I remember the moment I first started thinking about this.
It was during the third season of The Sing-Off, fairly close to the beginning. I showed a friend of mine this video, where the all-female group Delilah sang their version of “Grenade,” by Bruno Mars. I liked it quite a bit, myself, but my friend was less enthusiastic. He preferred the original version of the song, and more power to him for that. When he showed me Bruno Mars’ version, however, we reversed roles and I was the less-enthusiastic one.
I forget precisely what my friend’s objections to Delilah’s version were – something to do with the beat being slowed down, among other things – but I’ve always remembered my first thought when Bruno Mars started singing. Namely:
“Oh, crap, he’s whining!”
True, the lyrics Delilah sang were the same, but that one felt more like weeping amidst the legitimate pain of recent heartbreak. There is a difference between weeping and whining, as one is the healthy, natural thing to do when you are suffering, and the other reeks of dwelling on it and going “pity poor pitiful me.” It’s choosing to hold on to the pain, to stay hurt, instead of healing, rising, moving on. Weeping, by contrast, is simply letting the pain out before it kills you, which is essential to the aforementioned “healing, rising, moving on.”
I like the weeping (or, at least, the healing that it can facilitate) but I hate the whining.
This is, of course, only according to my own opinions and experience.
But that’s exactly what got me started thinking about this whole thing. My friend and I, who have very similar tastes and interests, listened to the same song, in fact we listened to two versions of the same song, and we each took something decidedly different away from them. Even more, we took different things away from the comparison of the two versions. I don’t know if I’d ever have put words to my feelings on whining vs. weeping without the both of them.
So, far from an attempt to bash Bruno’s original version and praise a cover version instead, I want to praise both of these versions, and every other. (like this one)
See, we, as humans, all have different perspectives, even when we’re very similar to each other. Different versions of a song are different interpretations of that song and what it means. We can learn from one version, but we can learn more from multiple versions.
I’m stating the obvious, I know, but I have learned the value of different versions of the same thing.
This applies to songs, of course, but to so much more as well.
Take a novel, for instance, or series of novels. We read them, we enjoy, we learn. But there’s also listening to them. Different audio versions of the exact same novel can bring something new that not only might you not glean by reading, but each brings their own interpretation of the novel for the audience to enjoy.
Heck, there’s even a trend going where some novels are put into graphic novel format, displaying yet another version of the story. Or when that story is made into a movie or a television show or both. Or the comics that inspire artists to create their own interpretations in all of the above. Not to mention copious amounts of fan art!
Someone, a passing acquaintance I had a brief conversation with, once dismissed fantasy, and most of fiction, in a single sentence: “Once you’ve read one, you’ve read ’em all, because they’re all the same.”
I would argue now, to that person, that this is precisely why we read and write and create all of these different versions of the “the same thing.” Because they are the same, we learn from what is different between them. Entire genres are distinct from each other because of what each one is able to teach us. And as our society evolves, ever-changing, we have new questions to ask, new lessons to learn, all of them same as the old.
My favorite Western movie, 3:10 to Yuma, stands as an example of this. I’ve not seen the original movie nor read the original story behind the two movies, but from what I know of them, each one teaches something different about honor and integrity.
So, really, my friend and I were both wrong in our initial dismissal of each others’ preferred versions of “Grenade.” But, then again, we were also right in valuing what each of us liked, and sharing something new. We didn’t have to like what the other one liked. We just had to listen, and that is how we learn.
Why this matters is not just as a vindication of every story, song, or piece of entertainment that someone has nonchalantly dismissed as a waste of time based solely on their personal preferences, rather than because of something about the material which they disagree with. The problem with casually saying, “That’s bad because I don’t like it,” is that the more we do it, the more we do it with things of greater import than entertainment. Sure, it’s a travesty to refuse something we could learn from, but it’s far worse when we dismiss everything like that.
When a parent tells an impressionable child that something they like is bad, or worthless, without explaining anything about it. Also, without listening to anything about it.
When two people talking politics or religion or anything else utterly refuse to listen and learn from one another. In short, they refuse to work together.
When people dismiss someone because of their visible ancestry, their race. Aren’t we all just different versions of each other?
When any two people who have so much in common are incapable of staying on common ground for any reason that has to do with “not listening to something different.”
Our experiences and opinions, our curiosities and questions, our experiments and adventures, all of these are essential for our learning, both as individuals and as an entire species. Especially our mistakes.
So who’s to say which opinion, which story, which song is more worthy than any other of attention and appreciation?
How about these three versions “Firework” by Katy Perry? Between her original version, the Sing-Off version by the Backbeats, and this orchestral version, they have plenty in common, and plenty which is different. Should any of them be dismissed, offhand?
There is nothing wrong with expressing ourselves, and expressing our own interpretations of the same words, the same world we all live in.
We just have to be careful that we don’t stop listening, is all. 😉