Things’ll Never Be the Same

Morning in America, don’t?

I really wasn’t planning to blog about 2pac on this momentous day, but I’m finding an iressistable synchronicity in my drafts folder.

Tupac’s “Changes” is one of those evergreen tracks, like it or not, that still gets regular play on urban radio (in our case, here in Boston, that’s JAM’N 94.5).

I’ve never been a huge ‘Pac fan, and as his oeuvre goes “Changes” would not be near the top of my list. Not only is it cloyingly sweet (and sour), it’s one of those deeply contradictory songs that Tupac built the latter part of his career on. He’s the king of cynical schmaltz. For the longest time, I’ve heard the chorus itself as oddly contradictory:

That’s just the way it is
Things’ll never be the same

That couplet always gets me. Are things settled or not? Do we count on stasis or change? Given that the allusions to Bruce Hornsby’s “Just the Way It Is” are unmissable, I’ve always been led into a kind of intense cognitive dissonance as musical memory recalls the original’s more commonsensical chorus:

That’s just the way it is
Some things’ll never change

Hornsby’s song is a pretty straightforward sentimentalizing of working-class suffering and (notably, cross-racial) solidarity. The resigned, colloquial chorus makes sense in that context, especially when he closes it with “But don’t you believe them.” Which is a funny (and ultimately, I think, ineffective) way to invert the very lines you just drilled into listeners’ heads.

It occurred to me last week while hearing “Changes” on the radio — and it takes on a special sort of poignancy, a funny kind of resonance today (we ARE ready to see a black president?!) — that despite what sounded like a huge difference between Hornsby’s & Shakur’s choruses, they’re in fact saying the same thing: what never changes is change. Change is constant. Don’t believe them that it’s not. Things’ll never be the same. Know hope.

That, my friends, is a song to which I can sing along.