Bob Ross made a living painting “happy little trees,” but in Michigan his legacy has been transferred from the canvas to real-life happy trees in nature.
Bob Ross Inc. and Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) have teamed up with inmates in three of the state’s correctional institutions to plant trees. Roadtrippers reports that to celebrate the 100th year of Michigan’s state park systems—and to honor Ross—the DNR renamed their “prison grow” program Happy Little Trees. The program teaches prisoners horticulture skills by growing trees from native seeds collected by volunteers. Each year, the inmates help grow around 1000 trees. The state uses those young (and happy) trees to replace damaged or diseased trees that reside in parks, campgrounds, and trails all over Michigan. In 2019, 22 out of 103 parks—about 20 percent—will be the recipient of healthy and happy trees grown by the inmates and a staff of volunteers.
To commemorate Ross’s involvement, several parks are scheduled to have commemorative signs. Orchard Beach, Port Crescent, and Yankee Springs parks will have green signs with Bob Ross’s face (afro and all) happily painting outlines of trees; the words “Happy Little Trees Ahead” appear below the outlines. DNR is always looking for more volunteers to plant trees, and those who sign up receive a special groovy T-shirt featuring Ross’s likeness.
Next year marks the 25th anniversary of Ross’s death, so the tree-planting program is particularly appropriate. As Ross once said: “I got a letter from somebody here a while back, and they said, ‘Bob, everything in your world seems to be happy.’ That’s for sure. That’s why I paint. It’s because I can create the kind of world that I want, and I can make this world as happy as I want it. Shoot, if you want bad stuff, watch the news.” Ross probably would have been thrilled to have his name attached to a program that grows thousands of happy little trees in the wild.
Friday’s Best Amazon Deals Include Digital Projectors, Ugly Christmas Sweaters, and Speakers
As a recurring feature, our team combs the web and shares some amazing Amazon deals we’ve turned up. Here’s what caught our eye today, December 4. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers, including Amazon, and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Good luck deal hunting!
Over the course of his illustrious career, George Michael gave the world many gifts. One that keeps on giving is “Last Christmas,” the 1984 holiday classic by Wham!, Michael's pop duo with Andrew Ridgeley. “Last Christmas” is such a uniquely beloved song that it inspired a 2019 film of the same name. That’s just one interesting part of the “Last Christmas” story. Read on for 10 fascinating facts about this seasonal synth-pop favorite.
1. George Michael wrote "Last Christmas" in his childhood bedroom.
“Last Christmas” was born one day in 1984 when George Michael and Wham! bandmate Andrew Ridgeley were visiting Michael’s parents. While they were sitting around watching TV, Michael suddenly dashed upstairs to his childhood bedroom and composed the modern Xmas classic in about an hour. “George had performed musical alchemy, distilling the essence of Christmas into music,” Ridgeley said. “Adding a lyric which told the tale of betrayed love was a masterstroke and, as he did so often, he touched hearts."
2. “Last Christmas” isn’t really a Christmas song.
There’s nothing in “Last Christmas” about Santa, reindeer, trees, snow, or anything we typically associate with the holiday. Rather, the song is about a failed romance that just happens to have begun on December 25, when Michael gave someone his heart, and ended on December 26, when this ungrateful person “gave it away.”
3. George Michael wrote and produced the song—but that’s not all.
By the time Wham! recorded “Last Christmas” in August (yes, August) 1984, Michael had taken full control of the group. In addition to writing and producing the song, Michael insisted on playing the Roland Juno-60 synth in the studio. “George wasn’t a musician,” engineer Chris Porter said. “It was a laborious process, because he was literally playing the keyboards with two or three fingers.” Michael even jangled those sweet sleigh bells himself.
4. “Last Christmas” didn’t reach #1 on the UK charts.
As the movie Love Actually reminds us, scoring a Christmas #1 in the UK is a really big deal. Unfortunately, “Last Christmas” didn’t give Wham! that honor. It stalled at #2, and to this day it has the distinction of being the highest-selling UK single of all time to not reach #1.
5. George Michael sang on the song that kept “Last Christmas” at #2.
“Last Christmas” was bested on the UK charts by Band Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” an all-star charity single benefiting Ethiopian famine relief. Michael sang on “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” and was so committed to the cause that he donated his profits from “Last Christmas” to helping the African nation.
6. George Michael was sued for plagiarism over “Last Christmas.”
In the mid-1980s, the publishing company Dick James Music sued George Michael on behalf of the writers of “Can’t Smile Without You,” a schmaltzy love song recorded by The Carpenters and Barry Manilow, among others. According to Chris Porter, the recording engineer on “Last Christmas,” the suit was dismissed after a musicologist presented 60-plus songs that have a similar chord progression and melody.
7. "Last Christmas" has been covered by a lot of other artists.
Jimmy Eat World, Hilary Duff, Good Charlotte, Ariana Grande, Carly Rae Jepsen, Gwen Stefani, and Taylor Swift are just a few of the artists who’ve covered “Last Christmas” over the years. The strangest rendition may be the 2006 dance version by the Swedish CGI character Crazy Frog, which reached #16 on the UK charts.
8. Some people make a concerted effort to avoid hearing “Last Christmas.”
While millions of people delight in hearing “Last Christmas” every year, an internet game called Whamageddon encourages players to avoid the song from December 1 to 24. The rules are simple: Once you hear the original Wham! version of “Last Christmas” (remixes and covers don’t count), you’re out. You then admit defeat on social media with the hashtag #Whamageddon and wait for your friends to suffer the same fate. Note: The rules prohibit you from “deliberately sending your friends to Whamhalla.”
9. “Last Christmas” finally charted in America following George Michael’s death in 2016.
Back in 1984, “Last Christmas” wasn’t released as a commercial single in the United States, and therefore it wasn’t eligible for the Billboard Hot 100 chart. However, Billboard changed its rules in 1998, and in the wake of George Michael’s unexpected death on Christmas Day 2016, the song finally made its Hot 100 debut. In December 2018, it reentered the charts and peaked at #25.
10. George Michael was involved in 2019's Last Christmas movie.
November 2019 saw the release of Paul Feig's Last Christmas, a romantic comedy inspired by the song starring Game of Thrones's Emilia Clarke. Producer David Livingstone came up with the idea while George Michael was still alive, and when he pitched the pop star on the project, he was given the greenlight—with one condition: Michael stipulated that actress and author Emma Thompson write the movie. Thompson co-authored the story and the screenplay, and she even wound up playing a supporting role.