don’t think we ever accomplished that.
What would it be like to build the world a home that will shelter humans of all kinds – so they don’t have to leave their homes and beg to enter an unwelcoming and unknown country. To build a world that doesn’t have pollution, that has enough food and water for everyone and everything. A home that coexists with all creatures, great and small. Because if they become extinct, the human mammals will be next. We didn’t accomplish that, either.
Instead, we forgot the song. We turned into the stupid elders whose sights are set on self-importance, self-worth, and selfishness. But wait! All is not lost.
Just like the diverse young people in the 1971 commercial, a 16 year old girl from Sweden has stepped up to the plate we Baby Boomers carelessly dropped. She’s of a generation who obviously is going to try to do what we Baby Boomers once toyed with – making the world a better place to live. Her voice may not be resonating in lyrics, but her message is the same: We CAN build the world a home. We CAN teach the whole world to sing. And maybe…just maybe…before we Baby Boomers leave this world, there will be peace throughout the land.
That would be THE Real Thing.