Bill Withers' “Can We Pretend” is a great song. It occupies a place in my repertoire these days. The theme of pretension is examined so simply, so as to let the feeling of the song carry the weight of its message. This message is that there is no pretending, and the melody expresses the acceptance that accompanies the feeling of wanting to do something that cannot be done. There is no blanket that can be laid over the feeling that will warm it to a sufficient temperature. There is no way to color the past which has already been painted. We can make corrections. But, still underneath those corrections lies what actually is.
This isn't just applicable to the man-woman dynamic, but many other things, as well. It isn't simply a matter of writing the opposite in order to create a feeling of conflict and resolution. Many people who write things use the framework of opposition to inspire their writing, which I can understand. But, in using this technique, we must be sure that the thing we oppose warrants our opposition. In fully understanding Bill Withers' song, the listener must know the sensation. It is a strange feeling to have watched someone fumble a love so much as to wish it never existed. As the whole thing unravels, you are faced with the fact that you don't actually wish it never existed. You just want to do away with this particular feeling, which is in the hands of someone whose nature is somehow against yours.
Man and woman harboring an opposing nature is certainly natural. The task at hand is to wrestle with that nature so that they fit together. This has not happened in “Can We Pretend.” For, 'there's a shadow hiding in [her] heart' and he is expecting her to move this shadow which is unmovable. Who knows why the shadow is there? It is obviously something mysterious. And so, Bill Withers song is a song of forced resignation. It's like leaving a job you enjoy because it just becomes rank with such vague hostility that it must be purged. Inevitably, it is a song about a common woman's nature colliding with a common man's nature. It is a song about the great power and joy to be found in the act of acceptance.