“You Get What You Give” — The New Radicals

I’m not exactly sure what a dreamer’s disease is, but I think I may have got it. And, let’s face it, if you’re going to catch something, it’s probably one of the better ones to suffer from.

A dreamer’s disease is certainly a step up on an industrial disease, for example, or a social disease…despite the fact that sounds like a good thing (which it isn’t, kids). Although it’s probably not quite as good as a bon vivant’s disease…if there is such a thing.

But until “You Get What You Give” by The New Radicals came along, a dreamer’s disease wasn’t something that anyone could give you a definition for. It’s a really nice lyrical device to describe someone who lives with their head in the clouds most of the time, missing the world as it passes by in front of their very eyes.

Gregg Alexander, The New Radicals’ frontman, who wrote “You Get What You Give” along with Rick Nowels, used the song to take a swipe at the way people are manipulated by big business to get them to buy more of the products they sell, including the way they encourage celebrity-obsessed young people to put more of their efforts into becoming a clone of their idols than in finding their own path. After all, conventional wisdom is that there’s a lot less money in the second option.

It’s almost exactly 20 years since “You Get What You Give” came out. Released at the back end of 1998, it really motored up the charts in early 1999.

I’m not sure our celebrity-obsessed culture has improved for the better in the time since “You Get What You Give” was released. Almost every programme on TV seems to be about celebrities, most of whom I’ve never heard of, doing some task in competition with other similarly well-known people…cooking, driving, exploring, surviving, swimming, you name it.

There more I think about it, there might be some more work to do still…

I suppose we should have expected a band called The New Radicals to start on a rather radical note, but “You Get What You Give” kicks off by bemoaning the tendency of society to force young people into little boxes where they uncomplainingly act in whatever way society tells them…

Wake up kids, we’ve got the dreamer’s disease
Age 14, we got you down on your knees
So polite, we’re busy still saying please

Gregg Alexander and Rick Nowels are, I think, trying to tell us that young people whose lives stretch ahead of them have already been “brought into line” by the age of 14, unquestioningly accepting society’s “rules”, which also just happen to line the pockets of those at top of society.

But of course, there’s still hope for people…of whatever age…who take the lyrics of “You Get What You Give” to heart…

But when the night is falling
You cannot find the light (light)
You feel your dreams are dying
Hold tight

That’s good advice for us all. We all had dreams once upon a time. Some of us still manage to keep our dreams alive, even if it’s only as one of those fleeting thoughts which arrive uninvited in our minds as we lie awake staring into the darkness, trying to understand what set of events and decisions led to our life worked out the way it has.

In many ways, we haven’t changed over the years. But what we have done is allow other things to overwhelm that sense of who we were, and the dreams and ambitions we had growing up.

My hoped-for career as a DJ on the BBC or a record producer never turned out the way I might have wished. But I wanted those careers because I loved music, the lyrics, and the stories that swirled around the songs and the artists who created them.

On the other hand, I have written around 400 articles on different songs in the last few years, many of them here on Medium.

Maybe I’ve been a little harsh on myself. Maybe I’m living my dream more than I thought I was, listening to music and telling stories about what I listen to.

Maybe this is an example of what The New Radicals sing about in “You Get What You Give”…

You’ve got the music in you
Don’t let go
You’ve got the music in you
Once dance left
This world is going to pull through
Don’t give up
You’ve got a reason to live
Can’t forget
We only get what we give

As it happens, I do have “the music” in me…I know I have…it flows through my veins. Maybe for you it’s not music in a literal sense, but the principle remains. You’ve got to keep hold of whatever it is inside you that compels you to inhabit and explore some facet of your life…something that you find inexplicably more fascinating than just about everyone else you know.

Whatever that is, that’s your “music”…the rhythm to your life, the beat of the drums you find yourself marching to, almost without realising.

And it matters more than you think.

To you, and to everyone you know in your life.

There’s no bigger gift you can give than to give someone a leg-up on their path to achieving their own dreams.

