“Music is the universal language of mankind” – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Lyrics make the feelings I can’t explain as real and sudden as a car accident. 60’s music was the soundtrack to anything that mattered. Neil Young’s words in Southern Man, “I saw cotton and I saw black. Tall white mansions and little shacks,” made the civil rights movement a matter of the people for me; something more than just a moment in a textbook. Lyrics help me come to grips with what I cannot control; like growing old. On “Fake Plastic Trees” Radiohead’s Thom Yorke sings “He used to do surgery. For girls in the eighties. But gravity always wins” – a cold reminder of mortality. There are no definitive answers or explanations for love. For me, when Ryan Adams croons “I’m praying that you’ll find me, and that you’ll see me. That you run and never tire” on Desire, he puts his finger firmly on the feeling we cannot. Lyrics are the words that can instantly explain the unexplainable. They are thoughts I wish I had. Often times, words aren’t even needed to experience music. The feeling of sound is often enough.
The emotion of music is spoken through the sound of notes played in rhythm. When John Frusciante of Red Hot Chilli Peppers charms the solo out of his guitar on “Readymade” my world stops. I can feel that he believes every note he’s playing and he’s playing like his life depends on it. His passion crashes from the speakers and commands my attention. No words are spoken, just the magnetic draw of the electric guitar. The opening piano of “Long December” by Counting Crows could break my heart on the happiest day of my life as melancholy drips from every note. As the music breaths between bars, I can feel my breath getting shorter. Then – as the song changes – Kasabian’s rhythm section explodes into the adrenaline spiked intro of “Club Foot” and my mood swings from flight to fight. In the absence of words, the sound of music is enough to trigger emotion. Music is so powerful that I don’t even need to hear it to fall under its spell.
Music is more than lyrics and sounds. It is the way lyrics and sounds are presented to my eyes. The cover of Nirvana’s “Nevermind” was a knife to the ribs of consumerism. I bought the cd without hearing a single song because it made me feel ashamed and angry about the way the human race was evolving. The second I saw him, by the way he wore his leather jacket, I knew Brian Fallon of the Gaslight Anthem didn’t own a suit, didn’t drive a Lexus and didn’t care that anybody else did. Rock stars are invincible, perfectly flawed and righteous. The very image of a guitar sparks emotion. That piece of wood breaks hearts, lifts spirits, condemns some men and praise’s others.
Music makes me feel and isn’t that why we’re here? The rainbow of emotions I experience through the lyrics, sounds and images of music help me make sense of the world. My life is richer with music in it.