Monday, 15 September 2014

Life's Soundtrack

Many of us, myself included, trace our existence via the music which we were listening to at various stages of our lives. This could either be a song which happened to be in the charts at a particular time, or tracks which for whatever reason have a certain resonance, reminding us of happy (or sad) times, or evoking our state of mind.
The first time that I can remember truly relating to songs, and seeing in them some semblance of inspiration or "meaning" was in my mid-to-late teens, when many different pressures and emotions conspire to give rise to a need to "belong", and find spiritual outlet, however imagined and superficial.
It makes me cringe now, but the first track which I, and my circle of friends, saw as a personal anthem, was "Livin' On A Prayer" by Bon Jovi. This may have just been escapism or peer pressure, and the blue collar romanticism in the lyrics now makes me nauseous. My social and economic situation bore very little relation to the characters depicted in the song. "I Just Died In Your Arms Tonight" by Cutting Crew fulfilled a similar role, both at the time, and in retrospectively evoking a sense of time and place. This was clearly the naïve optimism of a confused seventeen or eighteen year old mind at work, although in some respects it was healthy that I was latching on to such harmless if shallow subject matter. It was preferable to existing in some vacuum.

From my late teens until my late twenties, my life fell into a torpor, and music served primarily as an agent to fill the void, but acting as a neutralizer, simply cancelling out a negative. I had by this time begun to explore the work of singer-songwriters such as Neil Young and Jackson Browne, but the impact of their lyrics was generally secondary in importance to the melodic invention and subtlety on display. I was looking to the sound to anaesthetize me, not the words or messages to inform me.

Of course, when one's outlook and circumstances alter, music which previously appeared relatively innocuous and distant can suddenly take on a major piquancy and relevance. This began to occur in my case about fifteen years ago. I often think that the more introspective songs of Jackson Browne (Farther On, Sky Blue and Black, Sleep's Dark And Silent Gate, The Pretender, Fountain of Sorrow, These Days) are speaking only to me, and that they could have been written to document the course of my life and my mental state over the past decade-and-a-half. I could say the same about a few of the compositions of Gene Clark. Once the seed is sown, and we are "convinced", it is difficult to dispel such notions, even when evidence to the contrary looms.

Is this just wishful thinking, and intellectual dishonesty, a desperate and misguided attempt to avoid dealing with one's demons (and confronting reality), by taking refuge in somebody else's sentiments and inner thoughts?

I make take a (retrospectively) jaundiced view of the musical preoccupations of my late teens and early adulthood, but in seeking to "intellectualize" and rationalise my latter-day inclinations, I may be subjecting myself once again to delusions, if of a different type this time.

Perhaps the "soundtrack" to our lives should concern itself less with finding "poignancy" and "meaning" in lyrics, and more with the sometimes overlooked  and unnoticed capacity of music (i.e. the sounds themselves) to sooth and uplift us spiritually. This path also entails less anguish and pretence than the other approach....


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