Are We Saying The Same Thing Over And Over Again?

What are you trying to say? What do you want to express to the world? What’s your message? What special knowledge do you uniquely grasp and wish to declare to all of humanity? What secret did the world to reveal to you?

I’ve carried with me for a while now the sentiment that every artist or creative or thinking human or whatever is simply reworking the same idea over and over again. What they tried to articulate at age ten, they’re now on their deathbed attempting to re-articulate before they leave the world. Over time the message becomes clearer, more vivid and clean, but it’s still never fully expressed satisfactorily. They’re always trying to find the right word, the right colors, yet never able to master and render it completely.

I don’t remember where I read it, or if I ever really read it all (could be a fake memory or a dream), but there is this quote always turning over in my mind that says something like “a poet is successful in their lifetime if they write only one good poem.” That’s all it takes. Because every poem is really the same poem, and most are failures, but with any luck one poem will come close enough to grasping the message your being is trying to impress upon the world.

I notice this, for example, in one of my favorite bands — the Deftones. Whatever your prejudices (positive or negative), just consider the following.

They’re one of the few rock/metal bands that have actually persisted over the years with artistic integrity and relative commercial success. Founded in 1988, today they’re still putting out records that receive critical praise and generate the dollars. There’s something to that. And that something, perhaps, is that they keep re-writing the same song over and over again.

What makes the Deftones an interesting paradigm is that they are perhaps either explicitly or implicitly aware of their tendency to re-create the same song. The song “Hexagram” has the lyrics, “It’s the same sound… It’s the same, same sound” and “Deathblow” has the lyric: “It’s still the same song.”

And how is it still the same song?

In 1997, the Deftones released the album “Around The Fur.” The last track on the record “MX” has the lyrics:

You’re on fire…
Closer to the lung
Shove her over the railing.

In 2000, the Deftones released “White Pony” and the last track “Ping Maggit” has the lyrics:

I’ll set you on fire.
‘Cause I’m on fire
Pushed back to square
Now that you’ve kneed her in the throat

Skeletally, this is the same song. It begins with a body on fire and ends with an assault on the respiratory system; in “MX” the lung, in “Pink Maggit” the throat. Same idea, just an evolved execution. Note too the updated sense of self-awareness. In “MX” the source of the fire is located outside the narrator and in “Ping Maggit” the fire, the supposed source of pain, begins with the narrator and spreads to another.

Another example: the songs “Street Carp” (2000), “When Girls Telephone Boys” (2003), and “Royal” (2010). The first goes:

It’s not that I care
But you’re that girl
(With sharp teeth)…
Well here’s my new address
664, Oh I forget

And “When Girls Telephone Boys”

You always sharpen your teeth ‘cause you’re like that
I would call but I forget where the phone is at

And “Royal”

Armed with teeth in fashion
Our contact, reach us…
Take me
I don’t care where

It’s the same message. Sharp teeth, an attempt at communication, and ultimately a confession of apathy and indifference about contact, a giving up. Except in “Royal” there is a sense of positive momentum.

This is hardly an extensive study. It’s more of a question to readers: Have you noticed this phenomenon in your favorite artists? Have you noticed this tendency in yourself? Are we all just trying to articulate the “same song” over and over again? TC Mark

image – Deftones

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  • http://twitter.com/FailboatSailor Justine G. (@FailboatSailor)

    This is wrong. There are simply NOT ENOUGH ways to tell someone to “call me, maybe.”

    • jessesummer

      hahaha aww yiss.

  • http://gravatar.com/nishantjn nishantjn

    A very deep and philosophical idea absolutely TRASHED by the quality of your examples. Those were more like inability to come up with original ideas/lyrics. When you ask the question of whether we are saying the same thing, it is not so easy to point it out as finding similarities in some damn sentences. It’s much deeper and more subconscious than that, reflected in ideas being shared, a vision being created or a common goal being sought through the literature or the art. You can say Ayn Rand had one thing to say, said in different books. Similarly for Jim Morrison or Rimbaud.

