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
Armed with teeth in fashion
Our contact, reach us…
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?