STJ#1019, Everything Possible

Things I wonder:

Do some congregations sing this together fairly regularly?

Do some music directors and ministers flip past it because it is somewhat complex if you don’t know it already?

Do others flip past it because in 13 years we’ve learned that binary language is too restrictive?

Does composer and colleague Fred Small have some new lyrics for it? (12/8/17: He answered me! See the end of the post.)

Does any of that matter, given the origin story? That story goes something like this: in 1983, Small heard the distress of Janet Peterson, cellist and singer with the women’s music group Motherlode, whose nine-year-old son came home from school crying, because his friends no longer hugged each other to show that they liked each other, now the method was to hit one another. Parsons wanted a song she could sing to him to affirm the freedom to live and love as we choose, and the result was this gentle lullaby.

We have cleared off the table, the leftovers saved, washed the dishes and put them away.
I have told you a story and tucked you in tight at the end of your knockabout day.
As the moon sets its sail to carry you to sleep over the Midnight Sea,
Well, I will sign you a song no one sang to me—may it keep you good company.

You can be anybody that you want to be, you can love whomever you will.
You can travel any country where your heart leads and know I will love you still.
You can live by yourself, you can gather friends around, you can choose one special one.
And the only measure of your words and your deeds
Will be the love you leave behind when you’re gone.

Some girls grow up strong and bold; some boys are quiet and kind.
Some race on ahead, some follow behind; some go in their own way and time.
Some women love women and some men love men.
Some raise children and some never do.
You can dream all the day, never reaching the end of everything possible for you.

Don’t be rattled by names, by taunts or games, but seek out spirits true.
If you give your friends the best part of yourself, they will give the same back to you.

You can be anybody that you want to be, you can love whomever you will.
You can travel any country where your heart leads and know I will love you still.
You can live by yourself, you can gather friends around, you can choose one special one.
And the only measure of your words and your deeds
Will be the love you leave behind when you’re gone.
Oh, the love you leave behind when you’re gone.

It is sweet and sentimental, and oh so very 20th century in its language. I don’t know if any of my questions will be answered, but I hope some will.

Update: On the very active Facebook thread for this post, Fred Small offered this:

Thanks for all the kind words and thoughtful critiques of my song, “Everything Possible,” which I wrote in 1983 at the request of a lesbian mother trying to raise her 9-year-old son amidst the pressures of (toxic) masculinity. The song took off in the late 1980s when the Flirtations picked it up, leading to its performance by LGBTQ choruses around the world. The Boston Gay Men’s Chorus still sings it to their newest members at their first rehearsal. As a straight cis man, I’m deeply honored and humbled by the song’s embrace by LGBTQ singers and audiences.

I’ve thought about revising the lyrics to eliminate the gender binary. It’s not an easy fix. For now, my hope is that “You can dream all the day never reaching the end of everything possible for you” affirms an infinite range of sexual/affectional orientation and gender presentation/identity.

I don’t recommend that congregations attempt to sing the entire song because the verses and bridge are too irregular. Instead, I suggest the song be (1) performed by the choir or (2) led by a song-leader (with guitar or other accompaniment) who sings the verse and bridge and invites the congregation to join in on the chorus.

(To commenters who expressed distaste): Many of our greatest songs walk a fine line between heartfelt pathos and sentimentalized bathos. Whether “Everything Possible” crosses that line is a matter of personal opinion, and I respect yours.

Thanks to Fred.

2 Comments

  1. A very precious memory: I learned that my daughter, then about eight, didn’t really know this song. “Really?” I said, and picked her up. I held her and danced while I sang her the whole thing. She hugged me very tightly at the end. I can’t remember whether she whispered “Thank you” or I just felt her feeling it.

    The trust and love and freedom in this song are things I want to say to her over and over. She knows about nonbinary gender, correcting me when I forget, but no, this song is not out of date.

    It is true that it isn’t very good for congregational singing, though, and of the dozens of arrangements out there, it’s hard to believe this one is the easiest. It’s better sung by a choir or soloist, maybe with those who know it encouraged to sing along.

  2. We’ve done it a few times in the last year or two; its gone much better with a guitar and a song leader than it has with people trying to follow through the hymnal. I think we end up playing it in a different key, too.

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