Thursday, December 01, 2005

Music that captures the attitude, not just the instance

Jamil and I have very different tastes in music. Part of this is cultural (he is Indian and I Hispanic), but the other part is due to what each looks for in music.

When Jamil listens to a song he judges it by its rythm maybe its melody, but I listen to the lyrics and the mood of the music. I am not looking just for a song that captures an event in life or a simple feeling but a song that with a mix of lyrics and sounds captures that exact emotion you can't describe. I have discovered (trying to explain it to Jamil) that this is not easy to explain, but I will attempt to do so on Jamil's stupid DVORAK keyboard (i.e. bear with the typos).

Try to think back on a memory that was emotionally intense. I don't mean just sad or happy, but one of those feelings that is very rare, very intense: you can feel it deeply. I have found that unless this event is recent it is hard to get that feeling just by remembering. Yet, good or bad, most of these emotions leave a desire to be felt again. For example, your exact feelings on your first kiss with your husband or wife or the exact feelings that make you not want to go skiing again (say intense pain of a broken bone).

I and my middle sister grew up among adults and, not knowing that you could say anything about it, listening to "old people music". Well, a lot of these older (mostly spanish-speaking but seldom Italian or French) singers worked really hard at this. We are not talking about people with popular voices and pretty faces only, we are talking about people that besides a nice voice, had a poetic instinct and wrote a lot of their music to this end. People like Alberto Cortez, Facundo Cabral, Joan Manuel Serrat really coptured the feeling. A song about aspirations in life and how they change as you grow older, but that at the same time capture the feeling of that youngster crying inside that wants to be a fireman throughout even in his old age and after he has given in to the pressures of society to pursue some other prestigious career (Yo Quiero Ser Bombero--I want to be a fireman).... or a song that coptures the emotions, ambiance and feelings of a man whose beloved wife of not too many years is now gone where the singer and writer (my favorite: Ricardo Montaner) captures the details... the picture... the instance with that one piercing feeling (Dejame Llorar--Let me cry).

The point is that these songs trigger those emotions and allow you to relive them as close to the real thing as possible and not many artists can. I am a sucker for this kind of music and have even tried to capture an emotion in music myself with limitted and low frequency success, I am sure many die trying.

Well, part of the problem (you might have realized if you clicked on any of the liks above) in trying to explain this is that there aren't many such attempts in "American" or "English-language" music. And then I heard them: Ponies in the Surf it took 5 notes of their song Ventricle and I knew I had found it... the way to make it all clear to Jamil. I shared it with Jamil the very next morning. In the beginning it was frustrating, he didn't get it. He was listening for the rythm, the melody (which given an old guitar and two voices was not very appealing to him). Now, he actually likes it and can at least relate to this feeling I have been describing.

This all sounds really random, but it came about from a very logical chain of thoughts. At the time that I started writing this post, we had just gotten back from Bible study where we sing church hymns as part of the night's activities and it hit me: a lot of these hymns do capture feerings: awe at the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross (When I survey the wondrous cross), a feeling of meeting Jesus inspired by his encounter with Mary Magdalene (In the garden), confidence in our God, in whe He is and in what He does and has done, and humbleness before Him knowing how much we owe Him (Rock of ages). So all of a sudden I have a whole "new" source of triggers... of the better kind... of the kind that, instead of sending you remembering good and bad memories, send you remembering why you are where you are, what God has done and where you should be headed... capturing the attitude rather than a fleeting emotion. It is funny how a few years back I didn't even like hymns... I missed out...

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