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 says that this musical about Al Gore winning the Nobel Peace Prize was the last one his writers got in before the strike, even though that it has been about eight million years since that happened, but whatever!
TEENAGED AL GORE:
I wish I could swim
See that boy over there?
I envy him so
He has such nice wet hair
But something arrests me
And gives me great pause
It's not fear of drowning
It's not that film "Jaws."
I know the statistics
For all of these things
But the water is freezing
The freakin' stuff stings
[ANNA, also a teenager, hears TEENAGED AL GORE talking.]
I am a girl of some repute
I have a low-cut bathing suit
I think that young Al Gore is cute
Last year in band I played the flute
[ANNA walks to the water. TEENAGED AL GORE starts to follow but stops at
the water's edge.]
TEENAGED AL GORE:
My forearms are quivering
I wanted some bravery
But my heart's not delivering
You look great-
Sometimes males and female mate.
[ANNA ignores TEENAGED AL GORE and walks off with another boy.]
TEENAGED AL GORE:
I curse this foul ocean
And its frigidity
Now I am left alone with
My own rigidity
I call on the gods
And ask them to decree
That the cold ocean turn
To a vast lukewarm sea
I call on the gods
To heat up the oceans
And by doing so save me
From my shameful emotions
[TEENAGED AL GORE goes home and tries to forget about ANNA. He throws himself into his studies, then into journalism, then into politics. He marries. He starts a family. Years later, as a United States Senator whose work concerns climate change, among other topics, AL GORE finds himself dictating an editorial for the Washington Post to his secretary.]
It's with a heavy heart that I enter this debate
Living species are expiring at a rapid rate
So here, right now, today, I call for a new plan
To rescue our dear earth from the tentacles of man
Perhaps around the capitol you've seen my new graffiti
"Big Al Says Let's Not Forget To Ratify the Kyoto Treaty."
[AL GORE goes home. He plays tennis, takes a little run, eats, watches an episode of "Alf," and then steps into the shower, where he reflects with pride upon his editorial.]
It's a wonderful feeling
To take a hot shower
But the earth must be cooled in this perilous hour
I can wash, I can lather
I can rinse and repeat
But we must force this warming to beat a retreat
[Suddenly, in the shower, AL GORE stops, stockstill.]
It's as if
I got a slap
Back from when
I was a lad
[AL GORE goes into his bathroom and speaks to the mirror. He is nude.]
I have said that I don't know
The cause of global warming
That is not exactly true
I am partly disinforming
A few minutes ago
I was gripped by a thought
I was in a cold sweat
Though the water was hot
I was seized by the fear
That I caused this alarm
Years ago as a boy.
I did the earth harm
I was simply attempting
To turn a girl's head
I didn't want boiling oceans.
Or our polar bears dead!
I just wanted to walk
To the water and wade
But the ocean was cold
And I was far too afraid
[Consumed with guilt that his appeal to the gods caused the oceans to heat up, AL GORE devotes himself to an aggressive environmental agenda throughout his time as Vice-President in the Clinton Administration. After losing the 2000 election to George W. Bush, AL GORE decides to exit politics and become a full-time climate-change activist.]
I fight for my planet every day
Like a kind of superhero
If climate change was a giant moth
I would be the great Go-jiro
That's Godzilla's real name
The two beasts are one and the same.
[OTHERS question AL GORE's conclusions-not those regarding Godzilla, but those regarding climate change.]
You say the planet's slowly heating
But honestly, aren't you repeating
Science that has been debunked
And consequently should be junked?
For that matter, suppose the seas
Are warmer by a few degrees—
Is this really something that
We must spend billions to combat?
[AL GORE stands in front of a world map, which begins to scroll behind him, and reviews what he has learned about climate change.]
