A friend of mine with a talent for music posted the following statement on
Facebook recently in response to another FB friend of his, named Ron, who had
shared Paul Simon’s song 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover on my friend’s page. My friend’s response was this:
Thanks for this, Ron. Funny, I was looking up local bands and listening to them
tonight, trying to figure out where I fit in the landscape that is the
oversaturated music scene… and then you posted this and I thought – there
aren’t many Paul Simons anymore… story-writing song writers (that aren’t
country and full of patriotic yuck). I read somewhere recently that music has
jumped the shark… perhaps it has… which always leaves me wondering – what
could I possibly contribute to such an oversaturated art? There is nothing new
under the sun… right?
I have to admit that reading his post made me sad. Sad that this
was his view of his potential place in the music scene, and especially the
comment that there is “nothing new under the sun.”
There is a quote that is erroneously attributed to Charles Duell, the commissioner of the United States Patent Office from 1898 – 1901. Duell was supposed to have said during that time, “Everything that can be invented has been invented.” The jesting quote’s origin actually seems to come from a humor magazine from 1899 entitled Punch, but by attributing it to Duell it instantly makes the words more ironic and provocative.
My friend is also a Christian and so, relying on his religious
sensibilities, naturally referenced the Bible with his equally provacative
“nothing new under the sun” comment. The full statement comes from Ecclesiastes
and basically goes like this:
has been will be again,
what has been done will be
there is nothing new under
Let me take this moment to state that I am the last person who should be preaching gospel or even quoting the Bible, but I must say (at the risk of my fingertips catching flame and burning as I write this) that while my friend’s intentions by making the statement he made may have been reverential, I fear he may be missing the point. Was this “nothing new under the sun” statement meant to be taken literally or, rather, meant as a gentle nudging to his friend Ron, himself, or anyone reading his post to attempt to make a difference?
In my opinion, artists and entertainers, including myself, would do well to take
this as a precautionary statement. The idea that there is “nothing new under the sun” can instantly feel stifling and cause one to take on a “what’s the point” attitude that is so detrimental to good art. Art is there for us to enjoy, yes, but to the artist it can–and should – also be used as inspiration to expand upon and create. Stopping too soon, or worse yet, not even beginning because one feels that there is “nothing new under the sun” can be
Intimidation can also be problematic. Besides being a performer, I am also a writer. In my earlier days of writing – when I was first starting out by writing movie reviews for a very small newspaper for a Podunk town In California – I went to the theater to watch the movie Stand By Me when it was first released with the intent of reviewing the film. What I was treated to in that darkened room was a marvelous coming-of-age story with impeccable writing. It is close to 30 years later, and it still remains one of my favorite movies. But, I remember leaving the theater that night with a strange, gnawing feeling; an odd mixture of both elation and dread. Elation, obviously, for the brilliant
cinematic treasure I had just witnessed, but the dread I felt was due to the
sad realization washing over me as I made my way back to my car that, try as I
might, I would never be able to write something as powerful or as meaningful as the writing I had just seen played out before me. I was honestly affected by this for the next couple of days; so much so that I didn’t even feel like writing the review of the movie, the
deadline for which was fast approaching. After a couple days of what I can only describe as “wallowing” in this self-inadequacy, I made the conscious effort to write the review by drawing upon the inspiration I had felt while watching the film and redirecting it into writing a review that I thought would do the film justice. I wanted the world (okay, the awfully low number of subscribers to the newspaper) to know just how great this film was, and I decided to do this by writing a review that challenged what writing skills I had acquired up to that point, and to devote more time to the writing of it than I had ever devoted to a review in the past. By doing so, the piece ended up being one of the better
things I wrote during that period of time in my life.
Comparing oneself to what has come before is a fool’s exercise. Yet, I admit I am still guilty of it myself. I will still find myself, on occasion, comparing myself to other performers and experiencing envy for what they have accomplished. When that happens, I have to remind myself of all that I have accomplished and take solace in the knowledge that the work I’ve done is uniquely me and that I have been very fortunate to have had the opportunity to accomplish all that I have up to this point.
It’s all right to admire, just don’t compare.
There is a reason we only have one Paul Simon; and if you love his work, don’t be envious, jealous, defeated, or covetous of it. Instead, infuse that love and admiration into your own work and see if you can’t create something new under the sun.