Eric Idle on the Enduring, Powerful Legacy of the Song He Wrote As a Joke

Monty Python’s Eric Idle has written a memoir, Always Look on the Bright Side of Life: A Sortabiography. The e book, by which Idle recounts his adventures as a legendary comic and actor in initiatives just like the influential Monty Python’s Flying Circus, the savage Beatles parody band the Rutles, and the completely underrated Nuns on the Run, is known as after “Always Look on the Bright Side of the Life,” the disarmingly sunny, ironic tune Idle wrote, after which carried out — throughout a crucifixion scene — within the 1979 Python film Life of Brian. In this excerpt, Idle describes how the tune completely acquired away from him … in a great way.

“Always look on the intense facet of life” has in all probability been my unconscious motto all through my life, however I by no means thought it might be successful. And not simply within the Top 10 charts. On January 20, 2009, it formally turned the primary most requested tune at British funerals, changing Frank Sinatra’s “My Way.” It has remained there ever since. Beating out even Elvis. You’ve acquired to like the Brits. First of all, who would even have such a chart? And secondly, after all you don’t receives a commission for funerals, however hey, you're taking it the place you may. It in all probability changed “Spam, Spam, Spam” at Viking funerals.

As far as I used to be involved, “Bright Side” was simply the tip tune of a film, however now it started to tackle a lifetime of its personal. It started at Graham’s [Chapman, fellow Python member] memorial. I used to be requested to sing it to shut the occasion, because it was Graham’s favourite tune, and it was one of many hardest issues I've ever needed to do. I used to be nonetheless singing it to Graham, however now for the ultimate time. He had died with beautiful timing on October four, 1989, the eve of Monty Python’s twentieth anniversary. We canceled an enormous occasion we had deliberate, which wouldn’t have been what he needed, but it surely was how we felt. It was a shock. This was one in every of us. Mike [Palin] and Terry J. [Jones] have been with him on the finish. John [Cleese] wept inconsolably. I used to be at house writing a tune for him, “Life Will Get You within the End.” I lastly completed it when George [Harrison] died.

A month earlier than he died, Graham joined us filming Parrot Sketch Not Included: Twenty Years of Monty Python, a 72-minute celebration hosted by Steve Martin. I can nonetheless bear in mind Steve’s shocked look of horror as he watched an emaciated Graham being carried in. Nobody had warned him. Graham had misplaced lots of weight after two operations on his most cancers however he was his normal cheery self, cracking jokes about his situation, and all of us did a sketch along with Steve interviewing us as schoolkids. We did one other shot the place Steve requested to-camera the place all of the Pythons have been in the present day after which opened a closet. We have been inside. It can be the final time we have been all collectively.

I had ran into Graham on the Beverly Center in LA that January, and he had an enormous broad grin and regarded hale and hearty and stated he had a slight factor in his throat, nothing to fret about, however he was going again to London for a process. When I visited him at Cromwell Hospital after his second operation he regarded in a really unhealthy manner, however he shocked me when he instructed me he was pondering of opening a long life middle! Perhaps he was joking. Maybe he was making an attempt to cheer me up. Who is aware of, however it might be the final time I noticed him.

On December three, 1989, all of us gathered within the packed Great Hall at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital for his memorial, the place I needed to sing “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.” It was significantly arduous to get by, and I virtually misplaced it. It was even more durable as a result of, because of John Cleese, the memorial had turn out to be a roast. He brilliantly broke the somber temper and turned solemn grief into relieving laughter with an outrageous parody of their “Dead Parrot” sketch.

“Graham Chapman isn't any extra. He has ceased to be. Bereft of life, he rests in peace. He has rung down the curtain and joined the choir invisible. And I say good riddance to him, the freeloading bastard. I hope he fries. And I say that as a result of if I hadn’t stated one thing inappropriate he would by no means have forgiven me.”

It was one in every of John’s most interesting moments. It was impressed, it was improbable, and he concluded by saying he wish to be the primary to say “Fuck” at a British memorial. From that time on, the afternoon turned uproarious. Michael spoke about how Graham was at all times late, and at any time when he needed to decide him up for rehearsal, numerous heads popped out of home windows saying Graham can be down in about twenty minutes, till lastly Graham would emerge for work. Michael ended his eulogy by saying, “I’m not very sentimental, however as I go searching in any respect these nice individuals, I prefer to suppose that Graham is right here with us all in the present day. Well, not now … however in about twenty minutes.”

How ironic that Graham, who was at all times late, left so early.

That actually ought to have been it for the tune, besides that it wasn’t. Bizarrely, it was about to turn out to be a well-liked hit. I had turn out to be pleasant with a neighbor, Gary Lineker, a superb footballer, the captain of England and Spurs and now the presenter of BBC’s Match of the Day.

One day in 1991, Gary stated to me, “You know they’re singing your tune on the terraces.” Apparently, soccer followers had taken to singing it when their sides have been dropping helplessly.

Simon Mayo, a good friend of Gary’s and a BBC Radio 1 DJ, started taking part in the tune each morning on his breakfast present, so it was getting lots of airplay. Because of this, Virgin Records rereleased it as a single on September 23, 1991, and to my shock it started to stand up the pop charts. It was surprisingly thrilling as every week it rose larger and better. It finally acquired to quantity three, the place it peaked after I had been persuaded to sing it on Top of the Pops, a intentionally chaotic efficiency with John Du Prez main the band. Simon Mayo stated it was as a result of I had sung it on Top of the Pops, and he might properly have been proper, but it surely did get to primary on the ITV charts, and, much more satisfying, it turned primary in Ireland, which was nice as a result of the film had been banned there, and the soundtrack album on Warner’s was withdrawn and pulled out of file shops after protests when it was first launched. A becoming revenge.

Excerpted from Always Look on the Bright Side of Life: A Sortabiography by Eric Idle. Copyright © 2018 by Rutland California Weekend, Inc. Published by Crown Archetype, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House.