Let me tell you my story. It’s a fascinating one, one set during the biggest events in human history. Big, big, big! Humongous, gargantuan, mammoth, mythic, substantial!
I was born in 1927 when I sprang from the head of Jaromír Vejvoda who played Zeus to my Athena. Vejvoda, a Czech musician and composer, desperately needed money, that great motivator of men. The 19th century American historian Louis Hacker wrote, “Economic motivation is paramount in man.” That never really caught on as a meme, not like I did. If you approach any stranger and tell them to complete the phrase “Economic motivation is blank,” 99.9999% of the human population will be unable to do it. But if you ask them to sing the verse that follows “Roll out the barrel…” most people in the western hemisphere will gleefully cry out “We’ll have a barrel of fun!” That’s because I am catchy, memorable, immortal!
Will Glahé recorded me in 1939 and I was number one on the Hit Parade. This version of me was distributed by Shapiro Bernstein and it sold many copies in German under my alternative name Rosamunde. I replicated into English through the humans Lew Brown and Wladimir Timm who translated my lyrics. In my English incarnation, I was recorded and played by Bobby Vinton, Billie Holiday, Joe Patek, the Andrews Sisters, Benny Goodman, and the Glenn Miller Orchestra. Joe Patek alone sold over one million copies of me.
Most crucial to my success was my translation into other languages which was a result of my rapid spread to countries outside my creator’s native Czechoslovakia. Had I not left Czechoslovakia, I would have languished in provinciality, doomed to be sung in local beer halls until I disappeared entirely. But then something wonderful happened that changed my life forever. A man named Adolf Hitler became chancellor of neighboring Germany and invaded my creator’s country. Shortly after Hitler’s arrival, he slaughtered as many humans in Czechoslovakia as he could and drove out millions more.
Since humans are my sole source of replication, mutation, and propagation, and I would not be able to exist without them, you may wonder why I was happy about the millions of deaths. It is because these deaths were dwarfed by the number of humans I later reached and who later replicated me, all because of the European atrocities.
This type of ruthlessness by Hitler was required to ensure the survival of my meme. No one else could have driven such far reaching change. No one else could have caused such a mass emigration from Europe to America. He was a blessing, for he enabled others to spread me and allowed me to replicate like nothing else could have. Adolf Hitler did more for my replication and propagation than any other human being.
I look back with such fondness at the time in Europe between 1939 to 1945. Humans fled to other geographies and carried copies of myself in their heads. If they survived and if they reached their destinations — dirty, depressed, panicked, and exhausted — they would surely want to forget their troubles with a few beers. And what would they want to sing to add a bit of much needed merriment? Me, of course!
Sadly, it wasn’t all good times and fond memories. Something tragic did happen when Glenn Miller’s plane disappeared over the English Channel in 1944. He was never seen again. Just think of how many more copies of me he could have made had he lived. But what compensated for that was when Humphrey Lyttelton played a version of me outside Buckingham Palace (and broadcast by the BBC) on VE Day, May 9th, 1945. Imagine, a meme written just for fun, one meant to be sung in beer halls, being played for the Queen of England to celebrate the end of a war that had done so much for my success.
Humans are mysterious creatures, and trust me on that. My very survival depends upon them. So roll out the barrel, we’ll have a barrel of fun!!