The Life Behind Music
Music has been one of those things that has totally fascinated and enthralled me since I was a child and most likely always will. I consider myself having grown up around music, but not in the sense of it was there and I heard it. Without sounding too pretentious it’s always been something I’ve felt. Music was and still is an important part of who I am and how I feel. Despite not being very good at playing it, I’ve always had a strong connection to it and the effects of certain songs. What I’m calling “The Life Behind Music” specifically is something I find to be impossibly important in music, and one of those elements that, at least for me, makes a song great. “The Life Behind Music” is the soul, the core, and the element of a song that makes it personal. Although this happens with a great many other mediums, there is something about music that is impossibly physical, and emotional.
Here’s an example. When I was around 11 years old I attended a sort of tribute to Luciano Pavarotti who had at the time recently passed away. There are elements of it that I don’t remember, but what I do remember is the incredible effect it had on me. Opera and classical music in general is a great example of what this article is about. It is a grand exhibition of emotion and feeling, that no matter the language can be so easily translated through it’s performance. Take the clip below:
Pavarotti was perhaps one of the most formidable and loved Opera singers the world has known and there is a reason. He was not just a singer, he was a performer. He was someone that could communicate to you the intensity or the love behind each song, purely through his own connection to it. In his eyes, his stance and in the power of his voice. Whether you could understand the words he sang or not you could somehow relate, to the pain you could hear, or the love you could feel. Imagine then me, as an 11 year old boy, standing in a park full of people that loved his music, listening to some of his greatest recorded performances. You could feel the mutual mourning, appreciation and love for his music and for him.
I don’t know if it was this moment or a different one, but ever since I can remember I have always had a profound appreciation for songs that show the “life” behind the song. The undeniable truth that lies underneath the lyrics, the composition and the performance. This doesn’t mean that, in some snobbish excluding way, that I only enjoy Opera, or performance-based music. No, because songs with “Life” can literally be found in any genre of music. At the same time I’m not professing that this is a quality that is found in literally any song ever made. Definitely not. It is one of those songs that you can tell has effectively been transferred straight from the heart or the core of someones mind onto paper. Not something that has been forced, or created because it can be.
As a teenager one singer I often found myself obsessed with was Eva Cassidy. A woman who, at least to my knowledge, never had the opportunity to publish her original songs before she passed away at the young age of 33 (in 1996). Even as someone who was only alive for a year during her lifetime, I can’t express how much love and admiration I had for her as a performer. One song in particular has never left my mind:
As I said before Eva Cassidy never got the chance to publish her own songs, this particular song being originally recorded by Fleetwood Mac. Yet this cover was so incredible. Even though it wasn’t her song, you could see how each line, each word was important to her.
The first few lines go as follows:
“For you, there’ll be no more crying,
For you, the sun will be shining,
And I feel that when I’m with you,
It’s alright, I know it’s right”
These are beautifully written lyrics that do credit to the already shining track record of Fleetwood Macs talent, but they’re also delicate. Delicate in the sense that if they were transformed too much in their delivery would become something completely different and impersonal. Eva treads the line of retaining similarity, while adding a personal truth to it than cannot be faulted, only applauded.
My last example comes from a more modern singer, the country star Carrie Underwood. I’m partially using this song because it is still fresh in my mind, despite first hearing it last year. I’m also using it because Carrie Underwood is quite a poppy country singer, and pop is a genre I feel gets a rather bad wrap in terms of lyrical ability. ‘Temporary Home’ is perhaps one of my favourite of Carrie’s songs, for differing reasons, one reason being that it works on so many levels.
Everything from the lyrics, the delivery and the music video is well done. ‘Temporary Home’ presents us with several different narratives all revolving around the idea of change and of moving on. From a child growing up in several different care homes, to a mother struggling to care for her and her child, to finally a man at his deathbed. The song, in a pop and country sense is easily marketable, there’s a recognisable repetition to it’s chorus that means it’s easily memorized but it’s also meaningful. Carrie performs the songs moving between a soft and powerful delivery in well chosen moments. It’s subtle, with points where we feel heartbroken, but also inspired and enlightened to be able to get through whatever it is.
All these songs and performances have qualities that enable us to respond to them emotionally and physically. Music that allows us to feel as though it has been written directly for us, or about our lives, something that allows us to connect and to believe the emotions. Music can be created to make us feel happy, to be the background to our gym session, but some of the greatest songs will always be those that show some form of life behind them. Each time you listen to your favourite song, think about what it reminds you of. Imagine that favourite summer day that was sound tracked by a particular band, and realise how nostalgic those bands now make you feel. Imagine your first slow dance, your first road trip, your first day at a new job. So many songs take us back to these moments, through their power and through the “Life” that created it.
As per usual here is my quote of the week:
“Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent” – Victor Hugo