Avant-garde rock group
Although the Can never boasted more than a cult following during their career, the German combo would later be acknowledged as the leading avant-garde rock band to emerge from the 1970s. Always ignoring the trends of contemporary pop music, Can desired to explore other areas of music by breaking traditionally held concepts about rock and roll. In describing the group’s sound, rock historians often named Frank Zappa or the Velvet Underground as Can’s closest contemporaries, but also noted that in contrast to these artists, Can created a much more serious and inaccessible style of music. “Instead of recording tight pop songs or satire,” stated All Music Guide contributor Stephen Thomas Erlewine, “Can experimented with noise, synthesizers, nontraditional music, cut-and-paste techniques, and, most importantly, electronic music; each album marked a significant step forward from the previous album, investigating new territories that other rock bands weren’t interested in exploring.” By the end of their career, Can, whose core members included Irmin Schmidt, Jaki Liebezeit, Michael Karoli, and Holger Czukay, had produced some of the most respected examples of experimental rock ever recorded. The group’s groundbreaking, as well as challenging, music would later influence such bands as Public Image Limited, the Fall, Einsturzende Neubauten, and numerous others.
In 1968, the people of Germany felt divisions in both a political and a cultural sense. Aside from the obvious tensions resulting from the East/West split, a decentralized sense of culture prevailed that caused local fixations of various music scenes. However, the late 1960s were nonetheless rebellious, watershed years for youth culture around the world, and changes would arise, especially in music, that would also touch intellectual and artistic activity in Germany. The germ cell of a band that would make history later on as Can felt the new vibrations as well in June of 1968, when five young musicians, together searching for a new musical concept and under the spell of innovative artists such as Jimi Hendrix, the Velvet Underground, and the Mothers of Invention, held a meeting at Irmin Schmidt’s apartment in Cologne, West Germany.
Schmidt, a 31-year-old pianist and conductor at the time, along with a then 30-year-old double-bassist named Holger Czukay and an American flautist named David Johnson, received formal classical training in music. Schmidt and Czukay had previously studied with classical avant-garde musician Karlheinz Stockhausen. Abandoning promising careers in academia and classical pursuits to form their own avant-garde rock group, the three men enlisted one of Czukay’s students, then 19-year-old Michael Karoli, to play guitar. The band found a fifth member in then 30-year-old jazz percussionist and drummer Jaki Liebezeit, who nominated himself for the position after responding to Schmidt’s inquiry about the availability of local drummer.
Adopting the name Inner Space Productions, the group started out working within the German film industry composing and recording soundtrack music. Meanwhile, a wealthy local art patron donated the band free rehearsal and recording space at his castle, Schloss Narvenich, situated near Cologne. It was at this location that Inner Space held their first gig, an improvised show that produced a spectacular collage of rock music and tape samples. The 1968 performance was documented on a cassette tape entitled Prehistoric Future.
Toward the end of 1968, a black American sculptor named Malcolm Mooney arrived in Cologne to visit Schmidt and his wife and Can’s longtime manager Hildegarde. During his stay, Mooney linked up with the band as vocalist, leading the band with his intuitive drive closer to rock music. One of the first sessions with Mooney adding vocals yielded the track “Father Cannot Yell.” Around the same time, another lineup change occurred; Johnson, whose involvement with the band was more limited than the other members, departed in December of 1968. Shortly thereafter, Mooney and Liebezeit thought up a new name for the group—Can—and
For the Record…
Members include Reebop Kwaku Baah (born in Konongo, Ghana; died c. mid-1980s; former member of Traffic; joined band in 1977), percussion; Holger Czukay (born March 24, 1938, in Danzig, Germany; married artist/musician U-She; left band in 1977), bass, vocals, electronics; Rosko Gee (former member of Traffic; joined band in 1977), bass; David Johnson, flute, electronics; Michael Karoli (born April 29, 1948, in Straubing, West Germany), guitar, violin, vocals; Jaki Liebezeit (born May 26, 1938, in Dresden, Germany), drums, reeds, vocals; Malcolm Mooney (joined band in 1968, left band in 1969), vocals; Irmin Schmidt (born May 29, 1937, in Berlin, Germany; married Hildegarde), keyboards, vocals; Kenji “Damo” Suzuki (born January 16, 1950, in Japan; joined band in 1970, left band in 1973), vocals.
