Music

17 11 2005

Good music makes you think. Great music is philosophy. There’s a difference. Granted, I don’t have the best tastes in music or even the most sophisticated; if you’re feeling judgmental check out the oft-mentioned excellent report on music snobbery by Chris Knight. I am among the “millions of 13-year-old girls” that found out about these groups through the Garden State soundtrack. And even so, I’d like to muse on music.

Music has to provoke you. It has to stimulate a thought, like a poem – it has its lyrics, but with actual sound is able to produce imagery on a different scale. People have commented that they “can feel the music” when they hear a good song. The words mixed with notes create something unique – and part of what makes a good song good is the impact it gives you.

”Stones taught me to fly
Love taught me to lie
Life taught me to die
So it’s not hard to fall
When you float like a cannonball”
– “Cannonball” by Damien Rice

One night, I walked with Maddy at night in Harvard square with the intent to buy Damien Rice’s album. We walked to Tower Records and in one aisle we found its little packaged canvas-colored case with its simple child-like drawings on the front. Later that night I cried listening to that album. I couldn’t make out all the words (like most of the time I hear a song for the first time) but still I cried. I called it “being emo”. I was sunken, depressed – my good spirits shot for the night.

“And so it is
Just like you said it would be
Life goes easy on me
Most of the time
And so it is
The shorter story
No love, no glory
No hero in her sky”
– “The Blower’s Daughter” by Damien Rice

Music is philosophy. Perhaps there is no better example of philosophy-masquerading-as-music than Jack Johnson. Far from being indie, his popular albums “Brushfire Fairytales”, “On and On” (though I haven’t listened to this album), and “In Between Dreams” communicate his laid-back philosophy. To call such music philosophy has always been a stretch. Music is like a fable – sometimes it teaches to the truth of something broad – say, war – and sometimes it teaches about something very narrowly – losing a relationship for lack of communication. However, because he supplies both broad and narrow ‘truths’ with a consistent theme it would be fair to say there exists a Jack Johnson philosophy. In fact, the two above examples, war and quiet relationships, are specific Jack Johnson songs: “Crying Shame” and “No Other Way”, respectively.

“Well too much silence can be misleading
You’re drifting I can hear it in the way that your breathing
We don’t really need to find reason
Cause out the same door that it came well its leaving its leaving
Leaving like a day that’s done and part of a season
Resolve is just a concept that’s as dead as the leaves
But at least we can sleep, its all that we need
When we wake we will find
Our minds will be free to go to sleep”
“No Other Way” by Jack Johnson

Music, like math, communicates universally. From American groups like Iron and Wine to Spanish singers like Juanes to the Icelandic group Sigur Ros who invented their own language to sing in, we see a combination of extraordinary talent and simple lyrics. In Iron and Wine’s “Naked as We Came” and “Passing Afternoon”, their slow beat and clear words lift the high pressure environments of pop and punk bands where the words are often overshadowed by repetitive beats and either screaming, slang, or senseless obscenity. Juanes’ song “Tu Guardian” has a chorus that sings: “Esta noche te prometo que no vendrán ni dragones ni fantasmas a molestar. Y en la puerta de tus sueños yo voy a estar, hasta que tus ojos vuelvan a abrir”. Translated, that goes something like: “Tonight I promise that neither dragons nor ghosts will come to bother you. And in the door of your dreams I will be, until your eyes open up anew”. And I’ve only listened to Sigur Ros once, but from what I remember Maddy showing me – the music was unintelligible (I learned afterwards it was made up) it was absolutely beautiful. There is no precise language to music except that it speaks to the truth of human experience.

“She says ‘wake up, it’s no use pretending’
I’ll keep stealing, breathing her.
Birds are leaving over autumn’s ending
One of us will die inside these arms
Eyes wide open, naked as we came
One will spread our ashes ’round the yard”
“Naked as We Came” by Iron and Wine

The next step I suppose for music is to communicate visually. Glósóli by Sigur Ros is a perfect example of music combined with video to create a unique experience. I remember one of the first commentaries I had heard on music. It was about a band I liked at the time N*Sync (I liked the Backstreet Boys too – and no, I was far from a music aficionado at that point). The article commented on the then recent resurgence of covers of old songs like “Sailing”. The cover on the magazine read: “Is Music Dead” as if musical creativity had hit some ceiling past which no melodious chords would ever be found.

Far from it.

Music is alive – it is unique – and everyone experiences it differently – some people are comfortable listening to rap, others like me, generally aren’t. But before you jump back into your iPod world, I want to say one last thing. If you truly enjoy music, then you don’t ‘just like all music’. You make your selections, your findings, and your favorites a part of you – and the musical component is actually very specific.

So don’t complain when I listen to both Bowling for Soup and Death Cab in the same playlist.

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3 responses

18 11 2005
Roland

nicely put

19 11 2005
Matthias

Aw… but Beethoven was the original emo wanker, in the detestable person definition sense. Instrumental music is where the pure emotion is at, no lyrics to help you communicate.

27 03 2006
The Shadowpax

i like what mathias said. instrumentals are powerful because they are pure emotion with no lyrics to hinder your path of thought or experience. haha, and yes, Beethoven was the original emo

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