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Recycling: When done right, it’s awesome

June 29, 2012

The best James Bond song is Live and Let Die. Or so I thought until this week. This week, I subscribed to a song list on Spotify based on the Mad Men television show. It includes the Nancy Sinatra song You Only Live Twice. You probably know this song from the 1967 James Bond movie of the same name.

As I passively listened to the Mad Men song list, You Only Live Twice grew on me. Maybe it was the lyrics. Or maybe it was the song itself, which I had dismissed years ago as a relic of the pre-rock era that somehow managed to get noticed during the summer of love. But it’s also perfect for the characters and the story line of Mad Men, and was used to complete its fifth season’s finale.

It’s a perfect song for the lead character of the show, Don Draper (played with great skill by Jon Hamm). “Draper” takes the opportunity presented in the Korean War to escape his past when he and one other person are alone and are attacked. The real Don Draper is killed and, given the science of the early 1950s, his body is ruined beyond recognition.

Draper. Don Draper.

The fake Don Draper, whose real name is Dick Whitman, switches dog tags, then uses his new identity to escape his alcoholic father and emotionally absent step-mother to become one of the best ideamen in advertising. (If you doubt me, check out the following video, where he pitches to Kodak how to market its new multi-slide projector.)

Draper lives twice. He’s constantly re-inventing himself. He’s constantly creating a new and better version of himself, farther away from what he was, and closer to all the things he wants to be. He lives twice (actually more often than that), and as a result, the song with the soaring strings at the beginning that spoke only of James Bond, takes on a new and different meaning.

There are only so many ideas in the world. Some count the number of possible plotlines in a story at less than a dozen. If that’s the case–if everything that’s currently seen has been seen before, then the only way to succeed is by successfully recycling. By taking what’s already worked and moving the perspective a little so that it’s fresh and different to work again.

If it works on what had been a mostly forgotten sixties song (that doesn’t feel like a sixties song), then it can work on whatever you’re writing, too.

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