Formed band in 1968 in Cologne, West Germany; released debut album Monster Movie, 1969; released Tago Mago, founded Inner Space Studios, 1971; released Ege Bamysi, which included the German hit “Spoon,” 1972; had a U.K. hit with the single “I Want More,” 1976; dissolved band, 1979; Spoon Records released Can Box, 1999.
Addresses: Record company —Mute Records, 140 W. 22nd St., Ste. 10A, New York City, NY 10011, phone: (212) 255-7670, fax: (212) 255-6056, email: [email protected] Website —Can at Spoon Records, http://www.spoonrecords.com.
the band began work on their debut album, 1969’s Monster Movie. A unique cosmos of sound recorded with two-track technology, Monster Movie shattered numerous well-worn production and musical concepts, and introduced the Can ethic of playing and recording spontaneously against a backdrop of repetitive rhythms.
In December of 1969, Mooney, suffering from paranoia and a psychological breakdown, left the band and returned to the United States. Although his involvement with Can lasted only one year, he would be forever remembered for participating in the band’s groundbreaking debut. Mooney also appeared on a few tracks for the project The Can Soundtracks (released in 1970), which featured Can’s film scores from 1969 through 1970. His era was also extensively documented on the 1981 release Delay 1968, a collection of then-unreleased material. Following Mooney’s departure, in May of 1970, Can invited Japanese singer Kenji “Damo” Suzuki to join the band when they spotted him on a street corner in Munich, Germany, one afternoon prior to a scheduled Can show. Suzuki immediately accepted Can’s offer and gave an impromptu performance with the band that night. In addition to making a living as a traveling street performer, Suzuki had also worked as a cast member for the musical Hair. The extraordinary gig, a pandemonium of feedback and ingenious, chaotic noise experiments held at Munich’s Blow Up club, became one of the most notable live performances in the band’s history.
With Suzuki fronting the band, Can, early in 1971, recorded again on a two-track machine their second official offering, the legendary psychedelic double album Tago Mago. Released later that year and illustrating new departures for the skilled collective, the record caught the immediate attention of critics in both England and France. Describing the energy captured on Tago Mago, Mills asserted, “the five-pronged Can assault—Liebezeit’s volcanic-but-precise cyclical drumming, Czukay’s impulsively jabbing bass, Karoli’s psychedelicised splatter guitar, Schmidt’s pan-topographical keyboards, Suzuki’s free-form vocal incantations—was further shaped by Czukay’s tape-editing wizardry, and the group was able to lay down lengthy jams from which to whittle its unique studio recordings.”
As Tago Mago steadily earned acclaim, the band, in December of 1971, officially founded the Inner Space Studios in an old movie theater in Weilerswist, a town near Cologne. After taking up residence at Inner Space to make Tago Mago, Can recorded and produced all subsequent projects at their new studio, known as the Can Studio since 1978. In an interview with Magnet in 1989, Karoli reflected upon Can’s early days and the creation of Innerspace: “We were into instant creation,” he recalled. “Because we couldn’t afford to pay studio fees, we built our own studio. We didn’t have proper technology, just two microphones and not even a real mixing desk. But we got so skilled and the discipline was so tight, that we produced stuff that sounded like it was produced in a proper studio.”
During the early 1970s, Can earned a reputation for their highly developed and entertaining live performances as well, creating different arrangements of songs so as not to reproduce an exact replica of a track recorded in the studio. One of Can’s performances at the Cologne Sporthalle on February 3, 1972, featured vaudeville artists and other acts in addition to the group’s own music. Prominent cameramen, including Martin Schaefer, Robbie Muller, and Egon Mann, were also on location, and captured the show on tape for Peter Przygodda’s film Can Free Concert.
The band’s third album, Ege Bamysi, released in October of 1972, included Can’s first and most prominent chart success in Germany, the song “Spoon,” also the title track for the crime thriller Das Messer. Another substantial achievement, EgeBamysi, prompted Melody Maker that year to conclude, according to Can’s website, “Can are without doubt the most talented and most consistent experimental rock band in Europe, England included.” In 1973, Can returned with a proto-ambient classic entitled Future Days, the last album recorded with Suzuki. Despite the band’s increasing international popularity, Suzuki left the band that year to follow the religious group the Jehovah’s Witnesses. After Suzuki’s departure, Can’s music changed and the remaining members continued more or less as a quartet with Karoli taking on vocal duties at first. Later, various other singers, among them Tim Hardin, joined Can for brief interludes.
