"Optimistic" as written by and Thomas Edward/selway Yorke....
Flies are buzzing round my head
Vultures circling the dead
Picking up every last crumb
The big fish eat the little ones
The big fish eat the little ones
Not my problem, give me some

You can try the best you can
You can try the best you can?
The best you can is good enough
If you try the best you can
If you try the best you can
The best you can is good enough

This one's optimistic
This one went to market
This one just came out of the swamp
This one dropped a payload
Fodder for the animals
Living on animal farm

You can try the best you can
You can try the best you can
The best you can is good enough
If you try the best you can
If you try the best you can
The best you can is good enough

Oh oh oh
Oh oh oh
Ah ah ah
Oh oh oh

I'd really like to help you, man
I'd really like to help you, man
Nervous messed up marionettes
Floating around on a prison ship

You can try the best you can
You can try the best you can
The best you can is good enough
You can try the best you can
You can try the best you can

Dinosaurs roaming the Earth
Dinosaurs roaming the Earth
Dinosaurs roaming the Earth

Ah ah ah (oh oh oh)
Ah ah ah (oh oh oh)
Ah ah ah
Oh oh oh


Lyrics submitted by shut

"Optimistic" as written by Edward John O'brien Colin Charles Greenwood

Lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.

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Optimistic song meanings
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  • +15
    General CommentMost of the song seems to be describing the dog eat dog world we were born into -- not just the Capitalist economic system we live in, but the whole shebang: evolution, the very process which allows us to exist, even, is dog eat dog. We wouldn't be able to exist if the weak were weeded out and the strong allowed to survive.

    And yet, this is a morally unsatisfying reality.

    Thus, the chorus comes along to tell us that, despite this amoral universe we find ourselves in, all we can do is 'try the best we can' to improve our world and our universe, in order to make it moral. Each of us has limited power to achieve this goal, given that the universe seems to push in an amoral direction.

    Still, we should be happy with simply trying our best with our limited powers. That is the optimistic message: it's ok to be limited in power. That, of course, is beyond our control, and we should submit and accept to that reality, all the while trying our best to move our universe in a better direction.
    Risikoon September 11, 2007   Link
  • +7
    General CommentAnother way of exploring meanings of this song is from the biological / ecological / evolutionary perspective:

    first verse: Everything is just trying to secure natural resources, and we should not be judgemental about it. Flies, vultures, and large critters eating smaller / weaker ones shouldn't be of any concern - everything needs the resources, including us.

    second verse: All organisms are optomistic about gaining their resources (it's in our genetic programing), but we are all destined to becoming resources for other organisms - when pigs go to market, they are butchered and consumed, as old forms of life become inadequate, new forms rise up "out of the swamp." Dropping a payload is taking a dump. Even dung is a resource for other animals. We're ALL animals living on the same farm - consuming and providing resources.

    third verse: "I'd really like to help you" = altruism doesn't necessarily pay off as far as my chances at surviving and reproducing. "Nervous... marionette." = We are a puppet for our DNA - our behaviors (self preservation, resource consumption, reproduction) are only a reflection of the DNA's 'desire' for replication of itself. "Prison ship" = planet Earth.

    last part: "Dinosaurs roaming the earth" Despite each organisms optimism for reproduction, all species are destined for extinction. We're the dinosaurs - currently dominating the planet, but not forever.
    KiltedYaksmanon April 06, 2006   Link
  • +6
    General CommentI'm not familiar with the plot of the entire album. However, when I hear this song on its own, this is the connotation I get:

    This song is all about the common people striving for elitism. Imagine a common man going to college, entering the workforce optimistically. He wants money and status and a comfortable life. He doesn't imagine himself losing his freedom to his job.

    The song begins with the man seeing his peers being picked off by life's trials and difficulties. He sees them cannibalized by the "big fish" (big business/bosses/corporate heirarchy). He realizes he must either become a big fish or get eaten by them.

    Then the song takes a bigger viewpoint, as if a narrator is studying the whole situation. It describes several of these common men and how they fit into the picture. We have the man who wants more (optimistic), a consumer (the market), a backwoods hillbilly (out of the swamp), and a producer (drops a payload) whose art is consumed by the others (animals on animal farm).

    The song then describes the man again, probably in his later years after he's been on this corporate ladder a while. He's a puppet (nervous messed up marionette) that can't escape this ride he's on (the prison ship).