Look, I wore a Speedo
When I went to Tallinn
It's as warm as Quito
And that's just appalling
The very next day
It was off to Helsinki
Where I sported a thong
As wide as my pinky
Reykjavik was next
And to reprise my point
I fashioned a sleeve
To fit over my joint
In all of these places
It should have been freezing
But instead the weather
Was mild and pleasing
So when the detractors
Question this finding
I must always insist
That the facts here are binding
[After AL GORE's World Swimwear tour, he invents a better way to spread his message: slide presentations on campuses across the country.]
Let me say right away
That my tone is monotonous
Still, you can see that
The earth will grow hot, and thus
We need to be careful
Be better caretakers
Consumers and companies
And even lawmakers
I know that some people
Think I'm Chicken Littling
But they are like Nero
While the earth warms, they're fiddling
[When people in the audience fall asleep, as some do, they blame it on the warm room, and blame that, in turn, on climate change. But increasingly, people begin to show interest in AL GORE's work, including a number of celebrities.]
Am I upset?
Of course I am. You bet.
I'm also quite saddened and disturbed.
To take responsibility
Has been almost completely curbed.
We have to save our planet
We don't have any choice
We have an obligation
To speak with a collective voice
Until now all attempts
Have been tangled in red tape
Now I think I know
What's wrong with Gilbert Grape
[Different celebrities get different reactions from AL GORE]
This is so important
The earth's present course
Is quite suicidal
Any help whatsoever
You might need from me
Just say the word and I'll be there
Count me as your deputy
So nice of you—
Right, yeah, whatever
You to let me do my part
Please, sir, tell me how to start
Do you need any help
Applying for new grants?
New studies have shown
What I have long known
Most of the warming
Occurs in my pants
[AL GORE and his celebrity supporters begin to spread the word about climate change. While talking to LEONARDO DICAPRIO about whether "A Boy's Life" should have carried a disclaimer distinguishing it from the magazine of the same name, AL GORE is approached by a HOLLYWOOD INSIDER.]
Mr. Vice President
It's not so evident
But I love our environment
I'm conservationist. I'm green.
Have you thought of bringing
Your message to the silver screen?
I have, to be frank
It would help spread the news
I'm assuming that
I would be played by Tom Cruise?
To illustrate your deep conviction
We were thinking a nonfiction
Film might make a bit more sense.
Plus, Cruise is handsome. No offense.
[AL GORE cries a bit but recovers his composure. The film, "An Inconvenient Truth," wins an Academy Award. AL GORE begins to fly around the world, spreading his message of climate change. Critics, including conservative commentator SEAN HANNITY, question his motives.]
Brand him as a hypocrite?
Sure, I'll take a crack at it.
Can you believe that guy's presumption?
He preaches limited consumption
And energy awareness, yet
He travels in a private jet.
He's blinkered, unhinged, and pedantic
And his carbon footprint is gigantic
[AL GORE soldiers on.]
Other men fret about the economy
Or sharpen up their political bonhomie
Confronted with science that is large and complex
They put their head in the sand and save their own necks
They say that I'm am grandstanding
Though my speeches now run a hundred grand
Still, how can you put a price on life
As our planet fights its brave last stand?
[Rumors begin that AL GORE may be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Finally, in October, 2007, he is.]
This great award
Is broad accord
On our earth's dire fate
The challenge for us now is great
Let's stand against waste and excess
And save our planet from distress
Can we decrease
Is that we can
And offset the effects of man
We've walked the earth for centuries
Can't we tread more lightly, please?
The world's eyes
Are on this cause
Perhaps new laws
Will soon be passed
To help control our greenhouse gas
Emissions and pollution, too
Planet Earth, this one's for you!
[The lights fall. AL GORE speaks softly.]
I am released
I feel renewed
When I was young I loved a girl
And thus endangered the whole world
I've done my penance; I've done my best;
I've acted nobly; now I can rest
[AL GORE falls to his knees and kisses the earth. It is cooler than he expects. He smiles, closes his eyes. He opens them, joins Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.]
Previously: Fragments From "Copperfield! 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.