Beginning to See the Light – The Velvet Underground

Life is really scary sometimes. Especially when everything that is to ever come and ever be all joins together, intersects, and converges at one point: you. The overwhelmingly infinite possibilities in life are all within reach and all you have to do is reach out and grab one and it could be yours — your future, your story, the mark that you leave on the world.

But you only have so many hands.

Some of us want to experience it all. I want to help everyone who needs me. I want to develop sustainable energy. I want to protect threatened ecosystems. I want to put my thoughts into words. I want to reorganize our unjust society. I want to visit new places. I want to be an activist. I want to paint murals on every wall. I want to play my guitar. I want to make people think. I want to add something to the history of the world that is different from everything that has come before. I want to be happy. I want to be free. There’s so much pressure to be great and so much to do in so little time that it makes me wish more than anything that the multiverse theory of quantum mechanics is true, so that maybe somewhere I am doing everything that I want to do, being everything I want to be.

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The Velvet Underground with Andy Warhol (second from the right) and Nico (far right) ©2013 by nico7martin [CC BY 2.0]

Background:

“Beginning to See the Light” is off of the 1969 self-titled album The Velvet Underground (aka “The Grey Album”) and is known its more dreamlike, etherial sound in comparison to previous albums. It is also the first album to feature Doug Yule after John Cale’s departure from the band. Written by Lou Reed, “Beginning to See the Light” is about finding happiness by doing whatever it is that you want to do, regardless of society’s expectations and what’s considered “normal”. Happiness is happiness, no matter what form it comes in and people should respect that.

The Song:

“Well I’m beginning to see the light.
Well I’m beginning to see the light.
Some people work very hard,
But still they never get it right.
Well I’m beginning to see the light.
Well I’m beginning to see the light.
Now I’m beginning to see the light.

Wine in the morning
And some breakfast at night.

Well I’m beginning to see the light.”

It really shouldn’t be too hard to see the light when it’s shining so brightly, and yet, so many people miss it. Some people think that it’s all about the paycheck or the big white-collar job, so first they hit the books, pull all-nighters, and throw their entire life at a single goal, only to find out that the big career that they can be proud of and show off to people at fancy dinner parties really isn’t all that fun or rewarding. Countless people have tortured themselves just to meet the public’s expectations of what a “good life” might be when really, a good life is whatever you want it to be. Maybe it is that suburban house with a loyal spouse and a white picket fence, or maybe it’s a little more eccentric, like “wine in the morning and some breakfast at night”. It’s all up to you. As long as you can see the light and know that that’s what makes you happy.

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“Here we go again
Playing the fool again.
Here we go again
Acting hard again.
Well I’m beginning to see the light.
Well I’m beginning to see the light.
Now I’m beginning to see the light.”

Finding happiness by freeing yourself and being whatever you want to be seems almost cliché now with phrases like “you do you” popping up all over social media, but even so, most people still don’t get it right. Everywhere people are giving in to outside pressures ranging from the educational system to our peers in an impossible attempt to fulfill this idea of communal happiness and respectability, when in actuality, it’s the fulfillment of one’s individual needs that brings happiness. But “here we go again”, another kid has worked themselves to death taking as many AP classes as can possibly be fit into her schedule, gotten into the Ivy League college of their dreams, and obtained her law degree, but in the midst of all of this hectic nonstop work, she never paused to think about whether or not being a lawyer is something she would actually enjoy. But by then, second thoughts were dangerous to so-called “success”, so dreams were stuffed into a bottle and a cap was screwed tightly into place so that she can continue on “acting hard again” with her stiff, uppity professional life.

“Well I’m beginning to see the light.
I’m beginning to see the light.
I wore my teeth in my hands
So I could mess the hair of the night
Well I’m beginning to see the light.
Hey I’m beginning to see the light.
I met myself in a dream
And I just want to tell you
Everything was alright
I’m beginning to see the light.”

Most of us are braver inside of our own heads than in the outside world, so maybe if we let ourselves wander into the deepest part of our minds where we can safely dream without fear of pressure or intrusion, we’ll find ourselves in the purest form. Nothing is ever wrong in a dream, so maybe it’s there that we’ll learn what really we want to be, do, and create. The next step then is to have the audacity to transcribe those dreams into reality.

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Dreams shouldn’t be boarded up inside, they should be displayed on the outside.

“Here comes two of you,
Which one will you choose?
One is black, one is blue.
Don’t look just what to do.
Well I’m beginning to see the light.
Well I’m beginning to see the light.
Now I’m beginning to see the light.”

But what if I have too many dreams? What if I could see myself as a botanist, a journalist, or a street musician living in a van all equally happy? I don’t know. If I’m an artist, then the technical, sciencey types will criticize me for not having the logic to make a tangible contribution to society. If I’m a scientist, then the offbeat, artsy types will criticize me for suppressing my identity to become a part of the establishment. But that doesn’t matter. “Don’t look” for other people’s opinions on “just what to do” with your life. You can choose “black” you over “blue” you as long as you are satisfied with that version of yourself. Happy people are happy people.

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Happy dogs are happy dogs too.

“Well I’m beginning to see the light.
Well I’m beginning to see the light.
Some people work very hard
But still they never get it right
Well I’m beginning to see the light.
There are problems in these times
But none of them are mine
Baby, I’m beginning to see the light.
Here we go again,
I thought that you were my friend.
Here we go again,
I thought that you were my friend.
How does it feel to be loved?
How does it feel to be loved?”

Everyone from ancient Greek thinkers to characters in coming of age movies have philosophized on the meaning of happiness and fulfillment, but really it all just comes down to that powerful, essential word: love. As long as there’s room to love yourself, to love others, to love the music you listen to, to love the things you see, to love the ideas you have, you’re going to be alright. What each person loves is different — some love the quiet, some love adrenaline, some love numbers, some love their breakfast at night — so just let everyone be. If we let them be, then maybe they’ll be happy. It shouldn’t be this hard. Everyone could be happy, if we could all just  open our eyes and see the light.

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©2011 by Chelsea Marie Hicks [CC BY 2.0]

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