[EDIT: I had another go at this, preserving the easier parts of the melody, and I think that version is a lot better: Resetting 'Somebody Will' V2]

Each December I've been running music for the Boston Secular Solstice, and I'm starting to think about this year. One of the songs we've done in the past is Somebody Will, and it's a tricky one. The lyrics of the song are great, and get at a lot of important themes it's hard to find songs for: working on a project you won't see the completion of, how our everyday work ties into humanity's long term progress, and pride in essential but less visible roles. The melody is also great but too hard for the kind of group singing we do at our solstice.

We've tried a few ways of handling this. The first year we treated it like all the other songs, with a song leader, an accompanist, and everyone singing. This didn't really work (mp3): while most of the songs we do are either well known tunes or easy enough to sing along to this one has a lot of unpredictable turns to the melody. The next time we tried running it as a performance (mp3), but with it's lyrics and message this is a song the audience really wants to sing along with.

One idea I had was setting the lyrics to a new melody. The full melody is interesting and haunting, but also isn't very predictable, with key and mode changes. I initially hoped I could find a simpler melody where the real melody would work as a harmony, but the structure of the original song forces most of the complexity. Instead, I wrote something new, with a bit of inspiration from the full melody:

[EDIT: the original had a youtube embed here, but LessWrong reasonably stripped it out. It pointed to www.youtube.com/embed/ywQ9C7NBySM.]

[EDIT: I'm playing with a new version, and recorded a rough take: www.youtube.com/watch?v=SwkinZMr858.]

This is not as moving as the original, but I think it's still good, and can make the song work in our group singing context.

Thoughts? I'm especially interested in feedback from people who like the idea of the song but aren't used to the original, because it's hard to tell how much of my and other people's reaction is "this is off because it's different from what I'm used to", but any feedback is helpful. I'm not decided yet on whether I think we should do this, vs try and get several people to learn the original melody well enough that the crowd will be well supported.


        D           A
Our new world is so close.
         D               A         G           A
Mars has treasures we're only just starting to find.
       D             A            D           A
Frozen mountains and crimson dust waiting for footprints
     G           A
That will not be mine.

D         A        D             A
A hundred years to run the first tests
G          G               A                     
another to raise the first dome.
D              A          D     A
The moon, then Mars, then Titan next,
  G            G              A
A life time to touch each new home.

      Bm         A
And I want it so much.
         Bm          A         G                A
Close my eyes, I can taste the Mars dust in the air.
       Bm           A              G          A
In the darkness the space stations shimmer in orbits that
G          A
I will not share.

D                  A       D                 A
But I'll teach the student who'll manage the fact'ry
D                A                G        A
That tempers the steel that makes colonies strong.
D                  A            D        A
And I'll write the program that runs the computer
     D              A               G       A
That charts out the stars where our rockets belong.

        Bm        A       G            A
It will never get easy to wake from my dream
         Bm       A           G      A
When the future I dream of is so far away.

     Bm  A   G          A
But  I   am  willing to sacrifice
G           A              G           A
Something I don't have for something I won't have
    G        A        D
But somebody will someday

       D            A
And it feels like a waste.
         D           A           G        A
All this working and waiting and battling time,
    D         A            D         A
And all for a kingdom that all of my efforts
     G          A
Will never make mine,

    D        A         D        A
But brick by brick the Pyramids rose,
     G           G         A
With most hidden under the sand,
   D       A        D       A
So life by life the project grows
   G            G        A    
In ways I might not understand.

     Bm       A
I am voyaging too,
        Bm           A         G           A
We will need the foundation as much as the dome
          G              A
For those worlds to come true,

    D              A           D           A
And I'll clerk the office that handles the funding
     D          A          G           A
That raises the tower that watches the sky.
    D              A              D           A
And I'll staff the bookstore that carries the journal
     D           A              G           A
That sparks the idea that makes solar sails fly.

         Bm      A          G          A
It takes so many sailors to conquer an ocean
    Bm      A              G           A
And so many more when it's light-years away,

    Bm  A  G          A
But I   am willing to sacrifice
G         A                G           A
Something I don't have for something I won't have
    G        A    D
But somebody will someday.

        D       A
It's so easy to run.
      D         A                G       A
Hide away in my books, games and fantasy plans,
         D         A          D          A
Let them call me a coward who can't face reality's
G       A
Grownup demands,

    D    A       D       A
But if I love my fantasy worlds
         G       G           A
It's not fantasy love that I feel.
    D       A      D        A
And so much more I feel for this
    G             G
The world that created them,
G           G
World we create with them,
G             G             A
One chance to make them all real.

      Bm            A
And I know we won't stop.
              Bm       A           G          A
We've planned too many wonders for one little star.
       Bm        A           G        A
Though often the present may seem too complacent
   G            A
To take us that far.

