Rekindling Your Artistic Fire
Life is full of lulls. Loss of interest. Quiet admittances of defeat. You fall in and out of love with significant others, with coworkers, with friends, with expression, with bands, with television, film, and music. With music.
Music is my life, my love, and yet there are times when I want to do anything but hear, play or read about it.
In the recent past, I may have had one of those lulls. But there are things out there, at least for me, that have almost instantaneously brought that spark back. They have rekindled an internal desire for something more. Self-expression. Identifying with others. Raw emotion. Goose bumps. Emphasis on the goose bumps.
It’s like a weight has been lifted from me, and I re-realized why I got into all of this years ago. I’d like to share some of these things with you; songs that strike me to my inner core, in the hopes that they may have the same effect on you. If not, I hope they drive you to re-examine your passion, to gaze upon it with fresh eyes (or ears).
1. The Ronettes – “Be My Baby”
There’s a lot of history in this first one, considered by many to be one of the most enduring songs from the 1960s. (Think “My Boyfriend’s Back,” “Leader of the Pack,” “Where Did Our Love Go,” and so on.) You can read all about it via Wikipedia, but one fact in particular stands out to me: At one point, Brian Wilson is said to have listened to “Be My Baby” more than 100 times a day. The Beach Boy. The same one who locked himself in his room after hearing Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band for the first time and refused to come out until he talked to Paul McCartney. This song is on that level.
“Be My Baby” has an unbelievable amount of power and drive behind it for something recorded in 1963. Those opening bass and snare drum hits, stark but rich, drenched in reverb. Almost immediately, Phil Spector’s legendary wall of sound kicks in, and the next 2 minutes and 40 seconds fly by in a euphoric daze of castanets, Ronette harmonies, a slithering string ensemble and a horn section with enough bottom end to support a million teenagers with aching hearts and a longing to love.
So when you listen closely to “Be My Baby,” you hear all sorts of little nuances, but in the end, it comes at you like a freight train. That’s why I love this song. It overpowers my natural guard and drives right through to my soul. It’s brought me to the verge of tears, and I have no real-life anecdote to explain why, other than the sheer power of this song.
2. Beastie Boys – “Alive”
Given MCA’s recent passing, this one may seem a little opportunistic, but in truth, it has made me revisit a lot Beastie Boys tracks I haven’t listened to for years.
“I have never been more ready in my entire life to do this right now. Never. It’s all been leading up to this moment. All right now, right here.”
When compilation album Sounds of Science came out in 1999, I was 11 years old. “Alive” was one of a few new songs on the album, standard procedure for such releases. Mike D’s intro, quoted above, seemed a bit silly to me as a kid. It sounded like it was some studio banter off-handedly tacked on. I dug the song, the video was cool, and the Beastie Boys had some sweet digs on.
Fast forward to the very near present, when word of MCA’s passing spread throughout the ether. I was stunned and a little numb. It was one of the first times, apart from Michael Jackson, when the passing of an artist during my lifetime really affected me. I started playing Beastie Boys 24/7. For the first time in years, Prince was not my most-scrobbled artist. And I got completely hooked on “Alive.”
“Alive” has all of the ingredients for a classic Beastie Boys track : doo-doo rhymes, obscure references, shared verses and lines, a subtly intricate beat, a variety of cadences and a great hook.
All of a sudden, a song that I hadn’t listened to for 13 years was on constant rotation in my headphones. And the truth is, the part that rekindled something within me was the intro. Suddenly, it all made sense.
Stop what you are doing. Take a deep breathe. Realize you are here.
“Open up your ears and clean out your eyes. If you learn to love then you’re in for a surprise. It could be nice to be alive”
3. Gotye feat. Kimbra – “Somebody That I Used to Know”
By now, many of you may be completely beyond this song. I understand why; ever since Walk Off The Earth’s cover went viral in January, it has been everywhere. It’s how I first heard it, and it’s how Gotye received a second wind in the States. But something tells me that this song is going to be a “Be My Baby” years from now. Not once in my 23 years have I seen a song captivate so many different types of people at once. And six months later, I still don’t tire of it.
With “Somebody That I Used to Know,” I got to witness many people hearing it for the first time and many other people hearing it (willingly) for the fiftieth time. One night, I walked downstairs and heard my dad singing along with it. He was showing my mom the WOTE cover. It blew my mind that a video went so viral that it reached my dad. It blew my mind even further that the song’s raw emotion hit him as hard as it hit me. For the coming weeks, the song was on near-constant rotation throughout my house.
The restrained, slightly-distorted guitars during the intimate verses give way to a barrage of vocal power in the chorus. This one is another that gives me goosebumps. Every time. With an occasional jaw bite to hold back the watery eyes.
I think it’s because everybody has somebody that they used to know, and that even though they may not have pained at the time, this song acts as a shell that encapsulates all of their hidden baggage and emotional turmoil. At least it does for me.
I hold a strong belief that this song will prove a lasting epilogue to loose ends for years to come. You could write this song next time. And so could I. It’s beautiful, yet tragic.
It’s the human condition in a raw musical form.
4. Nico – “These Days”
There’s something perfect about an imperfect voice. I don’t think that everyone can appreciate that. The majority of us pale in comparison to the high standards set by media in our culture. And that’s okay. Because beneath the model lies the unpainted face. Beneath the diva lies a voice that wears with time. Beneath the polished rocker lies a vulnerable songwriter in a vulnerable state.
And those are all beautiful things.
Nico, model and former front-end (or back-end) to the The Velvet Underground, took on Jackson Browne’s “These Days” on her debut Chelsea Girl. It’s a song that Browne wrote when he was only 16 years old, yet it encompasses an entire lifetime of love and loss. I first heard Nico’s version on a whim, thanks to a Facebook feed of friends with great musical tastes. The timing was perfect. Her voice was not.
And that’s why I couldn’t stop playing it. Then life moved on, and I moved on. But very recently, on very much of an off day, the song came on, and it hit me.
Why put a “perfect” voice to a song about being flawed? Would “Simple Twist of Fate” or “Old Man” have as much of an impact on listeners if sang by crooners or show-tuners instead of Bob Dylan or Neil Young? I don’t think so.
I have my own doubts about my artistic capabilities from time to time, as I’m sure many of you do, too. But listening to this song, I realize that capabilities don’t count for much without conviction.
Just because I’m not en route to the next American Idol audition doesn’t mean my creative expression is not worth sharing. In fact, in 20 years, what will people remember more? The latest Top 40 bubblegum pop group or a song like “These Days:”
“Please don’t confront me with my failures. I have not forgotten them”
I hope you soon return to your medium of choice, pick up your pen, your paintbrush, your camera, your pick, your bow and create with the understanding that the mere ability to express is reason enough to do so. Fall back in love with your talents. I fell back in love with mine.