    However, if you’re going to give examples of THAT nature, just looking for similar phrases and superficial ideas, then it’s easy to find proof of similar things being said over and over again. 80% of Ryan O’Connell’s articles. (I think the other 20% are gold btw)

    • RAH

      Don’t be such an elitist.

      • http://fifthfloorfuckers.wordpress.com nishantjn

        That’s just such an easy thing to say, isn’t it? A bad example is a bad example.

    • http://fifthfloorfuckers.wordpress.com nishantjn

      I will concede, however, that I don’t know a LOT about the deftones. If you think of the band and their music, and one idea shines through, then yes maybe they are putting the same message forward. But finding it through comparison of out-of-context phrases is just a lazy way to look for similarities.

    • guest

      WORQ!

      i donno if i agree with you tho about ryan, his unique ability lies in being able to throw up in fuschia (with some nice lighting effects)

  • http://www.facebook.com/luis.sopelana Luis Eduardo Sopelana

    I’ve definitely found it on many creative aspects. It’s like LEITMOTIF4LIFE.

    This could be linked to what happens to “one-hit wonders”: the public expects that huge hit (or even short string of hits) to be the theme that runs in the rest of their work and (for whatever reason) it just doesn’t.

  • http://timfen.wordpress.com timfen

    I think Chino Moreno deserves a pass here. incredibly talented vocalist, incredidbly talented band!! okay so maybe some lines resemble others… at least they’re not like Nickelback, AC/DC or 50% of rappers who just re-release what basically amounts to the same f***ing song over and over and over and over and over and over and over

  • http://gravatar.com/lakemp Laura

    I really feel you here. I noticed this with songs Justin Timberlake (ha! how different a genre can be but whatever) produced or co-wrote. He just keeps exploiting the “love as a drug” metaphor. It started with his hit song LoveStoned (2007). A year later he tried the same trick with Rihanna’s song Rehab. Which most of us will know goes like: “I gotta check into Rehab cause baby your my disease”.
    And then again, he wrote a song called “Love Dealer” (2010) for this Dutch girl Esmee Denters who was discovered on Youtube.

  • http://www.itmakesmestronger.com/2012/06/are-we-saying-the-same-thing-over-and-over-again/ Only L<3Ve @ ItMakesMeStronger.com

    […] Thought Catalog » Life Add a comment […]

  • http://twitter.com/mariannemichael Marianne M Chrisos (@mariannemichael)

    I think that part of making good art is talking about the “universal” parts of the human experience (love, pain, loss, life, etc) in new and creative ways that speak to others, and using the ways that others have to spark us and connect us. So no, there is probably “nothing new under the sun”, and to even comment on it, really, is making your point.

  • Bad Girl

    I will quote you
    >What they tried to articulate at age ten, they’re now on their deathbed attempting to re-articulate before they leave the world. Over time the message becomes clearer, more vivid and clean, but it’s still never fully expressed satisfactorily. They’re always trying to find the right word, the right colors, yet never able to master and render it completely.<
    I consider these sentences absolutely true. I used to know one film director, never satisfied person with personal creations. Writing similar drama scripts, over and over.
    One famous example is Woody Allen. He expresses dissatisfaction about his movies, it is never THE ONE.

    I am a thinker, not an artist. And I don't think that I have this kind of thoughts about my life and plans, I know what I want, and I get it always.

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    […] am tempted to say we repeat ourselves, that we play the same record over and over again. But that is not repetition at all. We are, in fact, playing out the past, what’s already […]

  • http://www.itmakesmestronger.com/2013/07/o-to-be-born-again/ Only L<3Ve @ ItMakesMeStronger.com

    […] am tempted to say we repeat ourselves, that we play the same record over and over again. But that is not repetition at all. We are, in fact, playing out the past, what’s already […]

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