I love music, or, perhaps more accurately, I love songs. While instrumental music can move me, it is the combination of words and melody that reach me most completely. Instrumental music can create an atmosphere and bring peace or stir up the emotions, but being able to become part of it through singing words adds something inexpressible. Think of how it feels sometimes to sing O Canada, or a particular song at especially poignant moments. People singing We Shall Overcome during the Civil Rights marches in the 1960’s, for example; or Amazing Grace at times of sadness and loss.
“Without a song or a dance, what are we?”, as Abba said. It’s not a new idea: didn’t Shakespeare say: “Music hath charms to sooth the savage breast”? (No, he didn’t: William Congreve did, but everyone credits Shakespeare with all the good lines!). Well, however savage my breast gets, music hath charms, no doubt. The wonderful things about music in song is that there is one for every possible occasion. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a joyous or mournful time, whether it’s as part of a crowd, or alone in your room.
There is very often a special song that stands out in memory from an event: a wedding, a funeral, the first time you met your soul mate, a moment in your life that remains embedded at the core of your being. A song can bring to mind someone you once knew and lost; it can speak more clearly than your own words can about where your soul is at. Have you ever found yourself smiling, apparently without reason, and then you realise that you’re hearing a song, either in the air or in your head, that brings you back to some time that matters to you. The same thing can happen when you find yourself quietly crying.
Music, song, can have a powerful effect on you in ways that are hard to understand. Why should Rainbow Connection mean so much to so many? Why does yelling out Rockin’ In A Free World make you feel liberated? Of course, not everyone reacts in the same way to the same song: and that is part of the wonderful mystery and power of it all. In so many cases, others are left scratching their heads trying to understand what you see in some apparently saccharine ballad like My Heart Will Go On from Titanic, or Can You Feel the Love Tonight.
Let me say at once that I am a complete addict of such Silly Love Songs, to quote a Beatle. Maybe it’s the Irish in me, but anything that plays with the softer emotions has me in its grip. I could do an entire Valentine’s Day gig without thinking twice, and compile a playlist of romantic songs that a diabetic like myself would find dangerous to one’s health, so sickly sweet are they. I have nothing to apologise for!
The genre doesn’t matter when it comes to the power of words and melody. Pop, rock, country, blues, soul, it doesn’t matter at all: there are powerful songs to be found in all of them. Opera has its fair share too, but opera has never appealed to the depths of me, more like to the shallows. I can listen to the voices of Lanza, Domingo, and company with pleasure, but not understanding the words really makes a difference.
In the same way, the era in which a song was popular, or when it was written, makes very little difference to me. After the Ball was written in 1891; What’ll I Do? in 1924; True Love in 1956; and then you get to my Golden Age of songs, between 1950 and 1980. It would not be true to say that there have been no good songs written since then, but it would be true to say that I have a hard time believing it. Well, that’s not really true. Dylan has written some good songs since then! No, really, of course there are great songs being written all the time, most of which most of us may never have heard. That doesn’t matter, though. Because we have heard and loved so many great songs, songs that have helped us through hard and happy times, songs that speak to us in deep and strange ways. Is there one song in particular that seems to describe something vital and real about you? For me, it’s I Am, I Said, but there is literally no way of really explaining why, other than, perhaps, in another song?
These are days that need a good song or two to get us through, to tell it like it is for each one of us. We can work it out, so stand by me and give peace a chance. Are you lonesome tonight? Your song may say that everybody hurts, it’s a heartache; but it can be a stairway to heaven, and sometimes when we touch, a reason to believe. Yesterday may be dust in the wind, but that’s life. Someday soon, this too shall pass. We shall overcome