Grist to the Mill

15 December, 2004


“All I Really Want To Do” is narrated in the first person by a speaker who defends his intentions towards another (identified only as “you”). Presumably, this is a lover/admirer.

Each verse follows the same pattern: an emphatic denial in line one is extended through lines two, three and four. Lines five and six express the speaker’s wish in positive terms – in contrast to the rest of the verse. All verses are structured in the same way, with the final two lines remaining constant (forming a familiar refrain and the title of the song). I have included five of the six verses below.

I ain't lookin' to compete with you,
Beat or cheat or mistreat you,
Simplify you, classify you,
Deny, defy or crucify you.
All I really want to do
Is, baby, be friends with you.

No, and I ain't lookin' to fight with you,
Frighten you or uptighten you,
Drag you down or drain you down,
Chain you down or bring you down.
All I really want….

I ain't lookin' to block you up
Shock or knock or lock you up,
Analyze you, categorize you,
Finalize you or advertise you.
All I really want…

I don't want to straight-face you,
Race or chase you, track or trace you,
Or disgrace you or displace you,
Or define you or confine you.
All I really want…

I don't want to meet your kin,
Make you spin or do you in,
Or select you or dissect you,
Or inspect you or reject you.
All I really want…

By the end of the song we know more about what the speaker doesn’t want than what he wants. This catalogue of behaviour is also revealing of the relationship between the speaker and the person he addresses.

Clearly, the speaker feels the need to defend himself from these charges (and, in doing so, assert himself). Perhaps he has been, or merely feels, ‘got at’ or accused? He could have been misunderstood or misconstrued If so, why? Did he bring this situation upon himself or contribute to it in some way, maybe by becoming excessively involved with this person? Or, are the addressee’s hopes and intentions clouding her judgement and bringing about an unrealistic/unbalanced approach to the speaker? Something has gone wrong here, but we don’t know what it is... It boils down to this question: Why is the speaker communicating his apathy so stridently?

When I think of this song, I think about how bold and strong it is. The speaker is resolutely, defiantly okay. He’s not trying to analyse or categorise. He has no interest in cheating or mistreating. (By implication, and although it is remains unsaid, we get a whiff that he might possibly suspect her of these things). It is a defiant song. It sticks two fingers up to relationships, or perhaps to this particular, unwelcome relationship The speaker is independent and robust, and he can shrug off these charges which are of no interest to him.

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