Friday, October 23, 2009

Love and ambition

I'm not always delighted when songs I greatly like are used in commercials, and I'm even less so when the songs used are Beatles songs. I spent a particularly intense part of my adolescence as a Beatles fan and the songs are so connected to certain events that they can't ever be anything but bittersweet. (I also can't buy "new" Beatles music. It would be like buying my own head.) There's a commercial that they've been running a lot during the baseball playoffs that uses a remake of "All You Need Is Love," and it intrigues me only because I've always thought that this is one of the most misinterpreted Beatles lyrics.

"There's nothing you can do that can't be done.
Nothing you can sing that can't be sung.
There's nothing you can make that can't be made
No one you can save that can't be saved.
There's nothing you can do, but you can learn how to be you in time."

Think about it. What John Lennon is saying here is not the usual you-can-be-anything-you-can-overcome-any-obstacle that is so dear to our hearts and narratives. Just the opposite. Sure, you can do something, but, guess what, so can lots of people. If you don't do it, some one else will, probably. At the time John Lennon wrote this he was one of the most famous and successful musicians in the world. If anyone had ever "achieved something" in both material terms and in mattering in the lives of millions of people, he had. And yet, here he is looking back and saying, there's nothing particularly talented or special about me and what I did, many others can do. Material success doesn't bring happiness. You can do or not do a million things, but until you learn how to be you, living your life, you won't find peace.
OK, it's a bit of a downer, and very mid-1960s. But I like to keep it in mind as a corrective to ambition. If the most famous musician of his time can shrug his shoulders at success, maybe I can, too...sometimes...

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