In 1974, Can released the album Limited Edition and also held the longest concert in the band’s history in Berlin, lasting from eight o’clock in the evening until eight thirty the next morning. That same year, the band recorded Soon Over Babaluma, an album marking the end of Can’s technique of recording straight onto one track. However, this change also gave rise to new discoveries for the band, evidenced on the track “Quantum Physics,” Can’s first entirely ambient composition. The year 1975 saw the release of the double album Unlimited Edition, an extended version of Limited Edition that included unreleased session material. For their next album of new material, 1975’s Landed, Can abandoned two-track recording altogether. Although critically hailed as one of the most advanced rock units after Landed’s release, Can nonetheless suffered consequences by availing themselves to newer technology.
According to the band, Can’s spontaneity and creativity as a collective slowly started slipping away. “In the beginning, when we only had a two-track recorder, we all had to be there together,” Liebezeit told Mills. “Later, we had a multi-track machine, so we didn’t work together so much in the studio. One would come to the studio and do some overdubbing, and the other ones would stay home. And I think that was not good for the group.” Nonetheless, the band prevailed for a while longer, and using more advanced recording methods, Can recorded the musically versatile Flow Motion (released in 1976), an album featuring David Gilmour’s “I Want More,” which became a disco hit single and reached number 30 on the British chart.
Around the same time, Czukay developed interests in non-rock instrumentation, including short-wave radios and Dictaphones as primitive samplers, and introduced such elements into Can’s music. Not only did these new methods alter the group’s sound, but it also necessitated that the band hire a new bass player to cover Czukay’s former role. Thus, the well-known rhythm duo of bassist Rosko Gee and percussionist Reebop Kwaku Baah, both former members of the band Traffic, joined Can for 1977’s Saw Delight. Now retired from the bass position, Czukay for this album served as the “special sounds” engineer. Although Saw Delight was well-received, the record’s funkier sound and Czukay’s new musical process was at odds with the other members’ interests in rock music.
Consequently, Czukay departed from Can in May of 1977, and the remaining members recorded two more albums: 1978’s disappointing album Out of Reach without Czukay and 1979’s self-titled release, which was edited by Czukay. The group also issued in 1978 a “best of Can” compilation double album entitled Cannibalism. In 1979, realizing that the magic had come to an end, Can finally dissolved. The various members went on to work on solo and collaborative projects, though Czukay enjoyed the most prolific post-Can career. Can played their final show in Lisbon at the end of May of that year before a crowd of more than 10,000 fans. The original Can lineup reunited briefly in 1988 with Mooney at Karoli’s new studio near Nice, France, called Outer Space Studio to record another album, 1989’s Rite Time. The above mentioned members, minus Czukay, came together again in 1991 at the old Can Studio to record the track “Last Night Sleep” for the Wim Wenders film Until the End of the World.
Meanwhile, in 1980, Schmidt’s wife established the Spoon label—distributed by Mute Records—to start reissuing the group’s catalog. Because of her efforts, many of Can’s records were later made available on compact disc. In 1997, the label released the remix album Sacrilege, followed in 1999 by an impressive and highly recommended box set entitled Can Box. “[Can Box] was an expensive project and very difficult to organize,” Hildegarde Schmidt, who worked tirelessly on the project, revealed to Mills. “The hours and hours of live tapes; the video itself, which was difficult to put together; and the book, which I did with (German journalist) Wolf (Kampmann).” The finished product included two live discs, a 130-minute video of concert and documentary footage, and a 500-page book with text in French, English, and German.
Monster Movie, United Artists, 1969; reissued on CD by Spoon/Mute.
The Can Soundtracks, Liberty, 1979; reissued on CD by Spoon/Mute.
Tago Mago, Liberty, 1971; reissued on CD by Spoon/Mute.
Ege Bamyasi, United Artists, 1972; reissued on CD by Spoon/Mute.
Future Days, United Artists, 1973; reissued on CD by Spoon/Mute.
Limited Edition, United Artists, 1974.
Soon Over Babaluma, United Artists, 1974; reissued on CD by Spoon/Mute.
Landed, Virgin, 1975; reissued on CD, Virgin, 1987; reissued on CD by Spoon/Mute.
Unlimited Edition, Virgin, 1975; reissued on CD by Spoon/Mute.
Flow Motion, Harvest, 1976; reissued, Virgin, 1987; reissued on CD by Spoon/Mute.
Saw Delight, Virgin, 1977; reissued on CD by Spoon/Mute.
Out of Reach, EMI/Electrola, 1978; reissued Magnum/Thunderbolt, 1988.
