We Are All Cover Bands

Food for Thought

This Filipino restaurant closed last weekend for good. Chris and I went there on Saturday, the day before they closed. About a quarter of the menu items were sold out because they weren’t buying any more ingredients. We were lucky that everything we wanted was available. Towards the end of our dinner, a cover band started playing, which reminded me of Anthony Bourdain’s episode about the Philippines. Filipinos are apparently serious about cover bands. I find that intriguing.

Ultimately, we are all cover bands. We never invent anything entirely new; even if we did, nobody would recognize it as new. If we have no words to describe any aspect of it, it’s not possible for us to recognize the existence of it. Any experience that cannot be substituted with words simply vanishes into time. That’s why we don’t remember much of anything before we acquired language.

But if all we are singing in our lives are cover songs, how can we express ourselves? How am I being expressed in my words if most of them are simply rearrangements of existing words and concepts? In singing cover songs, like on American Idol, people often talk about “making it your own.” If you fail to achieve this, Simon Cowell would describe it as “karaoke.” Incidentally, “kara” means empty, referring to the fact that the vocal track is missing. Even if you fill it with yours, if you are not in it—that is, if you don’t make it your own—it’s still empty. The subject, the voice, is missing.

The same can be said for all other mediums. For instance, at my daughter’s graduation, one speaker delivered a speech that sounded as if a computer randomly strung poetic clichés together. It revealed nothing about her. There are also many films produced flawlessly yet reveal nothing about the directors. There is nobody behind the visual gimmicks and spectacles. The fact that they are not remakes is actually deceptive because, despite being original, they are karaoke.

Even if the words you speak are original, it doesn’t necessarily mean you are expressed in them, and conversely, even if you are simply reading someone else’s words, they could be imbued with your heart and soul. In this sense, originality is overrated.