Neither Sleet Nor Snow Nor Nuclear Winter

January 1, 2002       Craig Causer      

With the current fear of anthrax-laced letters continuing to loom over both postal workers and mail recipients alike, one might ask, “How can this be happening within a system that is designed to survive a nuclear holocaust?” Yes, a nuclear holocaust.

But, no matter what, The Mail Will Go Through, or so believes oft-tongue-in-cheek folk singer Tom Paxton, who wrote and began performing the song during the early 1980s.

The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) developed an emergency planning manual during the 1950s that outlined the procedures to be taken to insure proper mail delivery if ever we should be hit by “the big one.” Those standards became outdated and in 1981 sweeping revisions were completed.

While many considered the idea of post-nuclear annihilation mail service ludicrous, one USPS official defended it during a 1982 congressional hearing by saying that those who were still alive would still receive their mail.

It’s kind of hard to pay that credit card bill or donate to the local Daisy Hill Puppy Farm when the country’s been reduced to rubble.

“The inspiration was very simple,” Paxton explained of his tune. “An announcement by the Post Office Department that in the event of a nuclear holocaust they would still be delivering mail? I thought that was too delicious to pass up.”

With the postal system continuing to battle against an anthrax threat the relevance of the 20-year old song is not lost on Paxton, who also warned in song of the horror that the nation would soon have 1 million lawyers. The difference is that anthrax is happening in the here and now and has resulted in the loss of life — an act not consistent with the song’s tone, he pointed out.

“In the case of The Mail Will Go Through I thought it was such a totally absurd pronouncement — it deserved to be held up for ridicule,” Paxton said, before being cut off by his nearby personal computer. “Look at this, I have mail. Maybe for the new generation it should be called The Email Will Go Through.”

Despite the moment of electronic irony, Paxton admitted that he is not feeling a satirical muse since September 11. He’s composed a serious song called The Bravest as a tribute to the firemen who lost their lives in the attacks.

Performances of The Bravest have been warmly received by audiences, he said, quite the change of pace from some of Paxton’s previous work during the Vietnam War. There were times during Vietnam where people ostentatiously stood up and walked out because the songs were not shy in opposing that war, he said.

Paxton laments the lost opportunity to talk to the walkouts, but the storytelling in his music spoke to many more than it missed. Unlike the stereotypical beatnik vocalist, he enlisted in the Army and was stationed at Fort Dix in New Jersey prior to his musical career. His military experience has somewhat influenced his opinion on current events.

“I don’t want to take the waving the sword stance (regarding the war in Afghanistan),” he said. “I think this is all unspeakably tragic and I don’t know where it’s going to go. I do know that people have to be stopped because they are insane and if they weren’t stopped they’d do more. I just don’t want to go banging the war drums. I just don’t have that in me.”

What he does have now is a feeling of sadness that has restrained him from following the David Letterman and Jay Leno leads of writing satirical material regarding the current war. But say the words “post office” and “nuclear war” in the same sentence and he immediately perks up. A lot of interesting things have gone on in the postal system over the years, he laughed. “I have a brother-in-law who was an assistant postmaster general for a very long time and he would tell me a lot of tales.”

Those are tales that direct marketers obviously wouldn’t mind because even after all the threats to our country’s postal system — including nuclear war — Paxton continues to remind us that our correspondences are safe when he sings with a grin:

If they’ve vaporized your bike
You can take a little hike
Get your letter in the chute
Between the first and second strike,
And the mail will go through.

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