From time to time the news cycle offers up an event of such import and complexity that it can only be comprehended through the medium of musical theater. This week resident composer Ben Greenman takes a closer look at the event that keeps us awake at night with anticipation: The impending death of now-childless young Britney Spears.
[DEATH is bored. He calls his friend BILL.]
What say you?
It's not a good day
Sure I have the
Time to kill
But I fear that I don't have the will
I go about my business
Every morning, noon, and night
Most doomed souls go easily
Some put up a fight
But honestly it's boring me
I don't know what to say
The last pickup that I enjoyed
Was probably that Martha Raye
Dude, you know what?
You should totally get
Someone who isn't ready quite yet
It's not allowed.
The fines would be large.
Fines? Wait a second—
Aren't you in charge?
In a sense, but it's complex
The afterlife has many checks
And balances. I can't just slay
Whoever springs to mind today.
I mean, well, yeah, I guess I could
But I'm not sure it would be good.
That's the very point I'm making
You need to stop your bellyaching
You're not the flu. You're not the sprain.
You're Death, so rule your domain.
Now I have to hang up the phone
My wife went out and I'm alone
It's one of those rare Just Bill nights:
Just Bill and fifty porn websites.
[DEATH laughs at his friend, betraying a trace of envy.]
Bill is a genius
Although he's a rake
But who will I go for?
Who will I take?
I'm calling Bill back
Damn, he turned off his phone
I don't really feel like
Going out there alone
[DEATH calls some other friends to see if anyone wants to go collect a few souls with him. Most are busy or invent an elaborate excuse to avoid the errand. Finally, DEATH calls LITTLE RICHARD.]
Who's calling me?
But don't worry
This isn't business
It's just that, well
I feel depressed
And I'd love to have you
As my guest
On a little trip across the earth
To find some souls and reverse their birth
[LITTLE RICHARD is enthusiastic about the idea.]
Where should I meet you?
It doesn't really matter. We'll
Be traveling by astral plane.
So how about the Platter Kill?
I've always loved the name.
[LITTLE RICHARD and DEATH meet by the Platter Kill, a stream in upstate New York. DEATH is wearing his trademark black robe. LITTLE RICHARD is wearing his traditional red jacket with rhinestones.]
Good to see ya.
Good to see you, too, my friend
So tell me: whose life should we end?
I've got an idea
I'm all ears
Let's go get that Britney Spears
That's an interesting notion
It would cause a great commotion
And her music's already dead, if you know what I mean
But she's still in her youth
And to tell you the truth
I had sort of been thinking of killing Tom Green
The girl can't help it
She was born to sleaze
You'll see her here and there
Down on bended knees
Can she at least get
Green monkey disease?
[They agree to flip a coin. LITTLE RICHARD produces a coin, which is a quarter with a picture of himself on one side. The other side has a picture of his butt.]
Snakes and snails
And hog slop pails
And whips and wails
I call tails!!!
[It is tails. In Canada, in this middle of filming a scene where he French-kisses a cow, TOM GREEN feels an unspeakable cold shudder through him.]
You know what's strange?
I was briefly changed.
A cloud crossed my heart
And gave me a start
But I'm all better now.
Please bring back that cow.
[DEATH and LITTLE RICHARD land in the living room of BRITNEY SPEARS. It is disorganized. Magazines are everywhere, along with lingerie and empty pizza boxes.]
It's hard to find her
Amidst this debris
She's probably still sleeping
It's not even three
[BRITNEY SPEARS stumbles out of the bedroom. She has slept in sunglasses.]
I'm really sorry
I slept so late
Did I miss another court date?
Girl, listen, I'm sure you did
But that's not why we're here
You were young and pretty before
Now you look like you drank a whole keg of beer
Don't make rude sport
Of my rise and fall
I'm not a bad sort
Not at all, y'all
Do you truly wish to understand
Why we've come unannounced and unplanned?
