I remember, sometime after my fortieth birthday, watching a football game and realizing that everyone on the playing field was younger than I was. That's it, I remember thinking, I'm never going to be a professional football player. In truth, I might very well have had that thought when I was nine, because it was abundantly clear by then that I did not have a promising future as an athlete, but there was something about this that resonated. As I was getting older, my options for what I could do with my life were getting fewer.
This song came out of that thinking, though it came many years later. Curiously, it didn't come as a result of a dark night of the soul or some morbid meditation on my mortality. Rather, it came from a kind of acceptance that some of my ambitions (and a lot of things that had never been ambitions) had reached their expiration date – and I was entirely okay with this. Had I liked being known as a "young Turk?" Sure, but I never thought that was going to last forever. Would I have liked to be a "million-staff employer?" Yes, I probably would have, but it doesn't bother me one bit that things didn't turn out that way. To me, the key line in this song – and its core message – is the very last one.
In many ways, this is the central song on this album (if I can be so grandiose as to call this collection of songs an album). For a long time, I was even thinking about calling the collection I'll Never Be, but I've moved on from that, because I think that's much more limiting as a title than this is as a song. (The current leader in the clubhouse is Passages as both a nod to these songs being the equivalent to passages in a book and to Gail Sheehy's landmark work.) Still, I think this song has the longest view of any I've recorded, so I think it plays a pivotal role in this set.
In terms of the production, you'll probably pick up the Barenaked Ladies influence here. The only other thing I'll say about it is that the vocal was a bear to record, because there are an awful lot of words to fit into a tiny space, and enunciation has never been one of my strengths. You're definitely going to want to follow along with the lyrics here. How did Dylan do it, anyway?
I'LL NEVER BE
Music and Lyrics by Lou Aronica
I’ll never be a guy who’s called an overnight sensation.
I’ll never be known as a young turk anymore.
I’m never gonna be a new colt, tadpole, lightning bolt, new soul,
whippersnapper, yearling, bootstrapper, sign of spring,
a child prodigy, demographic oddity, the boys wannabe, hot new commodity,
a sprig, a sprout, a shoot, a shout, it’s all about the fact that I’m not a kid.
Seems the list goes on for all eternity.
I’m getting older just compiling what you see.
I’ll never get around to putting words to all I’ll never be.
I’ll never be a second sacker playing World Series baseball.
I’ll never be performing my songs for big crowds.
I’m never gonna be a pop star, MVP, SportsCenter, MTV,
an astronaut, a pilot, who causes girls to riot,
a stirring renegade, a presidential aide, a saver of the day whose message doesn’t fade,
an icon, leader, moron defeater, check the meter and see that my time is out.
Guess ambitions were just nothing more than dreams.
Sure didn’t need them all, but woulda like one, two, or three.
Just add ‘em to the pile of everything that I will never be.
I’ll never be so many things that I saw once in my future.
I’ll never be so many things that I’ve lost count.
I’m never gonna be a hale fellow well met, class clown, teacher’s pet,
fix-it guy, green thumb, catch their eye, strike ‘em dumb,
a genius with my hands, to physical demands, dexterity command doesn’t fit into my plans,
a doctor, lawyer, million-staff employer, I’ll just annoy ya with talk about my latest gig.
My potential’s ceded to reality.
Not quite the household name I thought that you would see
Hey, I’m not complaining ‘cause I realize it’s not a tragedy.
I’ve got my passions and I’ve got my family,
I’d like to think I have a few things up my sleeve,
I’ve kept some tasty bits off of the list of all I’ll never be.