by Gar Anthony Haywood

Back in the time of the dinosaurs, otherwise known as the days of my youth, recorded music came in the form of vinyl.  And single songs were purchased not as electronic downloads, but as 45 rpm records, like this one:

Each “45,” as they were called, had an A-side (on which the song you actually wanted was recorded) and a B-side (which usually featured a lesser known song by the same artist).  Most of the time, the B-side song was a dud, either an inferior cut taken from the same album as the hit on the A-side, or an orphan song that was so bad, the record company just couldn’t find a place for it anywhere else.

But there were exceptions to this rule.

On very rare occasions, the B-side song, instead of being a dud, was a great piece of music in its own right.  Sometimes you were familiar with this song, and sometimes you weren’t.  In the latter case, when you laid your turntable needle down in the grooves of that 45 B-side and discovered, much to your amazement, a terrific song you’d never heard before, it was like finding gold in your backyard.

One such B-side miracle for me was this song, which was my reward for buying the Rolling Stones’ “Honky Tonk Women” 45:

Though I may have heard this expression — “You can’t always get what you want, but sometimes, you get what you need” — before, it never struck me as a mantra to live by until I heard Mick Jagger sing it.  Settling for what we already have and finding contentment in it, rather than obsessing over what we covet but don’t yet — and may never — possess . . .  Wow.  What a way to live.  Surely, that’s the key to happiness, right?

But it’s so much easier said than done, especially for those of us who write.  Because a writer is never happy with what he has.  We are driven as much by ambition as we are inspiration, and our ambition is a harsh taskmaster that keeps moving the target of “success” farther and farther out of reach.

Still, knowing all this, I try to keep things in perspective, and scale my wants and desires to fit the real world, rather than the one I inhabit in my dreams.  It’s how I remain sane.

For instance . . .

What I WANT:

What I NEED:

What I WANT: One night with this woman . . .

What I NEED: The rest of my life with this woman . . .

What I WANT:

What I NEED:

What I WANT: 2012 Ford Mustang Boss 302

What I NEED: 2010 Honda Accord Sedan – Used, low mileage

What I WANT:

What I NEED:

What I WANT: Harley Davidson Iron Horse 883

What I NEED: Harley Davidson Iron Horse 883

(Hey, I’m sorry, but some things can’t be compromised.  This is where I draw the goddamn line.)

Questions for the class:  So what are your WANTS versus NEEDS?  And how do you separate the two?

15 thoughts on “A LESSON FROM THE B-SIDES

  1. Alaina

    WANTS: Things that don't actually impact my day-to-day life, but would be nice nevertheless.

    NEEDS: Things that interrupt my sleep for a good period of time.

    Sometimes, I laugh at my needs, though. The test I failed interrupting my sleep makes me study for, and that's serious. The search for a job when I graduate in May is going to cause some serious bags under my eyes. Writing tends to occur or interrupt sleep.

    But I did feel silly when I realized I wanted a video game so much I was dreaming about having it for over a week. On one hand, since I don't give myself permission to just PLAY and have fun very often (I should, just a bit more) and video games are my real stress-reliever, it makes sense. On the other hand, it's good that doesn't happen very often, or I'd either be redefining 'wants' and 'needs' or broke!

  2. Susan Shea

    Laughing out loud – great illustrations! I'm a published author too and our wants and likes are pretty similar. My wants amount to greater success – more readers, a prestigious publisher who promotes my work, and a healthy set of deadlines created by strong interest in my stories and characters. What I need is motivation to keep writing and revising when most of what I want isn't forthcoming! Forget the motorcycle though. I dream of a sunny garden…

  3. Lisa Alber

    Great post! I love your way with digital images, especially that marquee!

    WANT: A traditional agent relationship, with a traditional (good) sale to a traditional (NYC) publisher.

    NEED: I can't seem to give up even though I'm beginning to feel like I might not be a lucky person. I've had such bad luck with agents…so many near misses…Does this mean any luck I might have had has passed me by?

    NEED: Self-publish?

    Recently, a friend said to me: Adjust your dreams to reality. This just depressed me, but I can see how I'd be more contented if I did so.

  4. Gar Haywood

    Lisa: "Does this mean any luck I might have had has passed me by?" – Never, EVER believe that. Every day you're on this earth is a day something incredible could happen for you and your career. Keep on keeping on and doing the best work you can. MAKE luck work for you.

  5. Alexandra Sokoloff

    I also love your visuals, Gar!

    I am a big fan (inadequate word) of the life coach (and Yoruba priestess!) Iyanla Vanzant, who says that
    whatever we want for ourselves is only an infinitesimal fraction of what the Universe WANTS to give to us. I love that. It means I can do my work and expect the rest will be taken care of.

    I am astounded that You Can't Always Get What You Want was a B side. Wow.

  6. Dan

    You may think you want that giant line of autograph-seekers, but I will never forget the look on Lee Child's face as he faced a similar line at a recent convention. He looked like he was gonna cry.

  7. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Gar

    Fun post – and I'm with you on the Harley 🙂

    Interesting comment from Lisa. I can see where your friend is coming from by saying, "Adjust your dreams to reality." Downsizing your dreams is no way to live, but at the same time I can see where I am now, and where I'd like to be, but I try not to let the longing for better things take away all enjoyment of the here and now. Sometimes you don't realise these are the good times until they're gone.

  8. David Corbett

    I think of wants and needs much as I thought of the Beatles 45s — yes, I'm every bit as old as you, no doubt more so. One side was the McCartney side, the other the Lennon side. Neither was objectively superior, it all depended on whether you preferred John to Paul or vice versa. And so whether you think We Can Work it Out is wiser than Day Tripper, so you will go. Whether you think Rain is edgier or more hip than Paperback Writer, etc.

    I find this to be true with wants or needs in general. When is it more wise to pursue a want than a need? Flip a coin: Ticket to Ride or Yes It Is.

    BTW: John Truby defines a protagonist's want as his outer objective, his need as his inner, often unconscious goal. Just to bring this back to writerly wonk.

    BTW2: Surfin' Bird was the original B-side of The Trashmen's would-be hit, King of the Surf. Luckily, some DJ who found the A-side uninspiring flipped it over, and the rest, as they say, is history.

    U well uh everybody's heard, about the bird …

  9. Lisa Alber

    "Longing" is the perfect word, Zoe. My morale teeters and totters. I suppose I'm tottering at the moment. But all this does remind me of something I heard about Oprah–can't remember where. Apparently, for years she kept gratefulness journal. Every night she'd list three things for which she's grateful…

  10. PD Martin

    Great post, Gar. So, so, so rings true for me at the moment. Especially the no.1 best seller graphic! Then again, it rings true for every author, right 🙂

    The other funny thing, is that we actually sing this song to our daughter. I think I started it when she was about three. Sometimes it makes her cross, sometimes she laughs. But she also loves singing it to us with a knowing look on her face every now and again!


  11. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    What I want: Gar Haywood's photoshop skills.
    What I need: A friggin' job.
    What I'll settle for: Harley Davidson Iron Horse 883.

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