Here is how it went down: On Christmas morning, I was volunteering at Longwood Gardens in the Peirce–du Pont House with my Jewish buddy welcoming, as he says, all the Jews, Atheists, Buddhists, Hindus, Taoists and Zoroastrians out that morning. (Oh, stop it! He was kidding!) The House has a magnificent Porter music box at the entrance that was playing the same Christmas carol over and over. He said it was driving him crazy, couldn’t we get someone to change the tune? I did not even notice because of my hearing problem that makes all music sound the same.
I suggested I could sing something instead.
“Like what?” he asked.
I started singing, “Daisy, Daisy . . . ,” and he quickly stopped me, as anyone who appreciates music should.
“Do you know the name of that song?” he asked.
“No. A Bicycle Built For Two.”
Fast forward to the following evening, less than 40 hours later. I was watching the 1968 movie, 2001: A Space Odyssey from the beginning (it is a long, long movie, but well worth it). As Dave pulls out HAL’s logic modules, HAL begins to die. He reverts back to his childhood and sings “Daisy, Daisy . . .” slower and slower as he dies. We all remember that part. Very poignant, even if HAL was only a computer.
The song is an inside joke. In 1961, IBM first used it to demonstrate computer synthesis of words, and Arthur C. Clarke, co-author of the movie, was in the audience. (About that same time, I saw their demonstration of music synthesis in the form of a classical piano piece. A professional concert pianist said he could only tell it was synthesized because there were no clicks of a performer’s fingernails on the keys.)
While I was discovering all of this, I Googled the song. The official title is Daisy Bell (Bicycle Built For Two). Bicycle Built For Two is the subtitle, and who ever heard of the title Daisy Bell? So, we both were wrong, but it makes for a good trivia question: What was Daisy’s last name?.
(I assume Daisy Bell was no relation to our popular classmate Marian Bell. You can hear the original 1894 recording on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PqvuNb8DevE/ with two verses that expand the story.)