Cannibalism: 1968-1974, United Artists, 1978; reissued, Spoon, 1980; reissued on CD by Spoon/Mute.
Can, EMI/Electrola, 1979; reissued, Magnum/Thunderbolt, 1985; reissued on CD by Spoon/Mute.
Delay 1968, Spoon, 1981; reissued on CD by Spoon/Mute.
Only You, (cassette tape), Pure Freude, 1982.
Prehistoric Future, (cassette tape), Tago Mago, 1984.
Rite Time, Phonogram, 1989; reissued on CD by Spoon/Mute.
Cannibalism 2, Spoon, 1992; reissued on CD by Spoon/Mute.
Cannibalism 3, Spoon, 1994; reissued on CD by Spoon/Mute.
Can Anthology 25 Years, Spoon, 1994; reissued on CD by Spoon/Mute.
Peel Sessions, Strange Fruit, 1995.
Radio Waves, Sonic Platten, 1997.
Sacrilege, Spoon/Mute, 1997.
Can Box, Spoon/Mute, 1999.
Magnet, April/May 1999, p. 87; August/September 1999, pp. 35-38.
All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (February 17, 2000).
“Can,” Rolling Stone.com, http://www.rollingstone.tunes.com (February 17, 2000).
“Can History,” Can Site Map, http://www.spoonrecords.com/sitemap.html (February 17, 2000).
“His ‘n’ Listen,” Third Ear +, http://www.tribeca.ios.com/jpayne/ThirdEar.html (February 17, 2000).
Holger Czukay website, http://www.czukay.de/can/index.html, (February 17, 2000).
What can be true or can be done varies with the meaning of "can." As far as philosophy is concerned, the important senses of this word ("could," past indicative) fall into five major groups. For convenience these groups, most of which are distinguished in Webster's Third New International Dictionary, may be singled out as the "can" of ability, of right, of inclination or probability, of opportunity, and of possibility.
"Can" of Ability
The "can" of ability has at least three subsenses: (1) to have the skill—"He can speak five languages or paint lifelike portraits"; (2) to have the requisite mental or physical power—"He can solve difficult problems, invent remarkable machines, or foretell the future" or "He can swim a mile or do one hundred push-ups"; (3) to have the requisite strength of character—"He can resist anything but pleasure, pass up a free drink, or bear criticism of his books."
"Can" of Right
The "can" of right, which is often used interchangeably with "may," has at least four subsenses: (1) logically or axiologically can—"Equivalent formulas can be interchanged, salva veritate, in any extensional context" or "From this we can reasonably infer …"; (2) can in virtue of custom, agreement, law, and so on—"One can be prosecuted for saying that" or "An ambulance can disregard traffic lights"; (3) permission-giving "can"—"You can borrow my car if you'd like"; (4) be permitted by conscience or feeling—"I can condone no willful act of destruction" or "I can accept electrocution but not hanging."
"Can" of Inclination or Probability
Examples of the "can" of inclination or probability are "I was so angry that I could have killed him" and "That car could hardly have made a trip across the desert."
"Can" of Opportunity
"He could have played chess had he known how," "Come in here where we can talk," and "The traffic was so heavy that I could not cross" illustrate the "can" of opportunity.
"Can" of Possibility
The "can" of possibility has at least five subsenses: (1) consistency with knowledge—"For all that I know, Jones could have been the one"; (2) whether it is possible for someone (compare with the "can" of opportunity)—"Can you get away for lunch?" (3) the "can" of physical possibility—"If such-and-such has to happen, then it cannot fail to happen" or "A man, properly equipped, can survive indefinitely in outer space"; (4) the "can" of logical possibility (compare with the logical or axiological use of the "can" of right)—"Nothing can be red all over and green all over at the same time"; (5) conditional possibility (logical or physical)—"If the conclusion of a valid argument is false, not all of the premises can be true" or "In a deterministic system everything that can occur is necessitated by something else."
Can and Free Will
Because the field of philosophical perplexity is virtually limitless, any one of the "cans" listed above is a possible source of trouble to the philosopher. Nevertheless, several of them (especially the "cans" of ability, opportunity, and possibility), have proved exceptionally potent in bewitching the philosophical imagination, mainly in connection with the age-old problem of free will. This problem is partly generated by the conviction that a man can be said to perform an action freely only if he did not have to perform it but he could have done something else instead. A conviction of this kind tends to generate a problem because if the metaphysical thesis of determinism is intelligible, tenable, and applicable to human actions, it becomes doubtful whether it is ever true that a man can do anything other than what he does do, at least in one of these three basic senses of "can."
