Music and the Emotions

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Lately I’ve been downloading a lot of music in order to enhance and expand my musical palate. I’ve been branching out to new artists in different genres, fresh voices and thought-provoking songwriting. Oh, and I’ve been seeking artists who don’t publicly call themselves “Christian artists.” I don’t have anything against Christian songwriters. In fact, they’re my favorite. But I want to know a little more about how the world thinks and to find beauty and artistry outside the Christian Music genre.

So I downloaded free samplers from Katie Herzig, Andrew Belle, Green River Ordinance, The Civil Wars, Matthew Perryman Jones, Kelley McRae, The Ghost of a Sabertooth Tiger (weirdest name yet), and Courrier. Never heard of any of them? That’s by design. I’m interested in the independent and small-time artists, the ones who haven’t sold their creative souls for a big record contract, and, as a result, write with honesty and simplicity and originality. As for big names, The Sabertooth-named band has someone named Sean Lennon as its creative force. You may have heard of his Liverpool-born dad. But he’s an independent artist.

For years I had sheltered my musical library inside the public community of faith, listening to artists such as Michael Card, Fernando Ortega, Rich Mullins, Andrew Peterson and a lot of his friends. And I still love their art. But what about the so-called secular artists? Are they any good? Are they worth listening to? What do they write about? How do they sound? I also have Conan O’Brien to blame for my curiosity. Ever since his new show launched on TBS I’ve been sticking with it to the end, catching the musical performances. He likes the lesser-known, up-and-coming acts, just like I do. And I’ve listened to quite a bit of good music. Bought a few songs as a result.

Overall, I’m enjoying this expansion of my musical world, though I’ve also noticed some tendencies when listening to the new crew.

For one thing, every new artist seems to be on the verge of or just past a breakup. Songs are “how can you treat me that way?” and “you’re full of yourself” more than “I love you and find you beautiful inside.” It can be quite depressing! Song after song written by an angry ex. What a broken world we live in! I’ve decided that I need to filter the song selection a bit to keep myself from going too dark in emotion. It’s easy when so many songs are about “how you went wrong.” But last night I realized that secular artists have always had an element of breakup in their songs (though usually balanced by some element of falling in love). Gordon Lightfoot’s “If You Could Read My Mind” is the most beautiful breakup song I’ve ever heard. It’s not angry. But it’s still a break-up song. There are love songs from the new artists, too, and story songs, and just-plain-awesome tunes that get the heart dreaming or make it fall in love. Isn’t it strange how music tugs on the emotions? And my emotions seem to be easily manipulated.

Music has always played a big role in those stinkin emotions of mine. A decade ago, when my job allowed it, I would go driving late at night to calm down a troubled heart or find artistic inspiration. But it wasn’t the driving that did the calming. It was the music. I’d listen to certain artists whom I knew would lift up my spirit and, most likely, turn anger into praise. I’d listen for two or three hours at night as I drove the back roads of Cook County, Texas, before returning home. Music rarely failed to change my emotion.

The new artists, with some exceptions, are not that much different than I. One big difference is that they turn their anger, depression or disillusionment into art. And they sell that art. It goes nowhere with me. I choose, out of a renewed mind, I guess, to spend my artistic efforts on beautiful photography, informational videos, open-ended poetry (as in, it has no end), and rearranging my house (trust me, my house needs it!). Maybe I’m better for it, maybe not. I guess I’ll find out at life’s end. Until then I’ll keep looking for new artists and songs that are honest and true but also beautiful and not too much of a downer.

— John

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