I never did see the musical Stop the World—I Want to Get Off (a title I’ve often joked about by changing “Off” to “Orff,”) but I love one of the songs in it that I heard on a Sammy Davis Jr. recording— Gonna Build Me a Mountain. I quickly added it to our school ceremonial songs, singing it at the beginning of the school year when the first day is like a tiny hill in the mountain of the year to come and we want to encourage the kids to get ready for the climb ahead to their next possibility and new version of themselves.
There’s much that I love about the lyrics. A few comments after each verse:
1) Gonna build me a mountain, from a little hill.
Gonna build me a mountain, at least, I hope I will.
Gonna build me a mountain, gonna build it high.
Don’t know how I’m gonna do it, only know I’m gonna try.
• The mountain that is most meaningful is the one we build ourselves through our own efforts, with our own hands and heart, be it a skill, an understanding, a vision, a character.
• If we’re going to go to all that trouble, might as well aim high. Too many people’s goals today are tiny or trivial or easily achieved (gonna scroll through all my Facebook posts), small little mounds instead of majestic mountaintops. Aim high!
• All our lists, mission statements, five-year plans are fine as far as they go, but if we’re honest about how our lives actually work (or don’t!), we’d have to confess that when we start a venture, we have no idea how we’re going to do it. (Think parenting here.) The only thing we can honestly vow is that we’re going to try. Intention and effort is all.
2) Gonna build me a daydream, from a little hope.
Gonna push that daydream, up the mountain slope.
Gonna build a daydream, gonna see it through.
Build a daydream and a mountain, gonna make them both come true.
• Vision is built from dream and dream is fed by hope, hope and faith the both we and the world can be at least a little bit better tomorrow than we were yesterday.
• Hope is a muscular verb, not a wimpy noun. We have to push that daydream step by step up the slope and that’s hard, hard work.
• Hard work requires perseverance and determination to see it through. When we wholly commit and stick with it, the daydream and the mountain both indeed will become true.
3) Gonna build me a heaven, from a little hell.
Gonna build a heaven, and I know darn well,
If I build my mountain with a lot of care,
Put my daydream on the mountain, heaven will be waitin’ there.
• You can’t know heaven if you haven’t known hell. No New Age tiptoeing through the tulips without spending some time trudging through the swamp.
• Care and attention to detail are essential. That’s what education at its best offers. The long and patient trudge—and occasional dance— through the tiny details that help the big picture emerge.
• Heaven is not a place in the tour book nor an item on the shelf to be purchased through blind faith or church donations. It is the gifted moments of grace and blessing that come when we have done our work— crafted our vision and put feet with the wings.
This song was co-written by Anthony Newly and Leslie Bricuse, who wrote other hit songs like “What Kind of Fool Am I”, “Who Can I Turn To?” and “Feeling Good.” Tony Bennet, may he rest in peace (he passed away two days ago) sang some of their songs. Anthony, Leslie and Tony all good examples of hard-working people who built their own mountains. Here I just want to thank them for their work.
Meanwhile, I wrote three new verses to the above song, none of them quite at par with the original songwriters, but perhaps of interest to those looking for songs to inspire and encourage young people to keep feeding their better selves. Enjoy!
4) Gonna grab some sunshine, from a little dark.
Gonna walk that sunshine, through the town and park,
Gonna make some sunshine, gonna shine my light,
If we do it all together, gonna make a day from night.
5) Gonna build me a smile, from a little frown.
Gonna stand up tall, when they knock me down.
Gonna keep on smilin’, they can’t take it away,
Keep my smile and my sunshine, working for a bright new day.
7) Gonna speak some truth here, from a lotta lies.
Gonna speak some truth here, so we all can rise,
Gonna speak some truth here, lay down my fear,
Gonna shout if from the mountain, for the whole wide world to hear.