"can" of ability
How the ability senses of "can" bear on the free will issue has received perhaps the largest share of attention in the recent literature, possibly because questions about a man's abilities are often so crucially relevant in moral contexts. Yet the decisive points about abilities in this connection are easily stated. In all of the subsenses of the "can" of ability, there is an essential distinction between the possession of an ability and the exercise of that ability. To show that a person lacks an ability is more complicated than to show that he does not exercise it. A failure to perform a certain action implies that a man lacks the corresponding ability only if both he wants, wills, intends, or chooses to perform that action and his failure to perform it occurs in relevantly normal conditions. This fact has tempted philosophers (for instance, P. H. Nowell-Smith) to analyze "He can" (in the sense of ability) as meaning "He will if …." Important difficulties with such hypothetical analyses have been pointed out by Austin and others, but it has not been shown that there is anything wrong with the line of thought that prompted these analyses—namely, that our use of "can" in this sense is built on the idea that a man need not do what he can do and that in order to find out what he can do, we must find out what he will do if, in relevantly normal conditions, he wants, wills, intends, and so forth to do certain things. This line of thought is not, moreover, inconsistent with determinism, since determinism does not imply that if, under appropriate conditions, I wanted and were to try to perform an alternative action, I should certainly fail. On the contrary, it is presumably only because a measure of determinism does hold that my trying, in certain circumstances, to perform a particular action is likely to meet with consistent success.
"can" of opportunity
Although the truth of determinism does not imply that if a man performs a certain action, he could not (in the sense of the "can" of ability) have done otherwise, it might still be claimed that he would not, under these conditions, have the opportunity to do otherwise and, thus, that he could not do otherwise in the sense of the "can" of opportunity. But this claim is simply false, since in the ordinary sense of "opportunity" one can be said to have the opportunity to do many things that one is not presently doing, whether or not determinism holds. As the examples of the "can" of opportunity indicate, "having the opportunity to do X " does not mean anything like "being in a situation in which nothing physically essential for one's performance of X is lacking," which the claim in question seems to suppose (for more on this point see Taylor, Metaphysics ). On the contrary, to have the opportunity to do something requires only that one be in a situation such that if, roughly speaking, one wanted to do it, it would be reasonable to expect that one would be successful in doing it if one were able to do it (that is, could do it in the sense of ability). And such a situation would normally be lacking in many things essential, in the required sense, to one's performing that action. Not only might it lack the essential interest or even ability on one's own part, but it might also fail to involve the means that one would have to take in order to accomplish that action if it were at all complex—for instance, walking across the room in order to grasp the vase that one "has the opportunity" to break, throwing it toward the floor with sufficient force, and so on.
"can" of possibility
In spite of all this, it still seems possible to argue that, given determinism, a man cannot do other than what he does do in the sense that any alternative action on his part is physically impossible. A claim of this sort is, however, false if taken literally, since what is physically possible simpliciter need be consistent only with the laws of nature, not consistent with the laws of nature and certain initial conditions. If, however, the claim is to be taken in a slightly different way—namely, that it is conditionally physically impossible for the man to perform some other action—then it is entirely unexceptionable if the thesis of determinism is tenable and applicable to human actions. The reason for this is simply that the notion of conditional possibility is a technical one, definable by reference to determinism: Roughly, "A is conditionally physically possible" is by definition equivalent to "Nothing has happened that physically determines non-A. "
Because one is to make sense of "conditional physical possibility" by reference to determinism or something like it, it is clear that the hard-fought question whether determinism rules out human freedom is not the question whether determinism rules out the conditional possibility of a man's doing other than what he does do. There is, in fact, little that is controversial about the last question; it gets an analytic "Yes." What is controversial is the question whether the sense of "can" involved in the morally relevant query "Can he do otherwise?" is to be understood as the "can" of conditional possibility. For if, as both libertarians and sophisticated fatalists seem to think, this "can" is of basic moral significance, then free actions are possible only if determinism is false, untenable, or inapplicable to human actions. If, on the other hand, this sense of "can" is not the one that does concern us or should concern us when in a moral context we wonder whether a man can do other than what he does do—the opinion of the "reconcilers" of the empiricist tradition—then there is, perhaps, no incompatibility between determinism and human freedom after all.