    D             A         D             A
But I'll tell the story and I'll draw the picture
    D             A           G        A
And I'll sing the anthem that banishes doubt,
    D           A            D           A  
And host the convention that summons the family
     D           A         G           A
That carries the fire that never burns out

          Bm      A          G           A
There are so many chances to give up the journey,
  Bm       A            G       A
Especially when it's so easy to stay,

    Bm  A   G          A
But I   am  willing to sacrifice
G           A              G           A
Something I don't have for something I won't have
    G        A
And not only me,

    Bm  A   G          A
But we  are willing to sacrifice
G            A              G           A
Something we don't have for something we won't have
   G        A     D
So somebody will, someday.
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10 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 5:58 AM

My biggest concern with this song has always been the refrain, which I failed to make any sense of, and so I kind of feel like the song doesn't resonate with me:

But I am willing to sacrifice
Something we don't have for something we won't have

What is the thing that we don't have, and how can you sacrifice something you don't have? It seems like it should just straightforwardly say "something I have", but that doesn't fit into the meter.

And then also the fact that my timelines are relatively short, so it's actually not really the case that I am sacrificing it for something we won't have, since I assign decent probability to the current generation living forever. Though that part feels more fine than the weird negation in the refrain.

There's a general thing that the song is written with longer timelines in mind, with a target audience of space-travel-oriented science fiction enthusiasts (also a generally older audience – even with shorter AI timelines many of them still wouldn't live long enough to see the future)

Last year someone (I think drethlin) asked the songwriter what it meant, and Ada Palmer replied on twitter something like: "It's about letting go of the attachment/dream that you personally will get to go to the stars, so you can focus on the parts of the real story that you can actually be a part of. It's harder than you think." (I'm not quite sure I'm remembering this right – she had specific phrasing that might have been nuancedly important)

So, this is not a song about sacrificing something you have, in return for which you get something. This is a song about change your internal stance, in a somewhat stoic fashion. Translated into LessWrong terms, rather than filker terms, I would say this is a song about bringing your dreams into alignment with reality (both to avoid your dreams being fantasies, and to see clearly how your dreams could be real and important, once you've set better goals)

Notably, in this line:

But I am willing to sacrifice
Something I don't have for something I won't have
But somebody will someday

Initially I would sometimes accidentally sing "so somebody will some will someday." And I even thought that sounded better. But actually that is not what the song is about. You are not sacrificing a thing so someone else gets a thing. You are sacrificing a confused, hopeless dream so you can have a real dream.

Now, if you do think timelines are short (either AI, or SpaceX) and actually just want to go to Mars and ascend to glorious transhumanist godhood, should this song be meaningful to you?

I think so. Two reasons why:

1. Epistemic Hygiene, and Counterfactual Dreams

Maybe timelines are short, and you are the lucky generation that actually gets to dream of the future, and have the future be real. A rationalist who wants their dreams aligned with reality should be willing to straightforwardly set goals like "go to Mars" and "help build AI that will uplift everyone". But I think there's something important, if truth is important to you, to be the sort of person who could accept that that they don't get to go to Mars or live forever – because they were born too early, or because circumstances didn't work out for whatever reason.

"If I can see the glorious future, I desire to believe I can see the glorious future. If I can't see the glorious future, I desire to believe that I can't see the glorious future."

The litany of tarski is actually hard to live up to. Ada Palmer is operating from an epistemic state where "It's looking like obvious I won't get to see the glorious future, so the important part of the stoicism here is accepting that."

2. Part of the song isn't just about you.

When I sing the song, it's not just about my own position – it's about the position of all the people born, 10,000 years ago, 100 years ago, or 50 – who won't get to go to Mars or live-a-long-time, but nonetheless are still part of the story that I am a part of. They are part of who I am.

Miranda wanted this song as part of our 3rd wedding anniversary ceremony and I had the same complaint Habryka does. I think we had it but changed it slightly?

The interpretations you mention seem reasonable but still feels like the straightforward interpretation is of someone saying they don't expect to have the result for themselves in a way that feels fatalist and false or something.

I mean, the important bit is that the epistemic state of most people is that you *won't* have the result for yourself, and this was definitely true for most of human history and might still be true now. You need to have particular concrete beliefs about immortality being practical in your lifetime for the song's fatalism to be anything other than straightforwardly true.

Yeah, but I have those beliefs.

Yeah, I was going to edit the comment to try to more clearly get at the aesthetic cruxes at play (with someone different cruxes for: "Why the song resonates with me", "Why I think it should at least not anti-resonate-with-Ruby", and "Why I'd be somewhat sad if it anti-resonated-with-Ruby after we fully talked about it")

But, then, that turned out to be a lot of work.

(There's an additional thing where, because this is a cultural-cornerstone-song for science fiction enthusiasts, it places science-fiction-enthusiasm as a central element of The Great Story of Humanity. I think science fiction is legitimately important but if I wrote the song I probably wouldn't have made it so that the climax of the song is writing songs and hosting sci-fi conventions. But, I think it was a fine song to write for the culture it was intended for)

This feels like it's supposed to have a link to a recording of the new version – did you mean to include that, and/or did I miss it?

This post was imported into LessWrong from RSS, which stripped out the youtube embed. It was supposed to link to www.youtube.com/embed/ywQ9C7NBySM. I'm working on a new version, though, which is www.youtube.com/watch?v=SwkinZMr858.

Here's another go, maintaining more of the original melody: https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/c3rKTxZAWmiwKvAKi/resetting-somebody-will-v2