“Music is what feelings sound like out loud.” – Georgia Cates
Music has the capacity to touch us all deep, deep inside, and resonate with what it finds there. Endowed with the ability to both liberate and perpetuate emotion, it can alter us more than a collection of compressions and rarefactions should have any right to. Correspondingly, music makes a vast number of combinations with genre and mood, and our reception of a song is dependent on these combinations. Appreciation of a song includes a variety of criterion – however, this may swing from all the parameters yielding satisfaction, to just one quarter achieving absolute perfection. Having established the subjectivity that permeates the liking of a song – what I like, Mary might not; what Evan swears by, Janet might hate – I will proceed to attempt an ordering of essential yardsticks that determine the fate of music.
A song I’m particularly partial to is a despondent rock song titled Iris, by The Goo Goo Dolls; another song I like equally is Sultans of Swing, by Dire Straits. Both songs evoke/preserve different emotions in me: despair and cheer, respectively. When I am despairing, or happy, the songs commiserate with me, and for that reason, I treasure them. Music is feeling, but my appreciation of them is not limited to the moods they inspire in me: melody and lyrics are equally important.
Sultans of Swing carries a highly pleasing lead guitar line, while Lifehouse thrusts out an impressive bassline inCrash and Burn. Lisa Gerrard’s voice, to me, embodies all that is beautiful, and Now We Are Free weaves that beauty with stunning melody to create a transcendence of the auditory system. Colloquially, it blows my mind.
The lyrics serve to further our understanding, and hence our extent of empathy, of the song. I can identify withBehind Blue Eyes, scream my challenge out to the world with Eye Of The Tiger, verbalize my unending passion with Cosmic Love andhave my heart broken with Runaway Love.
Quite apart from the song itself, another aspect of a track’s regard is the performance. It’s one thing to be smitten with the version on the record, but it’s quite something else when a live performance of the song manages to exceed all expectations. Stage presence is often the most important criteria, with quality running a close second. Iron Maiden always manages an arresting stage presence; in particular, the vocalist (also songwriter, author, pilot, broadcaster, entrepreneur), Bruce Dickinson, keeps the audience entertained with his unmatchable energy and vigor. Linkin Park commands the stage with two vocalists, Mike Shinoda and Chester Bennington, whose performance styles are different, but when coupled create a consuming charisma. Coldplay consists of three restrained members and one eclectic vocalist (and pianists/rhythm guitarist), Chris Martin, whose antics on stage leave him panting, but with the rapt attentions of all twenty five thousand people present and cheering.
Other innovations to make a performance peak are globands, mascots, projections, fireworks, confetti, and free ice cream. Less omnipresent than stage presence, yet still powerful, these additions heighten the concert experience, hence boosting regard for the music being showcased.
One of the primary sources of listening to music is YouTube, that much more valuable because of the bonus of accompanying video. Not always four minutes of the artist performing the song, music videos are graced with much thought and hard work. From visual effects to stop motion to exotic locations to plots, music videos offer new interpretations, new angles, new themes to the meaning of songs. Released along with the record, they give context to it, and considerable entertainment. Green Day’s albums, American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdowncoalesced into a story, Coldplay runs a comic book series after Mylo Xyloto and Pink Floyd made movies to accompany the iconic The Wall. Living Darfur, by Mattafix, focuses on the effects of War in Darfur, with a cameo by Matt Damon, and an introduction by Desmond Tutu. Filmed at the border between Chad and Darfur, it depicts the inhabitants of a refugee camp, and was intended to be a way of drawing the attention of the United Nations to them.
Although I listen to a wide variety of music, and like all of them a great deal, I can definitively state that I have a favorite song. A song with a melody that greatly appeals to me, and magical lyrics. A song that makes me feel exactly as I want to feel, halcyon or hopeless, golden or grave. And while I haven’t yet encountered a live performance of the song that I am willing to listen to for any length of time, Lazarus, by Porcupine Tree, holds not a small place in my heart. This brings me to my last factor of classification: situation. When I first listened toLazarus, it was during the most content period of my life. I haven’t experienced a time of similar simple peace since, and I believe I associate the feeling of absolute gratification with the song. It represents a slice of heaven.
Music conquers, for good or ill, at different levels, all of us. The victim of analogies ranging from religion to drugs to souls to life, it is capable of seducing us, controlling us, making us bleed for it, until we lie empty – but we enjoy the whole thing. Music is an escape, an outlet, a balm, a declaration of love – indeed, anything we want it to be. Undefinable in scope, mercurial in temperament, infinite in existence; it fits all contexts, all scenarios, accepts without judgment; just – lives.