The Power of Music

I love music. It can be such a breath of fresh air in tough times.

And recently, all around the world, there has been a lot of tough times. From the horrible, senseless and most deadly mass-shooting in US history in an Orlando gay club, to the Labour MP in the UK who died after being shot, or the news that at least six people have been shot at a teacher protest in Mexico, or a suicide attack in Kabul that has killed at least 14 people (and the list goes on, sadly). These are all terrible tragedies, affecting countless lives.

For me, what sometimes helps me get through the tough times is music. Though I’ve not been affected by anything like those tragic, senseless deaths at the hands of others, I — like everyone — have had my own life struggles.

A number of years ago I went through a bad breakup (I know, nothing on the same scale, and for that I apologise). What helped me stay strong in the face of this adversity was music. Not my friends — who at the time were few since I was relatively new in the area — or even co-workers — who, again, because I was new didn’t know that well — but music. It had a cathartic effect on me. I spent much of the day when I wasn’t working listening to ‘Lost‘ by Michael Bublé or ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger‘ by Oasis on repeat. Over the course of a month I probably listened to those two songs 100 times if not more.

That experience brought back a quip from one of my favourite movies. As Nick Horby brilliantly wrote (and John Cusack fantastically portrayed) in High Fidelity, ‘what came first, the music or the misery?’ Or, ‘Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?’

The reason music resonates with so many of us is because it’s based on emotions. It can help us cope in hard times or enjoy the happy times. There’s a reason weddings in almost any culture include music of some form. Many times funerals will as well. Music is filled with power. One particular happy song that still brings a smile to my face and has been stuck in my head since I heard it nearly two years ago: ‘Shut Up and Dance‘ by Walk the Moon. I definitely would have played that at my wedding had it been released at the time.

Live music in concert has an even greater ability to amplify those feelings. I’ve been to loads of concerts in my life. Some have been just okay, some have been merely fun, some have been great and some have been transcendent.

I went to see Barry Manilow over the weekend. Not because I’m a fan but because my partner is and she wanted to go. No matter how reluctant I’ve been to attend a concert in the past, I’ve almost always enjoyed the experience (though I can remember one show where I walked out because I was bored). Though I wasn’t particularly enthused to see Manilow I knew I’d probably have a good time nonetheless. It was definitely a unique experience. It’s the only show where I’ve ever been given a glow stick upon entering the arena, that’s for sure. Even though I hardly recognised any songs he played, I still had a decent enough time. In part because my partner was thoroughly enjoying it, which made me feel better about the experience. But it was also just by watching the crowd. Everyone around me was up and dancing or singing along. The crowd was having a good time. It was infectious. It’s hard being in a happy crowd and being the sad loner. The fact that the rest of the show felt extremely rehearsed (even the jokes to some extent), that it ran like a well-oiled machine and in some respects that the performers were merely ‘going through the motions’ if you will shouldn’t detract from the enthusiasm and joy it brought the crowd. Is it really a bad thing when the artist knows what they (and the audience) like and gives it to them?

The point being, I’ve enjoyed nearly every show I’ve seen. Indeed, I’ve often told people that one of my favourite concert experiences was seeing Michael Bublé. At the time I didn’t know his music very well at all — really only the standards from Sinatra or the like that he covered. But the man exudes charm and charisma that dares you not to have a good time. He seemed to be enjoying himself on stage, which I find makes it easier for me to enjoy off stage. I even went out and got much of his catalogue after the show because I had such a good time. Is much of his music cheesy and pop? Sure. It doesn’t mean he’s not a good performer who knows how to entertain his audience.

The news that Ticketmaster is now giving out free tickets to a ‘select’ events in the US due to a class-action lawsuit has me excited for seeing more shows there in the next few years. I doubt either artist will be part of the ‘select’ group, but I would love to get tickets to Bruce Springsteen or Wilco because of this.

Where Manilow felt like an artist who had the same setlist for the whole tour (not that there’s anything wrong with that, per se), Springsteen and Wilco are known to change it up with each concert — and to play long, extended shows. Jeff Tweedy, the lead singer of Wilco, has been known to take this change to extremes. If he’s playing solo acoustic shows for two nights in the same city the setlists for the two shows will be almost completely different. If he plays 25-30 songs each night there might be five that he plays both nights. Springsteen, especially recently, has been known to take requests from his audience during the show. It makes each experience unique and memorable, not to mention exciting.

Music has the power to bring sadness, joy, love or hate. Let’s use it as a positive force in the world, to bring happiness in dark times. Go listen to your favourite song. Let it wash over you, reminding you of happy times. If you don’t have a favourite song, try some of the links provided. Or just listen to this piece of pop perfection from Haim:

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