In a minute I'll take off my hood
And you'll behold my flaming skull
And terror will consume your mind
And all your senses will go dull
An icy finger on your brow
Will take you from the here and now
I'm sorry, y'all, but I don't know Greek
Is that the language you're trying to speak?
Your mortal essence will lay coiled
At your feet just like that snake
You danced with at the VMAs
And I don't mean Justin Timberlake
You'll sleep but you will not awake
I swear, I don't know what y'all are saying
Is this some trick that Kevin's playing?
Bama lama bama loo
Honestly, what can we do
So that you understand this visit
It's not that complicated, is it?
A wop bop a loo bop a lop bam boom
We are here to seal your doom!
Ready, set, go man go
Let's get started with the show
I'm dying now?
What? Why? And how?
Well, it's not like I was bored
And needed something to do
And looked around the world
And randomly picked you
[DEATH removes his hood. He has, as promised, a flaming skull. He steps forward and touches BRITNEY SPEARS on the breast.]
Hey! Uh, wait—
You said my head.
Oh yeah. Right.
Okay. You're dead.
[BRITNEY swoons. Everything around her dissolves. She begins to sing with the voice of an angel.]
Once I was a kind of modern Cinderella
And then I beat the crap out of a car with an umbrella
It's all coming back to me now in a blur
I worshipped Madonna and made out with her
I lived a life of adventure and fun
I drank! I smoked! I hit and run!
I shaved my head! I shaved my vagina!
I acted as dumb as Miss South Carolina!
Please take care of my mom and my kids
I am kneeling and praying and closing my lids
Goodbye, Sean Preston. Goodbye, Jayden James.
Hey - not bad - I remembered their names.
My journey from childhood to B-cup to pre-nup
Is over. I'm done. I surrender. I give up.
I'm laying down flat on the floor of the room
So you can convey me to my timeless tomb.
[DEATH bends down to pick up BRITNEY SPEARS but notices that she is not wearing underwear.]
I would take her but...
[LITTLE RICHARD peers downward. He notices the absence of underwear, too.]
Do you mean to say
That you can't lift her
And take her away
If she isn't wearing drawers?
Sadly, yes. Can she wear yours?
Upon further review
I'm sorry to say
I'm commando, too
[BRITNEY SPEARS stirs, wakes.]
I must have left the world behind
This place I'm in, it must be heaven
I was born back in the eighties
And died here in two-thousand-seven
Be strong, my fans—be good, be brave
Bring cans of Red Bull to my grave
[BRITNEY SPEARS stands shakily and tries to float away.]
Jenny jenny, wooo, jenny jenny
When it comes to brains you ain't got any
The process came to a full stop
[DEATH explains the situation to BRITNEY SPEARS more respectfully.]
I thought you'd be taken
I thought we'd be going
But we ran into trouble
Your privates are showing
[BRITNEY SPEARS is elated.]
I'm saved, I'm saved!
I feel so strange
I'll learn to behave
I promise I'll change
[DEATH shrugs. He isn't really concerned with better behavior.]
Bad luck baby put the jinx on me
I think it's time for us to flee
[DEATH and LITTLE RICHARD return first to the Platter Kill and then to their respective homes. DEATH is still frustrated by his inability to kill BRITNEY SPEARS, and the rules prohibit him from taking another crack at TOM GREEN for a while, so he kills his friend BILL instead. BILL's wife comes home to find him slumped in front of the computer, which is displaying a porn site. At BILL's funeral, she makes a speech about how BILL was the man of her dreams, and how she hoped to have a family with him, and how those imagined children would now never have the opportunity to have him as a father. She then sits in her car and plays BRITNEY SPEARS's new album, "Blackout," at top volume. It helps, a little, for a little while.]
Previously: Fragments From "Isiah! The Musical"
Ben Greenman is an editor at the New Yorker and the author of several books of fiction. His latest book, A Circle is a Balloon and Compass Both, was recently published.