    The song ends with the focus pulling away from this man and seeing the whole society as an ecosystem of dinosaurs... doomed to cannibalize and feed on each other until some force greater than them destroys them. Still, in their minds they are all super-important. The grand scheme of things is much greater than they will ever be.
    Wattzon June 13, 2008   Link
  • +5
    General CommentI think the message of this song is actually one the most difficult, because it seems to be showing two conflicting emotions at once. On one hand it's a really dark, pessimistic song / yet it has a kind of blissfull happiness to it as well. I really believe when he sings "try the best you can" he means it. The way they juxtapose that over that rising guitar line is just genius.
    Nothing in life is black and white and Radiohead really seem to understand that. Life is full of joy and misery as are Radiohead's songs. People who dislike Radiohead only seem to pick up on the latter, possibly they would rather deny the existence of negative emotions altogether.
    ZA81on June 14, 2008   Link
  • +4
    General Comment"Dinosaurs roaming the earth"

    To me this refers to the fact that despite our advances as a species we're still essentially DNA, by which I mean that the same rules and behaviour that applied to dinosaurs apply to us - "big fish eat the little ones". Underneath the veneers of civilization, technology and rational thought we're just animals mindlessly* perpetuating the same old cycles.

    *unlike dinosaurs, flies, vultures or fish, our consciousness means that we can observe this, acknowledge it and wish to separate ourselves from it, but without being able to actually do so. Kind of a deterministic view, but our minds really only give us the tools to observe and rationalize without giving us the power to escape.
    sirsidon July 07, 2009   Link
  • +4
    General CommentI think Thom has said that the primary line of the song "if you try the best you can, the best you can is good enough" came from his wife, who was obviously trying to cheer him up. I don't think the song's title is necessarily ironic: sure there's all kinds of evil and deceit in the world, but we don't have control over all of that. What is (or should be) important is your actions in the view of the people that you love. In this case, all this loved one wants if for you to "try the best you can", and that would satisfy them. It's all that you need.
    bernlin2000on October 09, 2010   Link
  • +2
    General CommentSounds to me like someone excepting the corporate capitalist life, ' big fish eat the little ones, not my problem give me some..' and trampling on anyone who gets hurt in the process.....
    debaser2002on August 14, 2002   Link
  • +2
    General Commentthis song is probably the best showcase of radiohead's genius than any other.

    the whole thing is a sarcastic parody of the idea of optimism:

    "If you try the best you can The best you can is good enough"

    this is what people say, when in reality you could do your best and still come out on bottom. just doing your best and being optimistic is no guarantee that things will be OK.

    "The big fish eat the little ones
    The big fish eat the little ones
    Not my problem give me some"

    in other words, just as the daily struggles of the fish are meaningless to us, our daily struggles are also ultimately meaningless, and it makes no difference to the world whether you succeed or fail, or "get eaten by bigger fish"

    "This one's optimistic
    This one went to market
    This one just came out of the swamp
    This one dropped a payload
    Fodder for the animals
    Living on an animal farm"

    here it's almost like Thom is imagining the world from an alien's point of view - this one is optimistic, as though optimism were just another trait that the person has, and it ultimately has no real effect on anything.

    **** this is where the genius really comes in.
    the way he says that last line makes it form the beginning of the nursery rhyme about the pigs ("this one went to market...."). in other words, nursery rhyme = nice little lies that are told to make children feel good.

    THEN, at the same time as all that, a third meaning is apparent, when he mentions Animal Farm. Animal Farm was an allegory for Communism (ie, do what work you can, and you'll be ok even if that work is not very good)


    "Nervous messed up marionette
    Floating around on a prison ship"

    by this he is clearly referring to humans as the marionettes - controlled like puppets by forces outside their control - located on a prison ship that they cannot escape from - Earth itself.

    "Dinosaurs roam the earth"

    another parody of optimism. the dinosaurs did their best to survive, but ultimately were wiped out by forces beyond their control. if optimism really worked this way, dinosaurs would still "roam the earth" because they did their best.
    mrguy6on July 13, 2008   Link
  • +2
    Song Meaningthis song is about thom yorke's struggle to come up with songs for the follow up album to ok computer and the pressure he felt from the record company and producers. the lyrics appear to primarily detail yorke's interaction with the producer who is the vulture digging yorke's brain for inspiration. because of the massive critical success of ok computer, it is obvious yorke would feel anxious about kid a, there were probably many stakeholders giving him the advice "the best you can is good enough". of course, they are just flies/vultures offering reassurance because they want to take his songs "to market" and make a "payload" from the "animals" (audience). the producer (man hired to assist the band create an album) says "I'd really like to help you, man", trying to use yorke like a "marionette" to create songs the record company wants. this makes yorke feel like he's on a "prison ship". not sure about the dinosaurs roaming the earth, perhaps the out of touch/date record producing?
    striker161on February 04, 2009   Link
  • +1
    General Commentgoing along with what debaser2002 said, the "dinosaurs roaming the earth" could mean that thats the way its always been since the beginning, OR dinosaurs roaming the earth could symobilize the corporate monopoly taking over like dinosaurs roaming the earth...just a ramble.
    drinkbleachon August 19, 2002   Link

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