Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Timbuk3, "The Future's So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades" (1986)

Nov. 22, 1986, #19

In retrospect, Chernobyl likely had everything to do with turning this into a hit for Timbuk3 toward the end of 1986—that and a wonderful turn of phrase, the kind of forehead-smacking verbal point you wonder no one ever thought of before. Timbuk3 was married couple Pat and Barbara MacDonald out of Madison, Wisconsin, folkies by inclination but with a lot of electronic gear in tow for the beats and such. This song is how they're known and leads off their debut album, Greetings From Timbuk3, with which I was briefly infatuated (notably for the song "I Love You in the Strangest Way," a haunting moaner that ended up on a disproportionate number of mixtapes). "Future's So Bright" is a funny blend of styles, a thumping rhythm section hard-rock attack with a soaring blues harp and wonderful country harmonies in the vocal, underpinning an '80s wiseass new wave puppy cynicism. You gotta wear shades for all the nuclear radiation, is of course the basic idea, though even that is approached in an odd way. The singer is kind of desperately normal, on an ordinary yuppie track, going to college and studying marketable skills. "I'm doing all right, getting good grades," the singer reassures himself. It's the nuclear science teacher who is worrisome, wearing dark glasses in the classroom. Presumably he knows something the rest us don't. The cheerful optimism never flags, nor the overburdened irony, and there is an admirable tension between them maintained to the end. Plus Chernobyl happened that year. Also: this wonderfully evocative note in Wikipedia: "The former members of Timbuk3 have refused to license the song for commercials, including a $900,000 offer from AT&T and offers from Ford, the U.S. Army, and Bausch & Lomb for their Ray-Ban sunglasses." Kudos, MacDonalds.


  1. There's a song on that album I love, Jeff, but it's not this one--not sure if I put it on a Tapeworm mix or not. (First time I've ever seen the video...nice!)