|| - 02.20.2007
|On one of my particularly arrogant days, as a kid, I remember literally asking God, “Why did you make flies?” In my brilliance, I just knew that flies were somehow a cosmic mistake or just the product of some wasted creativity. (Lightning strikes close by and singes the grass around my feet…missed me again!) Useless creatures, I thought in my arrogance.
To me, flies were annoying. Not to mention dirty. They always hang around stuff that smells bad…like dumpsters, bathrooms and roadkill. And the obvious--cow patties--stuff like that. What normal, useful species, in its collective right mind would spend so much time around such dirty, smelly, gross stuff?
That’s not all. Flies also get around my food. Now don’t mess with my food! That reeeeeally ticks me off!
Everybody agrees flies are annoying. And not just humans. Even horses and cows swish their tails around to try to slap away the pesky buzzers.
Haven’t you ever wondered why a fly would spend hours bumping up against the same window, when there are plenty of other places to fly around in? What a waste of time!
I heard a comedian talk about how a fly is the only creature whose name is the same thing as what it does. Fly…fly. How cool is that. Think of the poor “duck”. He flies too, but he doesn’t get a cool name like “fly!” He’s stuck with “DUCK!” I think a duck is a much more worthy creature for the name “fly” than a fly. (That would leave the name “duck” for…oh…tape or something.)
Maybe flies are annoying to me because I’m just jealous. I often wish I could fly. When I see a fly, or a bee, or especially a bird, I can almost imagine what that feels like to easily get from place to place without having to take all those steps. On my own power. Without having to be connected to the ground or the floor or the stairs. Not using planes or helicopters. Just my own wings.
I’ll bet if the Wright Brothers hadn’t figured it all out a hundred years ago, I’d still be trying. Yeah, the Rice Brothers instead of the Wright Brothers. Come to think of it, my brothers’ names are Wilbur and Orville. Coincidence? I think not. (Actually that’s not true, but that would be cool, huh?)
Anyway, back to the clumsy flies! Their frenzied buzzing and bumping up against windows and screens used to make me think they were all crazy or possessed. In fact, for a while I actually thought maybe flies were somehow evil.
Remember that book we had to read in high school-- Lord Of The Flies? That title is a literal translation of “Beelzebub,” a Biblical reference to the evil one. I KNEW it! There’s something very bad about these pests. It’s Biblical. Flies are connected to evil! Back in Moses’ time, wasn’t one of the pestilences over Egypt a swarm of flies? See, they are a pestilence! I just keep finding evidence to support my theory: Flies are bad.
But one day, I completely and forever changed my mind about flies.
I was driving up to Lexington, Kentucky from Tennessee, and in my brain I was working on a song called “Deep Enough To Dream.” I was trying to come up with a creative way to get across the idea of drifting in and out of sleep. I imagined myself sitting on my parents’ screened-in porch in Maryland on a summer afternoon, and drifting off to dreamland. I was amused by the scene in my head of a fly buzzing around on the porch and bouncing up and down the screen, trying to get out, and the sound of it waking me out of my dozing. I suddenly had my idea for the song. I would drift in and out of a summer afternoon nap, and go back and forth between dreams of heaven and waking on a very normal, earthy porch, with the help of a ‘clumsy fly.’
“Awakened by a familiar sound
A clumsy fly is buzzing around
He bumps the screen and he tumbles down…
He gathers about his wits and pride
And tries again for the hundredth time
‘Cause freedom calls from the other side
And I smile and nod and slowly drift away…”
................Copyright 1986 Clumsy Fly Music
That song became my first song ever on the radio. “Deep Enough To Dream.” It also became the title song for my first CD—the actual title of the CD. Then, since I had to come up with a name for my song publishing company, I decided on “Clumsy Fly Music.” Perfect! At the end of all my song lyrics, and wherever any of my songs are printed out or recorded, the copyright line reads, “Clumsy Fly Music” along with the date of the song’s completion.
I am now forever connected to a pest I used to despise.
Then on a subsequent CD I referred to that clumsy fly in a song called “Questions For Heaven.” I had another song named “Clumsy” that really had no connection to the clumsy fly, but if I think through the words, I can find some parallels. So you might say, I’ve become obsessed with this pest.
Except that I still don’t want them around my food.
Truth be told, the human race owes a huge debt of gratitude to the fly. The acceleration of medicine and biology and genetics over the past 100 years is actually linked to this pesky species in huge ways!
In 1900, Harvard University professor William Castle placed some ripe grapes on the windowsill in his classroom laboratory in order to attract some easy organisms for his students to study. The fruit flies that started hanging around became easy and cheap to use for experiments. Their small size (smaller than ordinary house flies) made them easy to keep around. Their appetite for simple fruit, like a rotting piece of banana, made them cheap to keep fed and happy. Most importantly, fruit flies accomplished their entire life span, and all its stages, in just a couple of weeks. This one fact made the fruit fly eventually one of the most important and studied species in biology.
With an astounding reproduction rate, in such a short lifespan (one pair producing some two hundred offspring in just a couple of weeks—no wonder there are so many of them), the fly became the perfect species to accelerate studies in genetics and mutations. Scientists were typically waiting years to see the effects of genetic pairing and mutations in other animals. But by using flies in the studies, this waiting period was shortened to only weeks.
The whole field of biology suddenly changed and accelerated simply because of an impatient professor beginning to experiment with flies. Laboratories all over the world soon became breeding grounds for this otherwise “useless” creature, and began conducting thousands and thousands of experiments.
In the past 100 years, using the fly in experiments has led to some of the greatest discoveries in biology. Mapping the genetic material of fruit flies has led to understanding human genetics and finding cures for human diseases. Studies conducted on the fruit flies have led to discoveries on the effects in humans of sleep and sleep deprivation, the harmful effects of radiation on us, and principles of heredity, memory and learning, and aging. Quite simply, how life works!
The list goes on and on of the contributions this pest has made to our understanding of our own biology. Humankind is better off. Cures and treatments have been found and developed. And most of it can be traced back to the clumsy fly. I’m impressed. And to think I used to be a fly-hater.
I no longer ask God why He made flies.
Don’t get me wrong. I still swat the flies away from my food. Only now I do it respectfully. Next time you smash one, or swat it away, at least salute it first. You owe him a lot.
No kidding, there’s a fly on my computer screen right now as I type this. He just landed on the word “impressed” and now he’s doing that thing flies do when they rub their front legs together.
"Hey little buddy! Shoo fly! Be free…you only have a couple of weeks! Make the most of it! And don't worry about being forgotten after you're gone. That won't happen. I keep putting you in songs and naming businesses after you! So you be happy little fly. Fly on!"