Part of me wants to launch into a discussion about the fact that Nikka Costa should have blown up much more than she did a decade ago, but that’s another discussion for another post.

For this edition of Songs in the Key of Life, we have the title track from Nikka Costa’s 2005 album Can’tneverdidnothin’. The album is a notable followup to 2001’s Everybody Got Their Something – an easily digestible blend of funky rock/pop carried by Costa’s fantastic vocals.

Although released in 2005, I didn’t pick up the album for another year or two. While there are a number of great tracks on the the disc, the title track is the clear standout in both lyric and musicianship.

As I recall, I first heard the song roundabouts 2006-2007, a time wherein the track took on personal significance on two levels.

First, then in my mid-20s and spending much of my time sitting in seminar rooms or office chairs, I was struggling to incorporate an exercise regimen into my routine. For about two years, I had an ongoing on again/off again relationship with running. With some mild motivation and the desire to do something good for my mind and body, I’d set out to fix such a routine. Within two weeks, I’d inevitably give up, offering a litany of excuses. “It’s too cold. It’s too early. It’s too late. I’m too tired. I don’t have time.” This song was one that helped me to get over the hump.

‘Cause there’s a whole lotta nothin’ goin’ on for too long
‘Cause the time isn’t right
‘Cause it feels all wrong

My most common excuse was likely the matter of time. Teaching 2-3 courses, taking 9 credits worth of graduate work, immersing myself in my studies, and trying to establish a research agenda on top of life in general, it was all too easy to resign myself to simply not having the time to burn a few calories. Unintentionally echoing the above stanza, a friend shamed me by saying, “It isn’t about having time, it’s about making time.” That’s entirely true, and it always echoes in my brain when Nikka puts it into her own words.

It doesn’t need to be about fitness of course (though I have to say, the prominent fuzz bass and Abe Laboriel Jr.’s driving, syncopated rhythm make for a great cardio soundtrack). It’s about not just setting goals, but working to achieve them.

Instead you ridin’ bitch till the tables turn
Till you get your check
Till your luck returns
How are you expecting to find your way
With shoulda woulda coulda coming out your face

There was a great piece in the Chronicle of Higher Ed a while back (“You Will Not Reject Me, I Will Reject Me“) about the anxiety-induced fears that many graduate students harbor regarding jobs, publication opportunities and the like. I’ve seen it in some of my graduate students, and I’ve certainly seen it in myself. Crippled by the fear of rejection or failure, we’re pretty good at making excuses for not pursuing opportunities, in essence denying ourselves the chance to advance, succeed, evolve. To paraphrase another song, we are at times our own worst enemies. I try to impart upon my students the seemingly obvious but easily obscured fact that for example, you can’t get published if you don’t submit anything for consideration. You can’t get the job if you don’t apply. You can’t maintain the a sedentary lifestyle and simply wish for improved health.

In short, you can’t sit around waiting for change to happen–you have to be an agent of change.

Nikka of course, puts it even more succinctly:

But ain’t nothin’ doin’ while nothin’s done

Around the same time that “Can’tneverdidnothin'” was kicking my ass into gear, a good friend was diagnosed with cancer. Shortly thereafter, she’d asked for a motivational mix, something that would keep her going through a physically and emotionally draining experience of chemotherapy. “Can’tneverdidnothin'” was an obvious choice for inclusion, and one that said friend praised highly, claiming it had served its purpose. And shit, if a dear friend can soldier through a cancer diagnosis and chemotherapy, lacing up some sneakers and pounding the pavement seems like pretty small potatoes.

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