All you need is...what?

Monday April 17, 2006 @ 05:05 PM (UTC)

Yesterday, in course of conversation with herr wonko, I found myself sing-quoting, “There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done…” and I felt a sharp pang of hypocrisy. You see, I hate those lyrics. It’s an okay song and all, and all due credit for use of the Marseillaise (even if it has exactly nothing to do with the song) but the lyrics have always annoyed me.

There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done. Nothing you can sing that can’t be sung…. Nothing you can make that can’t be made.

I know, I know, they might mean something else, and coming from the mouths of artists “bigger than Jesus” perhaps it really should come off differently; but to me, it’s always seemed to say, “You aren’t really unique and special. If you don’t create something, that same thing will in due time be created by someone else.” Which is, of course, my problem with the whole thing (not the following, “But love still makes life worthwhile!”). I was raised in the strictest Cooperative Pre-school/Sesame Street tradition of creativity and individual uniqueness. By the age of 5, many carefully deployed books, programs, and parental compliments had brainwashed me to believe that I am, in fact, unique and special. But on a deeper level, I feel the premise of these lyrics, or my interpretation thereof, is wrong.

Let us say, by some miracle, that ten people in the world all imagine precisely the same thing. How many of them are actually going to create something from the idea? I think I’m being overly optimistic to guess three; and of those three, one will write a story, one will paint a watercolor, and one will pull out his guitar and start a song. The same idea finds different expression through different people, in different parts of the world. It adds to the richness of human accomplishment.

And the others? The seven non-starters? Perhaps they think imagination is childish, or, worst of all, they don’t believe enough in their idea or their gifts to try. They don’t have the sheer arrogance to perform that act of egotism and create. As acts of egotism go, there is none less objectionable and more fruitful than saying, “I can create something of worth and beauty.”

Give it a try. There’s more to life than love; all you need is a dream.


It is true in science, at least, that people often arrive at similar, if not identical, results. However, in creative arts, it’s almost impossible to create something identical to another person’s creation. Think about how many chimpanzees would have to pound on their proverbial typewriters for endless eons in order to arrive at just the lyrics you’ve highlighted in the article.

That is not to say that it is easy to be original. Most creative output is shackled to whatever culture and time its source is embedded in. Originality takes practice. Only when you’ve gained an intimate familiarity with mainstream material can you twist and turn it into something truly unique.

Perhaps the world isn’t quite as deterministic as the song implies, although shedding the slough of tradition often requires half a lifetime of intensive wiggling. I always thought those iconoclastic weevils themselves managed to attain that goal. Who’s to say that self-contradiction isn’t an imperative component of good art, anyway? After all, art imitates life.

I guess we read into things what we want to see. I always took the song to be more of the message “You can do anything if you have love”.

That may actually be a far more sensical reading (although the tenses/cases don’t quite seem to line up. As it is, with your reading, it works out to “with love, you are able to sing something you already can sing.” Well, since when did case and tense matter much in rock ‘n’ roll? “I can’t see me lovin’ nobody but you for all my life,” for example :)

I freely admit mine is odd and probably not meant, but it did inspire musings on the topic of inspiration and expression, so it did some good :p

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