After a while, when our hopes and dreams don’t pan out the way we hoped, it’s easy to become disillusioned and decide to just get your head down as best you can and get through life causing as few ripples in the fabric of the universe as possible.

That might be an existence, but it’s not a life.

As I’m writing this on the lead up to Christmas, maybe this is a good time to ask that one of the gifts you give everyone you know this year is something that will help them on the path towards realising a dream they’ve given up hope of achieving.

It doesn’t need to be a big step…it doesn’t need too cost you a fortune…and you almost certainly don’t have a magic want to deliver someone’s dream to them overnight, all wrapped up in a bow.

Sometimes it’s just about telling someone you care for that you believe in them and you’ll do what you can to support their dream.

In “You Get What You Give”, The New Radicals put it like this…

Don’t let go
I feel the music in you
Fly high
What’s real can’t die
You only get what you give
You’re gonna get what you give (don’t give up)
Just don’t be afraid to live

“I feel the music in you” is key…this is about you letting someone you care for know that you “feel” their dreams and their spirit.

Just having that acknowledged by another human being can make all the difference to someone continuing to pursue their dreams rather than packing it all in to live out the rest of their life in dull compliance.

Which is why there is no greater gift you can give someone than being there for them when their grasp on their dreams looks like it might be slipping away.

When their motivation flags, tell them…

This whole damn world can fall apart
You’ll be OK, follow your heart
You’re in harm’s way, I’m right behind

The great thing about giving someone else a helping hand is that not only do they feel a warm glow through being supported by another human being, you get to feel good about it too as you see someone you care for take a step closer to their dreams.

That’s why, to turn the song title around a little, not only do you give what you get, you also you get what you give.

If you give someone love and support, in some weird and wonderful way, you feel loved and supported yourself. And the more love and support you give, the more you get. Love isn’t used up when you give it to another human being, it’s multiplied.

So as we approach Christmas Day, maybe that’s something to think about…

I’m not sure The New Radicals were thinking of Christmas specifically when they sang “You Get What You Give”, but for the time of year, maybe the message of this song is more appropriate than you might think at first.

Or at least the message of love and support that underlies a surface story which appears to spend its time railing against the forces of misplaced capitalism, brainwashed compliance and fake celebrity lifestyles.

As it turned out, “You Get What You Give” was pretty much a one-hit wonder for The New Radicals — a Top 5 hit in the UK, it only made Number 36 in the Billboard charts and The New Radicals faded away quickly thereafter.

But somehow down the years “You Get What You Give” hasn’t faded away despite The New Radicals not releasing any new material. It remains a well-known song to this day, and still gets plenty of radio airplay.

Maybe that’s entirely appropriate. The New Radicals gave us “You Get What You Give”, and in return what they got was us remembering their bright, catchy song 20 years after its initial release. In return for sharing their song with us, they got us to remember them, and their international best-selling record, two decades after they released it into the world.

I don’t think that’s a bad trade, all things considered.

The video for “You Get What You Give” seems to have been directed by someone who spent a lot of time watching the old TV series The Monkees as I’m sure I’ve seen that story of “the kids taking over and running amok” using slightly shaky cameras and fast cuts from one scene to another in just about every episode of The Monkees’ TV Show. But it’s still good fun for all that.

Please enjoy “You Get What You Give” by The New Radicals…and try to let someone know you’re there for them this Christmas. They’ll appreciate it and, in a roundabout way, so will you…whatever you give, you’ll get back many times over…

The video is below, but if you prefer you can listen to the track on Spotify herehttps://open.spotify.com/track/1Cwsd5xI8CajJz795oy4XF

PS: If you enjoyed this article, please give it a “clap”…or even more than one if you’re feeling kind. You can also follow me on Medium (here) or Twitter (here) to get new articles as soon as they’re published.

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Without words, it’s just a nice tune. Add words — now you’ve got a song. And songs can change your world. I write about some that changed mine.

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