[Author (Jon Rosenberg)’s note: this is part of a larger reflection I was writing, but realized I was going pure stream of consciousness without a bound. I chopped this out and tried to edit it up a little. As such this may be the first of a series.]
Sometimes I try to analyze life like it’s a literary piece. I’ll consider what’s sitting on a table when I walk in and think “Ok, what does this symbolize?” or “What could this be foreshadowing.” If it’s pizza it’s probably foreshadowing us eating dinner, but it could also be symbolizing my host is great big slob.
Months ago now I went on a trip to the Caribbean with my now ex and her family, and when walking along, just her and I, we passed a restaurant with a live musician doing his rendition of “Fire and Rain.” I reflexively uttered a note of displeasure that he wasn’t even trying to carry the somberness of the song, thus making it more upbeat than what I feel the song IS. My ex retorted that it was a cover, and that it was annoying I didn’t like covers. The conversation didn’t proceed.
I was admittedly a little jarred at the strength of the response as I didn’t realize it was a sore spot. Given the later discovered context that she was trying to paint me as someone with whom she had a minimum of commonality, the reaction seems more logical, but none the less unkind. It did make me think though, am I against covers? I had never thought of myself that way. I almost always like Hallelujah, and I definitely like the Simple Man cover by Shinedown, and there are covers genuinely unlike their source material such as Smells Like Teen Spirit covered by The Wounded, or Metallica being played by Apocalyptica that have wound their way through my headphones a fair number of times.
There was an itch for me to scratch here. Even when the covers I liked took the song into their own, they didn’t leave the genuine piece behind. They picked songs to cover that they had a respect for, and then typically didn’t try to turn the provided set of words against the original creator. They instead seemed just to want to tell the world how they heard it. It had not crossed my mind that a cover might actually intentionally be a rejection of the source material.
It wasn’t that I took immediate offence to this thought, and upon this new view, would have liked to talk about that I think, but my partner had seemed to close off. Instead I ruminated on my own and came to reflect on my own visit.
Our setting at the time was a timeshare heavy portion of St Maartens. Among our fellow island populace, the members of our party were of an age with an average well below the Island at large. The contrast was hard to miss, but through my suddenly altered perception, it gained more form. While I might consider my trip as just a vacation, many of the others had committed to something more. They had picked The annual, or more frequent trip, until the ultimate end. Their lives were behind them, no going back now, and even a disappointingly low amount of variables when looking forward.
When my fellow islanders heard the live music at the bar, even if they requested Fire and Rain, that’s not really what they wanted to hear. They HAVE seen fire and rain, and they don’t want to be reminded about the terrors of their past, or worse, how they won’t see them again. They want the same thing they wanted when they first purchased their spot on the island: an escape; and the knowledge that yes, things are as they are, but bad isn’t here right now. In that light, the cover made much more sense. By producing the song in the same words and chords, but somehow more upbeat, the song acknowledged that, yes, we have not all climbed a crystal stair to the present day. None the less, we know we can be happy in this moment, and now we can reflect on our Fire and Rain, and whether true or not, we still declare we have very much come to terms with it.
Of course, the much more probable reality is that producing the song accurately was not in the realm of this singer's talents, and so the visitors got the version they did.