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  • Writer's pictureBenjamin Kassel

"Give a Little Bit" really hits home here in Berkeley during finals prep

Amidst the stress of finals prep, small gestures and acts of kindness can go a long way.


Today I managed to grind out my English final paper. It's my last class toward my minor, so it came with an extra burst of satisfaction when I pressed that "Submit" button on bCourses (the name given to Cal's Canvas platform). I also felt ever so slightly delirious and burned out upon finishing the paper... and then I heard a song in my head.


More specifically, I heard the song from its opening notes into its first verse before it trailed off into nothingness as I packed up my things and began to walk back to my apartment from the library where I'd been working all day. All the same, that opening stuck with me because I hadn't listened to any music all day — an extreme rarity for me, but one which was fully necessary in order to put my undivided attention toward my paper. If I'm listening to something, I get too invested in that something to focus otherwise. However, now I could pay attention to that other something, which happened to be a simple but iconic 70s tune: Supertramp's "Give a Little Bit."

For their time and even by today's standards, Supertramp were known for being a bit out there and progressive when it came to the poppy music they made. ...Cue the "vegetable" lyric, saxophone wailing, and Mattel electronic football sample of "The Logical Song." With that view in my young mind based on just a couple songs from their album Breakfast in America (1979), it somewhat shocked me to hear what I considered very standard pop fare when I first heard "Give a Little Bit" and the rest of Even in the Quietest Moments... (1977), the album which came directly before what I previously knew of the band.


Having said that, there is something distinct about the song that sets it apart right from the very beginning: lead vocalist Roger Hodgson's employment of a 12-string acoustic guitar. Now the 12-string isn't by any stretch a sound unique to Supertramp or to the popular music landscape of the mid- to late-20th century, but it is definitely a sound that sticks out when it's used in isolation like it is in the opening of "Give a Little Bit." The 12-string instantly gives the track a richness and warmth with its combination of octaves (on the first four pairs of strings) and doublings (on the last two pairs), and this character continues as Hodgson sings of taking a bit of time to love and care for others.


The theme of caring goes beyond the surface level as well. One couplet in particular stands out to me as being of note: "See the man with the lonely eyes / Oh, take his hand, you'll be surprised." In an environment like Cal with so many people making their way through campus and (especially this time of year) studying and grinding out finals in the libraries, it's often really hard to take the time and just talk to someone every once in a while, especially those who may not look the happiest or most receptive. More than that, the fact that we're back on campus this semester after spending a solid year and a half online and back home makes getting to know people seem all the more daunting... and yet, the most rewarding experiences I've had this year have all involved meeting new people and/or meeting people in person for the first time after having met them in Zoom classes. From my roommate to classmates to club members and even just people next to whom you may be working in a library, everyone does have a story to tell, and it often means a lot to reach out to them just the tiniest bit.


For those musical and lyrical reasons and many more, it seemed awfully fitting for "Give a Little Bit" to be the song to pop into my head today. It's a nice reminder that a little gesture can go a long way, especially during the most stressful time of the semester. Here's to everyone I've met at Cal this year getting through this next week and enjoying their time here. Go Bears!

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