People always seem to get angry at the “pretender.” I have been guilty of criticizing other people’s two-faced behavior many times. I think of my youth and all the grand, spirited ideas I told myself back then I would never compromise. At an early point in my life, most decisions I made were black and white in my limited view. I thought I knew exactly what life demanded of an honest individual, and I saw little cause to compromise with false values or standards. After all, I was an Aquarian in the Age of Aquarius. “Time’s they were a-changin’” and I longed to be a positive force in the New Frontier. As time passed and my Technicolor World began slowly to fade, multiple solutions seemed to multiply, once easy decisions became hard to make, and false faces, although still somewhat distasteful, became tinged with wrinkles of reality. I often think of musical influences in my life. Jackson Browne’s song “The Pretender” (1976) seemed to make more and more sense with each passing day. I think the song, in a few words, presents insight into who most of us eventual become. Don’t we all feel a little let heartbroken by circumstances that altered our view of Camelot? At the very least, time calls upon us to question our roles in the real world.In my generation, those immature expectations were all based on love and mutual understanding. “I want to know what became of the changes We waited for love to bring Were they only the fitful dreams Of some greater awakening?”
Then, we realize the necessity of working and facing everyday commonplace images in a world largely unromantic and basically utilitarian. We still see ourselves as unique, necessary cogs in the machinery of our world and feel we can still provide ourselves with every imagined dream of youth. Yet, everything around us seems to point us toward being slaves to necessity. “Caught between the longing for love And the struggle for the legal tender Where the sirens sing and the church bells ring And the junk man pounds his fender. Where the veterans dream of the fight Fast asleep at the traffic light And the children solemnly wait For the ice cream vendor Out into the cool of the evening Strolls the Pretender
He knows that all his hopes and dreams Begin and end there” At some point in our existence, we recognize that a compromise between our values and our temporal condition must be made in order to exist in some kind of harmony. Often stupidly raging at the world or at others for our own apparent lack of control over real outcomes, we sadly experience a departure of hope. “Ah, the laughter of the lovers As they run through the night Leaving nothing for the others But to choose off and fight And tear at the world with all their might While the ships bearing their dreams Sail out of sight” Unfortunately, we admit defeat and prepare to join the vast majority of those who conform to the accepted, albeit often false, standards set by others. Our values often become controlled by monetary concerns, and we look toward the next generation with a greater comprehension of their glorious but hopeless ideals, tried and found untrue by our very own youthful existence. “I'm gonna be a happy idiot And struggle for the legal tender Where the ads take aim and lay their claim To the heart and the soul of the spender And believe in whatever may lie In those things that money can buy Where true love could have been a contender Are you there? Say a prayer for the Pretender. Who started out so young and strong Only to surrender.” Finally, we commit our lives to the drab conditions and boring routines of our base environments. As we exist in less than extravagant lives, we attempt to find someone who can associate with our lost dreams and our present state of affairs, a companion who when found, may help us mutually discover that which we can logically achieve together. “I'm going to rent myself a house In the shade of the freeway Gonna pack my lunch in the morning And go to work each day... I'm gonna find myself a girl Who can show me what laughter means And we'll fill in the missing colors In each other's paint-by-number dreams...” As a last reminder, Browne ends the song with a requiem of refrain that hints of some chance of success for all pretenders. He longs for hope and ample preparation for his fellow com padres in falsehood. Aren’t we all pretenders to some degree? I think so. I am certainly guilty. When someone is being a little ambiguous or dishonest these days, I often recognize the cause and merely laugh to myself. “Say a prayer for the pretender Are you there for the pretender? Say a prayer for the pretender Are you there for the pretender? Are you prepared for the pretender?”
Music and Lyrics by Jackson Browne from the album The Pretender, 1976, song "The Pretender." Asylum Records.