My first boyfriend thought he was Elvis and spent an entire summer getting in character by playing songs sung by other superstars from the era. Dean Martin’s ‘Just in Time’ frequently filled every room in the house with its jaunty, carefree beat.
Years later I’m watching my favourite film and the same song comes on. But I almost don’t recognise it… it’s not the familiar croonings of happy go lucky Dean Martin. It’s the raw, gravelly stylings of the High Priestess of Soul, Nina Simone bringing a depth and complexity and longing I’ve never heard before.
Same melody, same lyrics… but a completely different song.
Until then I never understood cover versions. Why would one artist ‘copy’ another? Why sing the same song twice?*
Not for the first time in my life, I’d been missing the point. Because it’s not the same song twice. It’s the same raw material but the rest is pure creativity. Anyone who feels the words and the story can weave their magic into it and make it their own. Feeling it is the point.
When you feel it, you can own it. When you own it, you can reinvent it.
And I realise that this is the opportunity that we get all the time… to take the raw materials of events, past, present and future, and turn them into heartbreak, fear, joy, excitement, courage. We can tell the story in pained, fragile tones. But as we open up more to life, we also have a chance to do cover version after cover version…
To give it the Dean Martin or Nina Simone… or, if you’re feeling really fierce, the Beyoncé treatment.
The point is that we have the power to recreate our stories and ourselves all the time just by seeing, speaking, singing them differently. It isn’t the unchangeable facts that we sing when we tell our story but the feelings and life lessons that they draw out of us.
As Nina Simone ad libs in her soaring Paris rendition:
The way you tell your story changes your life… how will you change your life this ‘lucky day’?
*HUGE apologies in advance to my very good friend who’s writing an epic tome on this and will be horrified by my musical ignorance
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