I’ve been listening to The Animals’ Retrospective compilation pretty much nonstop lately, and it’s really impressive in so many ways. I’ve always been a fan, but I didn’t have any of their albums until recently. Eric Burdon is a fascinating, passionate, talented motherfucker, and I think that’s all boiled down into the message of this song, one that he didn’t even write.
Recorded in 1965, “It’s My Life” spoke to the youth of the world in a way that most popular music still wasn’t doing quite yet. Kids were ready to live life on their own terms, something that rock and roll was inspiring in less overtly political ways since the beginning. But The Animals were now telling them that they needed nobody’s approval to do what they felt was right.
Hear what I say
I’m gonna ride that serpent
No more time sweatin’ rent
Hear my command
I’m breakin’ loose
It ain’t no use holdin’ me down
It’s certainly the empowering message that people needed to hear in 1965, a year that saw the first U.S. combat troops sent into South Vietnam, the Watts riots, the assassination of Malcom X, MLK’s Selma to Montgomery march for voting rights, and the first protest at the White House by gay rights activists. “It’s My Life” was written for The Animals by Carl D’Errico and Roger Atkins of Screen Gems Music, and it could not be a more perfect way to spotlight Eric’s stinging, bluesy vocal style that is packed with so much attitude and ferocity. Nobody else can sing this song and get away with it.
The way young people declare their independence is really not that much different these days: music, clothes, friends. But the sense of entitlement they have to do things their own way is very different from other generations. I’m a Gen Xer, and we had our MTV to give us the music and videos we wanted. We had 24-hour cable so we could watch whatever we wanted. We could go to the mall, which for most of us was minutes away, and buy all kinds of shit. We thought we had it all figured out, like we were the first generation of kids to truly be ourselves and think we were much cooler than our parents.
But I feel like we still had more of a sense of community than kids growing up today. I don’t know. Everything nowadays is so individualized, and nobody really has to be exposed to anything they don’t like. There are thousands of TV channels, on top of Netflix and Hulu, etc. that enable us to watch an entire series in a weekend if we want. We can create our own radio stations, or fill up our iPods with music we already know we like so radio is pretty much obsolete. We can read blogs or news websites that cater to opinions we already have. There’s no need for debate or dialogue at all. We can just reinforce who we like to think we are, who we want others to think we are, or who we would prefer to be.
This is the world we live in now, and there’s no going back. It’s great to have instant access to all the information or music or literature we want. But does this sort of technology really mean that we are living life how we want? Young people don’t know any other way. They’ll never understand a fucking card catalogue! But I’m not going to fault them for that. And these days there are so many more avenues of communication, which can be more negative than positive. Bullies and scammers have many more opportunities to find and pursue victims. In the 80s, you could hassle somebody in person or prank call their house, and that was about it. You were mostly safe from that when you were at home.
There are new struggles to be had, but the old ones are still there. Everyone feels inadequate at some point in their life. We all get anxiety, suffer embarrassment, and think we’re ugly sometimes. Each of us has to find the strength to tell ourselves that it’s okay, that imperfection is beautiful, and that we can be happy with ourselves no matter what. That’s enough of a rebellion right there. Fuck what anyone else tells us. You have to know who you are, accept it, and love it. Then you can go about your life and do as you please.
It’s my life
And I’ll do what I want
It’s my mind
And I’ll think what I want
Show me I’m wrong
Hurt me sometime
And someday I’ll treat you real fine