Friday, July 03, 2015

Blue Oyster Cult - bad fact checkers

Don't Fear the Reaper is not about a murder-suicide pact, according to its author Donald Brian "Buck Dharma" Roeser, even though it mentions Romeo and Juliet prominently in the lyrics:
Valentine is done
Here but now they're gone
Romeo and Juliet
Are together in eternity... Romeo and Juliet
40, 000 men and women everyday... Like Romeo and Juliet
40, 000 men and women everyday... Redefine happiness
Another 40, 000 coming everyday... We can be like they are
Come on baby... don't fear the reaper
Baby take my hand... don't fear the reaper
We'll be able to fly... don't fear the reaper
Baby I'm your man...


According to Wiki:
Dharma says the song is about eternal love, rather than suicide. He used Romeo and Juliet as motifs to describe a couple believing they would meet again in the afterlife.
My guess is that Dharma wasn't actually familiar with the Shakespeare play and just knew the characters as lovers - he didn't realize they both die by suicide. But then I don't think he's big on checking facts anyway, because...
He guessed that "40,000 men and women" died each day, and the figure was used several times in the lyrics.
I happened to be listening to Don't Fear the Reaper today and I started to wonder about that number. So I did a little research, and I was pleased to find I am not alone:
Yesterday, on the way to the airport, I heard this on the radio and thought, "Huh. I wonder if Blue Oyster Cult actually looked up the daily global death rate when they were writing this?" 
I can now pretty confidently report that, no, they did not. I suppose this is what comes from writing songs before the birth of the Internet. And, also, from not being anal retentive. 
How many people die every day? Obviously, this differs widely from day to day and year to year. Most of the time, when people talk about "how many people die every day" they're talking about taking rough estimate of how many people die every year and dividing that by 365. I'd be perfectly happy to let Blue Oyster Cult do this, because it would be a little ridiculous to sing, "x number of men and women on July 15th, 1976", or whatever. Averaging it out would have been fine, so let's assume that's what we're doing.
According to the World Health Organization, around 54.5 million people die annually. Which makes the "daily death rate" roughly 149,000. Of course, those are the current numbers. To be fair to Blue Oyster Cult, I found the death rate from 1976 (with the help of my friend Stephen McNeil). At the time "Don't Fear the Reaper" was released, the world population 4.1 billion, with a death rate 12.5/1000, which comes out to 140,000 per day. So the bad news is that Blue Oyster Cult is way off in their estimation of the death rate. But the good news is that you could quite easily change the lyrics to say "140,000 coming every day" and not screw with the meter too much.

Wow, he underestimated by 100K. Damn.

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