Wednesday, April 3, 2013

It Gets Personal, Part I: I heard a song. Here's what I think about that.

Yesterday, I was bombarded by a rare moment of insight into the way my weird mind works. Obviously, seeing a flash of the inner workings of one's psyche is profoundly disturbing, and my only way to process it was to write a blog post. This series of ruminations turned into a wide-ranging (and ongoing) exposition of my relationship with music, religion, and my chosen career path. Due to sheer length, it'll be in at least two parts, probably three. I hope you get as much from reading it as I did from writing it!

I'm not sure whether "That Awkward Moment" is still a thing or not, but if it were, tonight I would have tweeted "That awkward moment when you realize the song you've been singing to yourself all day and really like has been from a Christian music artist the whole time."

One of the first things you're likely to learn about me is that I sing to myself pretty much always. I like to think that it sounds good. Chances are, I'm wrong on that- although I was in a cappella groups for something like 6 years, listening to one person sing to an audience of one (himself) using a one-foot voice is seldom entertaining. Despite that knowledge, I persist, because it's a good way to carry myself through menial tasks, and most people probably don't notice at any rate.

Some days though, I hum/sing a song for many hours and later learn that the artist belongs to that sort-of-nebulous genre called "Contemporary Christian Music", then feel weird about it. Yesterday was one of those days. The offending song was "Down" by Mat Kearney, which probably came up on my Pandora last week or something. I should emphasize that I can rarely identify the point at which a song got stuck in my head, and almost never recall hearing it recently. If you listen to the song, there's very little reason to be sympathetic to my ignorance of its Christian overtones:

The chorus goes thusly: Can you hear when we call?/ Be there when we fall?/ We're standing, our backs against the wall/ Top of our lungs, Hallelujah/ Where pain and love bleed into one/ Baby when all you see is darkness (it's coming down now)/ We all need forgiveness (it's coming down now.) It tells the story of several people facing varying degrees of adversity, their search for support and their struggle to maintain hope.

So yeah, I probably should have noticed. But that's the (possibly) strange thing about the way I relate to music: it's not usually about the lyrics of a song. Sure, the words can be interesting and engaging, and bands like Mumford and Sons, Say Anything, Motion City Soundtrack, the Decemberists, or Stepdad write lyrics that I want to read, understand, and unpack. But when I'm just listening to or singing a song, the lyrics aren't usually important because of any inherent quality, just for being lyrics. They derive more meaning from their effect of adding a melody and punctuating the overall "soundscape." That completed piece of sound evokes a state of mind or a set of emotions that I can use to frame, interpret, and respond to the things going on around me, or even to my own thoughts and ideas. There's a chicken-and-egg debate in there somewhere: whether the music interprets my thoughts/feelings or I select music based on the thoughts/feelings I already have. Not going to get into it. The important thing is that the framing device created need not have anything to do with what the song is about- I wasn't feeling particularly hard-up or hopeless when going over and over "Down" both in my head and under my breath. The full sound somehow just seemed right for where I was, what I was doing, and how I felt, even if only I could hear it.

And then I looked up the lyrics and realized that it was just a little more God-themed than I would have liked. For some reason, that just sort of...bugs me.

In the next post, I'll attempt to explain why that is. So, um, stay tuned.


No comments:

Post a Comment