On the nature of songs in everyday life (or, the unbearable lightness of music)
Do you ever get frustrated with the fleeting nature of music, while simultaneously being overwhelmed with the immensity & weight of it? Weird thought, I know, but one I've been thinking about lately.
By its very nature, a song is such an ephemeral, abstract thing. Such a small thing, two or three minutes. It's just a combination of sounds, notes, beats, and words.
And there are so many songs in existence. Thousands and thousands of songs are being written every day. The ones you hear may not be the best. There may be an astonishingly beautiful piece that no one will ever listen to.
It can be so hard to write about music, to share it with others in a meaningful way. It's like pinning down a butterfly in a photograph album (thanks Adam) and trying to dissect what makes it beautiful. Then what are you left with?
I once read somewhere (if you can find the article, holler) about how Rivers Cuomo from Weezer actually tried to technically deconstruct his hit songs, as compared to the other songs they've written that weren't hits, and tried to see what "the winning element" was. That kind of stuff can drive you crazy. Do you think there is any rhyme or reason behind what makes a "good" song? A "memorable" song? Why do people latch onto one song on an album and not another? Does it make that hit song better than its counterparts?
And what elevates a song or a certain band's work to hold such meaning in our lives? Someone wrote me recently and said, "I compartmentalize memories into songs or albums and vice versa." That made me think about the role of music, and I decided that was a fantastic realization because I, too, do the same thing. There are certain songs that I can hardly listen to for the memories it evokes (whether powerfully attractive memories that I can slip into through song for three minutes, or some that are not so pleasant, bringing back melancholy so real I can taste it).
There are days when I want to scrap this whole blog business (but I know I won't) because, as Elvis Costello famously said, "Writing about music is like dancing about architecture -- it's a really stupid thing to want to do." Really stupid. How could you possibly sum up a song in logical words?
But then you read someone like Nick Hornby, who has this magical gift for writing about music and capturing exactly the essence and the passion and the unbridled joy that can be found amidst the vinyl grooves, who says, "I love the relationship that anyone has with music: because there’s something in us that is beyond the reach of words, something that eludes and defies our best attempts to spit it out. It’s the best part of us, probably, the richest and strangest part...."
It's just that richness, that strangeness, and that personal internal connection that makes music writing simultaneously so HARD, yet such a compelling and rewarding adventure. That connection with music does indeed defy our best attempts to spit it out.
It's that moment alone in your room when you first put on a song and just fall silent, transfixed for whatever reason. It's the time you are driving in your car listening to something and suddenly, unexpectedly, your eyes are brimming with hot tears. An ambush. It's a turn of a lyric that resonates with something deeply beautiful inside of you. And perhaps it's the moment you pick up an instrument to make your own unique contribution to the musical landscape. And the cycle continues.
I don't know how to quantify it, but it is something wild and beautiful. Expressing that wildness is a fleeting, challenging undertaking. Perhaps the weight is a gift.