Just How "Lucky" A Fellow Are We Talking About Here?
An open letter to the now-defunct British prog-rock band, Emerson, Lake and Palmer
Dear Messrs. Emerson, Lake and Palmer:
I realize that back in the early ’70s when I was growing up, “Lucky Man” was a massive hit for you three. But after listening to the lyrics repeatedly for decades (mostly inadvertently, while standing in the supermarket checkout line), I’m sort of confused as to exactly how lucky this guy was. Many of the song’s crucial details don’t support your central thesis—dare I say, they explicitly contradict it!—and so I feel compelled to bring this pressing matter to your attention.
I mean, sure, the guy’s likely got his charms—perhaps it’s wicked handsomeness and/or being well-endowed, so to speak, that’s got ladies waiting by his door. Or maybe it’s the satin clothes and gold-covered mattresses, alluring indicators of money and power. Dude probably has a sweet ride and primo weed, too, and a sick beach house—all probable trappings of intergenerational wealth, but back then, no one was taking anyone to task for starting out life on third base.
I’m sort of confused as to exactly how lucky this guy was. Many of the song’s crucial details don’t support your central thesis—dare I say, they explicitly contradict it!—and so I feel compelled to bring this pressing matter to your attention.
If he’s so lucky and well-bred, though, how come he got drafted into the military? How come his obscenely rich dad didn’t buy him a deferment, or something? Or have pull with his congressman? Or get him diagnosed with bone spurs? Or, you know, send him to graduate school to get the medieval equivalent of an MBA? To be fair, back then war was akin to a gap year for most guys—before they got married off to their cousins to increase their family’s land holdings, and had a slew of little hemophiliacs running around. But all-in-all, being sent to the battlefield just doesn’t seem real lucky, you know? Odds are usually pretty bad on that one.
And then? Then he gets pretty badly wounded in combat and NOBODY CAN SAVE HIM. I mean, seriously, you expect us to believe this? No one is doing anything to help this fellow while he’s bleeding out? Doesn’t seem like they even tried. Everyone’s just standing around saying, Nope nope, that’s it, can’t save him, just leave him there to die. We've got crusades and drawing-and-quarterings and other medieval shit to tend to. Couldn’t his dad sell that gold-covered mattress or fancy featherbed that one of his ex-girlfriends likely made for him? That might have offset the cost of some premium health insurance, right? It might have paid for an out-of-network bloodletter, at the very least. Or couldn’t they have called for an UberX stallion to bring his mostly dead ass to Billy Crystal and Carol Kane in their magical tree trunk from The Princess Bride? I mean, no one even tried packing the wound with mud or elderberry leaves or some other woodland shit. Dude — I earned a badge for that in Girl Scouts, for Chrissakes.
What about getting him home to those satin-clad chicks always allegedly waiting by his door? Surely one or more of them received basic medical training? Look, we’ve all seen Monty Python and the Holy Grail a million times. Remember that really uncomfortable Castle Anthrax scene that you can never watch with your parents? Women were totally medics back then, and practiced their art. Couldn’t one of them hanging out by the door back home have at least tried?
We don’t even know his name. I ask you, is that really so lucky when you think about it? He’s just “that lucky dead guy” in a song from the ’70s for eternity?
So then this presumably “lucky” wounded bastard lies down AND JUST DIES. I’m sorry, but this doesn’t add up. According to the time-honored mechanics of hero mythology (hey, I don’t make the rules), that’s exactly the moment when your luck is supposed to kick in. That’s when the dragon from Game of Thrones shows up out of nowhere and carries Mr. Lucky on its back until they arrive at the ER at Columbia Presbyterian or Cedars-Sinai. And they don’t even have to bother with a valet, because who makes a dragon sit and wait in triage? Nobody does. When a fire-breathing dragon shows up in the ER, you take his lucky wounded buddy IMMEDIATELY.
Okay, okay—so now he’s died, right? Nobody was able to save him—which, again, I find TOTALLY DUBIOUS. And then they supposedly craft all these songs about him—multitudes of ballads and sea shanties and country-western duets about his honor and his glory, blah blah blah. But the only one that survives is this one E.L.P. song that Lake wrote when he was 12, and which has a so-so Moog synthesizer solo at the end? There’s no requiem mass or Gregorian chant for this “lucky” so-and-so? There’s just this one prog rock song penned by three British guys with bad teeth?
Last thing, but kind of a big deal, IMHO? WE DON’T EVEN KNOW HIS NAME. I ask you, is that really so lucky when you think about it? He’s just “that lucky dead guy” in a song from the ’70s for eternity? I mean—was his name Fred or Joseph or Sheldon or Tamarin? Maybe it was Gunther? Oh, yeah—Gunther sounds like a lucky guy’s name. Especially if there are umlauts. You know, those two funky dots over the vowels in the names of Hungarian death metal bands, and New Yorker articles? If he was truly lucky, he’d have a name like Günther Van Swigginsdale. That sounds lucky AF.
BUT WE’LL NEVER KNOW, WILL WE, EMERSON, LAKE AND PALMER? No, we most certainly won’t—unless, of course, you respond forthwith.
I hope you will. I promise not to bring up the curious matter of when the beginning finally commences in another of your songs, “From the Beginning.” Because we could be here all night.
Kathleen McKitty Harris is a fifth-generation native New Yorker whose work has appeared in Longreads, CRAFT, Creative Nonfiction, McSweeney's, and The Rumpus, among others. She has performed as a storyteller on The Moth Podcast, and co-hosts the “What’s Your Story?” live-reading series in northern New Jersey, where she lives with her husband and two teenaged children. You can find her on Twitter: @kmckharris.