How is this basic question about the "can" in the morally crucial use of "He can do otherwise" to be resolved? Only a few, admittedly feeble, hints can be given here. First, the idea that this "can" is that of conditional possibility seems extremely dubious, since this sense of the word is pretty clearly a contrived one, not mentioned even in unabridged dictionaries and thus hardly one that, like the "can" of ability and opportunity, is likely to be used in the familiar, everyday, morally compelling assessment of free, responsible actions. Second, the less heavy-handed and therefore far more tempting claim—that it is at any rate naive or unreasonable to describe an action as free if it is conditionally impossible for the agent to have done otherwise—seems very unsatisfactory when it is carefully pressed. For one thing, to think of free actions as differing from unfree ones in being conditionally undetermined is to make the very notion of a free action practically useless, since any question that might arise about the freedom of a given act would presumably then have to be settled by a fairly hopeless hunt for causes in the jungles of neurology. For another thing, to conceive of free actions in this way is to sever their ties with those complex principles of personal responsibility that incline us to excuse, rather than emphatically condemn, the kindly old parson who (we might imagine) suddenly, spontaneously, and without cause wills to, and does, brain the infant he is baptizing. The last point really seems to go to the heart of the matter: To conceive of free actions as conditionally physically indeterminate actions is to conceive of them in too naturalistic a way. After all, the very identity of an action—think of promising or murdering—is determined not just by the physical movements involved but also by a complex system of rules, laws, and so forth. Since it is the application of such rule concepts that distinguishes actions involving the same physical movements—murder and defensive or punitive acts—the basic vocabulary of action descriptions is essentially normative to a very large extent. (Actually, the vocabulary of action description is "intentional" in a way in which "scientific" language presumably is not.) Because the "can" in the morally crucial claim "He can do otherwise" plainly belongs to the family of words specifically used in connection with human actions, there is an inescapable force to the claim, made by many contemporary philosophers, that to identify this sense of the word with "conditional physical possibility" is to confuse a practical, largely normative "can" with an aseptic, scientific, theoretical one and thus to misconceive drastically the purpose, point, and import of the familiar, nontechnical statement "His action was done freely."
Aune, Bruce. "Abilities, Modalities, and Free Will." Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 23 (1963): 397–413.
Austin, J. L. "Ifs and Cans." In Philosophical Papers, edited by J. O. Urmson and G. J. Warnock. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1961.
Baier, Kurt. "Could and Would." Analysis Supp. Vol. (1963): 20–29.
Edwards, Paul, and Arthur Pap, eds. A Modern Introduction to Philosophy. Glencoe, IL: Free Press, 1957. See Ch. 1; this book should also be consulted for more detailed bibliographical information.
Melden, A. I. Free Action. London, 1961.
Morgenbesser, Sidney, and James Walsh, eds. Free Will: A Book of Readings. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1962.
Nowell-Smith, P. H. Ethics. London: Penguin, 1954.
Pears, D. F., ed. Freedom and the Will. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1963.
Raab, F. V. "Free Will and the Ambiguity of 'Could.'" Philosophical Review 64 (1955): 60–77.
Taylor, Richard. Metaphysics. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1963. See Chs. 4–5.
Bruce Aune (1967)
can1 / kan/ • modal verb (3rd sing. present can ; past could / koŏd/ ) 1. be able to: they can run fast I could hear footsteps. ∎ be able to through acquired knowledge or skill: I can speak Italian. ∎ have the opportunity or possibility to: there are many ways vacationers can take money abroad. ∎ used to express doubt or surprise about the possibility of something's being the case: he can't have finished where can she have gone? 2. be permitted to: you can use the phone if you want to. ∎ used to ask someone to do something: can you open the window? ∎ used to make a suggestion or offer: we can have another drink if you like. 3. used to indicate that something is typically the case: he could be very moody. can2 • n. 1. a cylindrical metal container: a garbage can a can of paint. ∎ a small steel or aluminum container in which food or drink is hermetically sealed for storage over long periods: soup cans. ∎ the quantity of food or drink held by such a container: he drank two cans of beer. 2. (the can) inf. prison. 3. (the can) inf. the toilet. • v. (canned , can·ning ) [tr.] (often be canned) 1. preserve (food) in a can. 2. inf. dismiss (someone) from their job: he was canned because of a fight over promotion. ∎ reject (something) as inadequate. PHRASES: a can of worms a complicated matter likely to prove awkward or embarrassing: to question the traditional model of education opens up a can of worms.DERIVATIVES: can·ner n.