April 08, 2009

Questioning the Music

Today, as I plodded methodically through spreadsheet world, I listened to Pandora. I was in a rock mood, so the software presented me with a mix of Evanescence, Linkin Park, Three Doors Down, Puddle of Mud, Nickleback, Within Temptation, and others. I noticed how much I like songs such as “Pain” by Three Days Grace. “Pain, without love, Pain, I can’t get enough, Pain, I like it rough, ‘cause I’d rather feel pain than nothing at all.” I like these dark, angry songs which are so very full of suffering. Some people say music is a way for us to express emotions we can’t otherwise, but I think in some ways these songs allow me to experience emotions I wouldn’t otherwise. Let’s face it, I’ve led a charmed life. So is this fascination somehow voyeuristic? I am I getting a vicarious kick out of someone else’s suffering?

It’s true I enjoy almost all forms of music, in that pure way that only someone who completely lacks any form of musical talent can. My computer recently shuffled up a mix with the first ten songs by Metallica, John Williams, Yoko Kanno, Louis Armstrong, Aaron Copland, Creed, Martina McBride, Earth, Wind, and Fire, The Beatles, and The Transiberian Orchestra. Yet this dark rock seems to speak to me more viscerally than any other form of music. Maybe that’s the point, the purpose of this form of music.

Pema Chodron said that through suffering we learn kindness. Through this music I can learn to understand a tiny part of suffering I have never known. Perhaps I can use what I learn to offer compassion to others. But in consuming this form of music, am I somehow contributing to the suffering caused by the notorious “rock star lifestyle?” Does my failure to boycott music inspired by addictive and self-destructive habits amount to an endorsement? The DJs at the rock station I listen to here in Lincoln were even lamenting the other day about how much worse Metallica’s music became when they got sober.

Not all rock stars are masochistic drug addicts. But even the lyrics of those who aren’t seem to romanticize and glorify suffering in an unhealthy way. Thus you get punks and emo kids, one of the more truly frightening social movements I’ve seen in the last few years. Do these people seek the music out in an effort to express their otherwise inexplicable pain or do they model themselves after it in a misguided search for identity as a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy?

I’m reminded of “Through Glass” by Stone Sour:

“How much is real? So much to question

An epidemic of the mannequins

Contaminating everything

When thought came from the heart

It never did right from the start

Just listen to the noises

(Null and void instead of voices)

Before you tell yourself

It's just a different scene

Remember it's just different from what you've seen

I'm looking at you through the glass...

Don't know how much time has passed

And all I know is that it feels like forever

When no one ever tells you that forever

Feels like home, sitting all alone inside your head”

So much to question…

1 comment:

wolfie185 said...

Voyeuristic or fantasy good question. As a middle class white person whose life is pretty uneventful, I think it is more about fantasy than being a voyeur; to think about something dark and sinister has a morbid appeal, it is the dark side of the personality coming into view. As an ex drunk and druggie I had my share of drama but nothing compared to those at true street level, I had the means to never be homeless, or hit the lows some have. I think of the popularity of Haggard’s “Sing Me Back Home” or Brad Paisley’s “Whiskey Lullaby” no one wants to live those songs but they were big successes because of a fascination with the subject matter, safe escapism?? Music is escapism at so many levels. Lost young kids or those who feel that don’t fit into the status quo find escape in punk, alternative, indie, white kids wanta be black and listen rap, heavy metal fuels insecurities about ones masculinity or lack of power, back in the day it was southern rock, punk and progressive that where the non main stream sounds that the misfits listened to; I can name that Rush or Allman Brothers tune in 3 notes. Even in early rock we had Elvis versus Jerry Lee, Beatles versus the Stones, Velvet Underground versus the whole hippie scene, Dylan freed us all yet some people hated him. Rock/pop has always had a niche for every personality type.

I feel it isn’t unhealthy to listen to the type of music you describe if one is mentally health or has a grasp of awareness and don’t get sucked up and brought down by the lyrics or mood of the song. I know I can’t listen to Sabbath, Metallica, Rage Against the Machine or that genre if I am angry, anger is for Indigo Girls, Jackson Browne, Joni Mitchell. Same goes with feeling down/self pity, self pity is why the Blues where created the Blues isn’t about being blue it is about raising above the feeling, looking the suffering square in the eyes and giving it the middle finger with a soaring guitar backdrop. Music says things that I can’t express myself, music is mediation when I can’t bring myself to sit or stand still long enough to relax and feel the flow. Music can be as good as the best sex or as bad as the worse drug, but I have to find the balance in it otherwise I can get caught in both effects; the choice is up to me.

I understand what you mean about suffering also. I have a love of socially conscience music. I can’t begin to fathom the experience that brought about Marvin Gaye’s classic album “What’s Going On” nor the songs of Marley, Burning Spear, Cutis Mayfield, Public Enemy, or other black artist but through their lyrics I can find compassion for them and what their people are going through. They teach me compassion even if they are a bit piss off at the leaders who share the same skin color as me.

For the most part music is about making money and a comfortable living. Most artist are in the business to make money and if they feed a niche they will continue to do so, whether they believe in what they are singing about or not, even the most hard core anti-establishment punks will jump on a recording contract given half a chance. It sucks that some kids get caught up in the grind and lose touch with reality via the music and fashion associated with the it but I imagine these types of people have always existed in society.

Thanks for letting me reflect on my own experience with music.