this post was originally written on April 11, 2011.
I have a friend named Stephen Weeks. You may have seen him around. Loud, funny, floppy reddish hair… he’s basically my opposite number, kinda like a complementary piece, almost. Because he’s a media communications major, he likes filming and producing all manner of videos. Since I’ve done a little bit of that sort of thing before, the two of us have collaborated a lot this year on various projects, ranging from an Old Testament project to our collection of videos known as ‘A Vlog’s Life’. (Shameless plug: if you haven’t watched any ‘A Vlog’s Life’ lately, look us up on Facebook or YouTube! You’ll have a good time, and we/I will feel better about ourselves as we watch the numbers get bigger!)
The whole opposites thing repeats itself with our tastes in music. My friend Stee-Weezy (that’s what we call him in our more thuggish moments) listens to ‘hardcore’ music like Demon Hunter, the Gun Show, and A Day To Remember. Feel free to look up all these bands on YouTube to get a feeling for what I’m talking about. The cacaphony of sounds presented by these bands is a little bit too much for my tastes. To be fair, Stephen also listens to other bands that fall more within my preferred range, such as DC Talk and Daft Punk (I say you haven’t lived until you’ve gotten some of the Tron: Legacy soundtrack stuck in your head for a few hours).
What do I like listening to, then?
It doesn’t necessarily matter these days, because there’s always one band stuck in my head.
That band is U2.
I mean, what’s not to like, right? Irish rock band, fronted by a singer who may or may not have a slight Messianic complex, that tours around the world playing to sold-out stadiums of screaming fans… of course I like U2!
That’s not why, actually.
The heart is a bloom, shoots up through the stony ground
But there’s no room, no space to rent in this town
Music is so hard to capture. I suppose that’s part of its beauty and appeal. But it can be frustrating for me at times.
Let me explain.
When I get bored in a class, I often find myself writing down whatever is floating through my head. Sometimes it’s a saying I’ve heard recently. Sometimes it’s a memory. Sometimes (if it’s this one particular class and this one particular professor, and everybody else in that class knows exactly who I’m talking about) it’s a series of slightly snarky remarks about the class time that day.
More often than not, though, I’m writing down song lyrics. I like doing this, because I find that music, and particularly words set to music, communicates something beyond mere words that prose alone can’t carry.
But music also frustrates me at times. You see, there is no way to make music tangible. You hear a rhythm and a melody, and it captures your imagination. But what do you do with it?
I hear some of you going, ‘just sing the song! Duh, Noah!’ That makes sense. Except it doesn’t work when you’re sitting in the back of a classroom. There is simply no way to translate the sound, the effect, the feeling of music onto a sheet of paper. You try writing down the sensation of listening to the Hallelujah Chorus. It’s impossible.
I think that’s part of the reason why I started playing guitar a couple summers ago. I wanted to find a way to recreate the music that was shaping the way I understood the world. I still play mainly for my own enjoyment here at college. I don’t have quite the skill or experience possessed by several of my Spartan unit brothers. I can’t shred or anything like that. I’m just sitting in my room, picking and strumming, listening to the music in my head, trying to participate in some way, trying to make the music real. Trying to bring it to life. Trying to make it more than just a sound in my head.
Because, if you think about it from a certain perspective, music is really all in your head.
Touch me, take me to that other place
Teach me, I know I’m not a hopeless case
The one U2 song that everybody knows is the mega-smash hit-extraordinaire ‘Beautiful Day.’ It’s also the song that has been in my head a lot recently. It’s a very excited, energetic, transcendant song that sweeps me up in its joy and nigh-religious fervor.
That was a weird sentence, wasn’t it? Remember when I said it’s hard to describe music? Well, I gave it a whirl. Right now, you need to go YouTube this song. If you can, find a good live version. And try not to feel a thrill of enthusiasm (and, honestly, adrenaline). I don’t mean to get too gimmicky, but do yourself a favor and go watch it now.
