Swing in this treeI've been thinking about Dave Matthews' "Proudest Monkey" a lot recently. Part of me just wants to think that this jam-tastic song is only a foggy protrusion of Matthews' formerly drug-addled mind. Perhaps a mere random assortment of images he conjured after a stoned screening of The Jungle Book or Project X.
Oh I am bounce around so well
Branch to branch,
limb to limb you see
All in a day's dream
Like the other monkeys here
I am a humble monkey...
Another part of me, however, can't help but dig a little deeper. What if, instead, it is an unlikely ode on the human condition? A reflection on our origins and our future?
Setting aside for a minute the evolutionary ramifications of monkeys, could this song suggest something about the human need for growth and change and improvement? Are humans innately prepared to move into new places and phases of understanding?
I find myself inadvertently cowering in the corner some days. The glare and weight of each day sometimes seem too difficult, and I sit in the proverbial tree eating bananas. Is it because of what's out there? Or is it because I have grown too comfortable in the shade?
Then comes the dayThe song gives me some hope, though; it isn't because of the insatiable forces of nature that, perhaps, propel natural selection and adaptation(although I'm willing to accept that they play a role). The hope in this case stems from a seemingly content animal who is willing to jump to a new limb or no limb at all:
Staring at myself I turn to question me
I wonder do I want the simple, simple life that I once lived in well
Oh things were quiet then
In a way they were the better days...
But then came the dayIt's hard to climb out of those safe limbs. What is it that drives us to do and be more? What is it that keeps us the same? Is one better than the other? Were they really the better days? (The matrix tells me this steak is juicy and delicious...) And would the monkey cease to be proud if he stayed where it's safe and secure?
I climbed out of these safe limbs
Walking tall, head high up and singing
I went to the city
Car horns, corners and the gritty
Now I am the proudest monkey you've ever seen
I have some strange thirst that makes me look around every day and wonder at people's motives and desires. I have many questions and few answers. Why do people do what they do? What do they hope for? Is life a quest for knowledge and joy? Or is it, as I have often suspected, an endless treading of water?
Regardless of the depth of insight in this song, I feel confident that the tension between hope and despair is normal. There probably aren't great, sweeping, meaningful conclusions that hint at a fundamental truth(though that would be nice) undergirding the whole of our existence, but we can still make choices to expand our outlook; we can reach for more. Is there intrinsic value in considering different possibilities? Maybe not. But nature has shown that things which are static and intractable are often subject to destruction. Even rocks and mountains will eventually crumble. In the meantime they are symbols of steadfastness..yet birds still poop on them.
Too dismal? On the contrary, a scrappy and weathered outlook is preferable to me. Songs are more interesting, relationships are more necessary, and the rapidly expanding universe is the limit. Some might say that this is a misguided defense of pessimism. I'd rather think of it as my own version of a swan dive off of those safe limbs into the spongy unknown.