The world for me is an awe-inspiring, wondrous place. Much of what is out there and what is real to me is amazing on par with a magic show. The crushing cold of space and the jaw-dropping reality of it’s expanse and the life cycle of a star wows me. I can watch in tense excitement every episode of BBC’s Planet Earth series and be floored. I am amazed by literature, art, biology, politics, history, science, and religion. As a jack of all trades and a master of none, the limits of my expertise make for a constant learning experience and roller coaster moments of learning and comprehension. Nowhere in my life is this any more clear than my childlike fascination and borderline obsession with music. Music for me, a man who would miss his cues on a slide whistle, is like watching a magician pull a rabbit out of a hat; I know there’s a trick and a way he does it, but damned if I’m not stupefied every time I see it done. But I’ve always wondered what it’s like on the other side of that coin. Does an artist, a master of the craft of music, still hold that infantile wonderment for the same trick, even though they have their own rabbit and hat?
When you really think about it, paintings, photography, writing, or any other form of art was something in the mind’s eye of one person, and they took the fleeting specter of form and function, wrestled it to the ground, and made it real. The artist took something from their brain, and translated it into the real world. They made the imaginary real, and this is perfectly exemplified in great music. A song, an album, becomes a link of our genome; it is now an identifying marker and a defining characteristic. Every track we experience is another layer of paper mache on the wire frame of our lives. A particular song can transport you to another time, place, and can bring memories and moments rushing back that you didn’t even know you stored away. Music will make you cry, smile, and want to tear the world down and rage, depending on the track you’re playing. This range of emotion can be experienced in the span of a few tracks in your iTunes. I cannot count how many times I have listened slack-jawed and breathless to a new album. It’s all sounds and words, same as any other song, but it was crafted and created to be something new, exciting, and something that speaks directly to me despite not having been crafted with me in mind.
People will travel hundreds of miles to see a band perform live. They will camp out over night for tickets and will stand in line for hours to get in the front row. Musicians hold as much sway as their music in our lives. You love these artists. You love the creators of what you love because, through their music, there is a visceral and human connection that spans the reality that the artist doesn’t know your name and has never met you, but for some reason you feel such a connection to what they have done for you through their art. How do they feel about it though? What is their relationship to that same creation that some will say might have saved their life?
In keeping with the idea of music that touches your heart, maybe something that got you through rough patches where you might have otherwise given up, MC Lars says, “The trick is to always be excited and make music for yourself.” Hmmm, seems to run contrary to the idea that you, the listener, took it and hung all your hopes and dreams on every note and lyric. Lars makes it for himself. Every musician I have spoken to says the same thing. POS said the same thing, almost verbatim, about making music he loves, and if other people like it too, then cool; but he’s not making this for anyone but himself.
The best musicians, the ones that resonate with the audience, make genuine music from the heart, and some of the most hardcore fans seem to gravitate to this. Levon Helm said, “I ain’t in it for my health.” This might ring true, because this isn’t just a paycheck for the road warriors and independently minded few. This is a calling. Matthew Zeltzer explains,“There is a lot of pressure as a songwriter to write a hit, but my philosophy is to write first and market later… After spending a lot of time in the studio, you start to notice all the little details in music- how the acoustic guitar player is linking up with the drummer and where the bass player is laying his line, how high up the vocals are in the mix. For me, this really just increases the magic, because I’ve started to notice what goes into making a great record great.” So, maybe we’re getting somewhere. Understanding it is like opening up the back of a running watch and seeing what time looks like, mechanically. 4:30 means something completely different when you know about all the gears that went in to the design of a single second.
We know that you’ve gotta be genuine to get the respect and the loyalty of a fan base. These kids listening to the music may not be able to rap, or play an instrument, but they still feel the music in their bones. How do the artists process that same feeling when they listen to music on their iPod? Amy Arani says, “I still experience music as magic. The only difference now is that when I love something or find myself feeling moved, I know how to take the song apart later and break it down.” So there is that wonder we all feel up front, in the moment, but she is able to take it apart later and understand WHY she loves it down to the chords and harmonies. So is this the heart of the thing? Maybe it is not that the magic goes away, it is the knowledge after the show that there was a false bottom in the hat where the bunny was the whole time, or that with a proper mechanic’s grip shuffle, the card was able to “rise” to the top of the deck. The trick is no less fascinating, but once you learn how the grip works you can gain that wonder from an audience of your own and feel that music…from the other side.
I thought seriously about learning to play piano or guitar months ago. I never did, and probably never will, because I fear that it will change what music means to me now; I can’t risk losing that feeling. Songs are the dog-eared pages in my book of life. I can relive those great moments of elation or tragedy any time that I want in my mind by simply selecting a track from my library. Like a child, I listen and am gripped by the magic of music. I don’t care much for the science of it; this is the medium where art and science blur together for something greater than what either side can achieve on it’s own. My mind and soul are lit up in a million strobing colors by music of all types; my catalog spans 8 decades and every genre. I have my fingertip on the button of any trip I want to take in my mind, and Dessa Darling seems to think that is the place where music creation, and experience, can reach it’s height: “Good music is magical, but perhaps it achieves the greatest heights in our imaginations. Musicians bodies are limited–our voices have only such a range, and our fingers can only move so quickly. But when we compose music, we’re governed by none of those limitations. The trick is to usher the idea into the world with as little damage as possible.” Now if that’s not a good answer to the question, I don’t know what is. Just press play.