I think the reason I love this song so much, and the reason why I haven’t been able to get U2 out of my head for the past year, is because the lyrics and the music written by this band have the ability to perfectly capture a wide variety of my moods. For example, this song is spot-on when the sun is shining, and I’m walking across campus, and I’m awake, and I’m alive, and I’m happy, and it’s just such a beautiful day. That’s the only thing you can really say in those moments.
On the other hand, sometimes I feel confused, or worried, or just plan bothered by something. A song that often comes to me in those times is ‘Bad,’ a song that, I am told, deals with the drug addiction of a friend of the band. Go ahead and YouTube that one, if you want. For this song, it’s not so much the words that appeal to me as it is the music, the passion, the earnestness, the urgency, the grief, even, that I hear in the music.
There are so many more U2 songs that run through my head. I can’t decide if I’m lucky or not to be in this position.
Don’t let it get away
There’s a scene in the movie ‘Inception,’ when our hero Cobb is assembling his team, that really intrigues me. Cobb and his companions are talking to a man they want to hire as their chemist for the job ahead of them. This man has concocted a certain compound that puts dreamers into a sleep that is much deeper than normally experienced. Cobb is naturally curious as to why Youssef (the chemist) felt the need to make these changes to the compound. Youssef shows him a dark room full of sleeping men, men who come every day to ‘share the dream.’ In the midst of this exchange, an unnamed character points out to Cobb that for the sleepers, ‘the dream has become their reality. Who are you to say otherwise?’
This scene doesn’t really matter a whole lot in the overall plot of the movie. But it’s something interesting to think about. (And since these are my thoughts we’re talking about, just hang on and enjoy the ride.)
After all, my reality is formed by the things I perceive. I see certain colors. I hear certain sounds. I speak a certain language. I know certain people. This is my reality.
But what if you’re Stephen Weeks? He can’t see pink or purple. And, as he points out every once in a while, his red and green are starting to go, too. He is getting to the point where he has to read a stoplight by the position of the light, not the color. That’s his reality. Pink and purple don’t exist for him. But they exist for most other people. Who’s right?
What if you’re a dog? What if you hear this constant high-pitched whine that drives you absolutely nuts? What if the humans around you don’t seem to notice? I mean, they can’t hear as well as you, naturally. But shouldn’t they be able to pick up on how positively stupefying this sound is? Who’s right?
What if you don’t speak English? I used to think that even if a person spoke a completely different language, they still thought in English. It’s the only way that anything made sense to me. But it doesn’t make sense for a kid speaking Chinese to have English words going through his head. How is it possible for someone to think in a different language from me? I certainly can only think in English. Who’s right?
What you don’t have, you don’t need it now
What you don’t know, you can feel somehow
Music is good. Music is fun. Music provides a unique language. Have you ever been in a situation where you just couldn’t find the right words to describe something that you were feeling, but something about the way a certain song blended words and music communicated your feeling perfectly?
I’ve been in situations where I’ve felt like something is just too big for words. That’s where music comes in. Music bridges the gap between our mind and our spirit.
Because each of us sees the world differently, each of us creates our own reality. Music can provide for us a common experience, a common reality. I’ve spent quite a bit of time recently watching U2 live performances on YouTube. Besides the fact that U2 is second to none in terms of their live act, there’s something about a band singing in front of a stadium full of fans that contributes energy and life in a way that a studio performance can’t quite simulate.
So, yeah. I like music. I like thinking about music. I like listening to music. I’m not a musician like a lot of my friends, but I still have an appreciation for the way music ‘moves in mysterious ways.’
(POSTSCRIPT: As usual, I’m kinda just throwing my thoughts out there for everybody to inspect. I’m sure I have more to say on this topic, I just can’t remember it all right now. U2 was quoted from the song ‘Beautiful Day’ and at the end from ‘Mysterious Ways.’ YouTube is a fantastic resource. I’m glad I go to a school where we’ve got fast Internet all over the place. Thanks for reading!)