The personal blog of Frank Lesko. Award-winning writer. Non-profit entrepreneur. Activist. Religious professional. Foodie. Musician. All around curious soul and Renaissance man.

See also my professional blog: The Traveling Ecumenist.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Music Mattters

It is certainly nice when a song has lyrics we can relate to. The words can really hit home and portray our lives really well. We can revel in the nostalgia or remember parts of ourselves in specific ways.

But in some ways, lyrics don't matter a whole lot. All music is getting at the same kinds of things. Different genres just pick different lenses through which to look at life. Those lenses matter, but maybe not as much as we might think.

1950s songs look at life through the eyes of a prom queen and teenage celebrations and woes. Many people today scoff at that, but then throw on their 1960s drug induced psychedelic music--even though they aren't drug users themselves. Country music views life through the family or small town life in the heart of America's rural landscape. That sounds more realistic, but I guarantee most country music listeners don't live "way back in the holler."

While musicians are free to literally write about anything, they tend to work over the same themes that others have introduced. I'm not sure that is a bad thing. Part of what makes music great is that you can see the way one artists handles a theme and then how another one reworks it and builds off of it. Music is a collective experience, not an individual one. It is not about the theme, but the variation one artist brings to it in comparison to another.

I don't need to have ever walked on a New Jersey boardwalk with a carnival backdrop to understand a Bruce Springsteen song. I don't need to be Irish to "get" Van Morrison. The psychedelic era was ultimately about growth, discovery and failure. You don't need drugs to relate to that. My soul is practicelly fused to the song "Born in the USA,", but I am not a Vietnam veteran.

I often worry that people who connect on the superficial levels may actually miss the deeper points of connection. It is nice when a lyric directly resembles specific things in my life, but that is impossible on a regular basis. Everyone else lives a different life than me, so their lyrics will have to be different. Music is not about someone else singing my song, it is about my ability to connect with their song--to see my own life in their song. Even the artists themselves are not always writing literal autobiography--they often communicate through made-up characters and situations.

At first glance, it may be hard to believe how those silly songs about prom queens and Letterman's jackets were part of a cultural revolution. However, the lyrics were only an access point to a deeper message which was about spiritual freedom and integration. Early rock 'n roll helped people reconnect to their body and spirit--to take joy in the body. The music actually moved your body, as evidenced by Elvis' scandalous, shaking hips. This was a revolution in post-Victorian, post-Puritan culture which had denigrated the body and created a fragmented sense of self. The modern holistic movement was sparked in those 1950s songs.

1 comment:

  1. I am a huge U2 fan and most of their lyrics have some kind of spiritual theme (my favorite album, October is one of their most spiritual). They, especially Bono, are Christian. I dont relate to Christian philosophy in the way that they do, but my soul connects with their music because on some level I understand the feelings they have, even though they are differnet than mine. Also, they reveal to me the basis of their faith, which helps me to understand where all their humanitarian ideals come from. I connect with them even though I've not walked the Christian walk the way they did/do. But we connect on our passion for social causes.