Admittedly, it doesn’t take much to make me lose my faith in humanity. I’m a bit of an Eeyore, if I’m honest. Popular culture seems to be a particular source of vexation. All I have to do is turn on the television (where things seem to have devolved into a 24-hour completely-fabricated-“reality”-show marathon) to start wondering where we went wrong as a species, and all these top-40 radio stations in my fair city don’t help, either. I feel like I find half my time station-surfing to find a song that isn’t an anthem on how awesome cheating is, taking revenge on a cheater, or telling a cheater that you’re better than all of this anyway. Well, that or a narcissistic wank-fest. Or irritating club songs whose lyrics can’t be made out anyway but seem to consist of a single line repeated, with synthesizers. (I’m sure it’s great to dance to, but sometimes I enjoy lyrics. Also, I would appreciate it if you kids would turn down your music and get off my lawn.)
Occasionally, however, I hear a song that makes me proud to be a part of the same human race that could produce that kind of music. Occasionally I hear a song that makes me weep uncontrollably for no good reason (like this blog’s first selection did) or that makes me feel like something larger than myself or that simply, in the immortal words of Jack Black, has the power to move me. I thought I’d share a few in case you haven’t heard them yet, and I hope that they touch you, too.
Adele – “Someone Like You”
Never mind, I’ll find someone like you
I wish nothing but the best for you
Don’t forget me, I beg
I remember you said,
“Sometimes it lasts in love but sometimes it hurts instead.”
Everybody likes Adele. I feel safe saying that, and if it isn’t entirely the truth, I can at least qualify it by saying that everybody who has a soul likes her music. She has a remarkable voice, a beautiful presence and a serious knack for reaching into your chest cavity and squeezing things until you sob. While some of her songs definitely fall into the breakup-bitterness category that I’m not usually a fan of (though since this is Adele we’re talking about, and I’m definitely a fan of them from her), far and away my favorite tune of hers is “Someone Like You.” It’s a gorgeous, poetic song, but the thing about it that helps to restore my faith in humanity is that it’s just so very adult. There’s a gut-twisting sense of sadness to it, and it’s about a relationship that didn’t work, but while some people might cope with the loss by causing incredible damage to personal property (Carrie Underwood! *shakes fist*) or taking all of their partner’s money, selling his positions and destroying his credit (Blu Cantrell! *shakes fist*), this song handles a break-up in the way that I like to imagine these things can actually happen between people who are emotionally balanced and actually love each other. Even when the relationship fails, for whatever reason, they can think of each other fondly, wish each other well, want to be remembered and want what they had back, but bear in mind that although sometimes it lasts in love, sometimes it hurts instead. And that’s okay, even if it’s not easy. That’s how life works.
Hey Rosetta! – “Welcome”
Sorry, this is it
It’s cold and hard and badly lit
And there’s no backing out of it
So forget where you’ve been
It’ll never be that good again
And we must only look ahead
Hey Rosetta! frontman Tim Baker wrote this song for some friends of his who’d recently had a baby… or rather, he wrote it for that baby. I’ve heard all sorts of soppy country songs about how children are the best thing ever (and frankly, I’m not buying it), but this is the first song I’ve ever heard that really sums up how I feel as a young person whose friends are starting to have kids that eventually will be facing — as all children do, I suppose — an uncertain and trying future. I love this song not only because it’s Hey Rosetta! (and I kind of think everything they’ve ever done is absolutely stellar), but because it manages to be simultaneously frank, bleak, hopeful, and more than anything else, emotional. In one verse, Baker’s warning the kid that our generation is handing off our troubles, and that these new generations will have to do better than we did, and that sometimes we get lost in life and struggle; in another, he’s reassuring: “You will do alright / You’ve got your mother’s eyes / You’ve got your daddy’s head / Everything you need.”
Mostly, what moves me about this song (and makes me hope that maybe these kids — the ones that Baker’s friends have, the ones that my friends have — really will do alright) is the intense, driving, powerful love that radiates through every word. Love for the child he’s writing to, love for that child’s parents, love dare I say it for the human race and all of its foibles. That child — the one being welcomed to the world with this tune — is lucky indeed to be born into a bigger family that already knows it will make mistakes, forgives it, reaches out to give it a hand up, and is delighting in its entrance. I get a little choked up every time Baker sings, “I can feel you and what you’re gonna be / You’ll be stronger, you’ll be smarter than me / Oh baby, I’ll say it again / You’re the most incredible thing.”
P!nk – “Fuckin’ Perfect”
You’re so mean when you talk
About yourself. You were wrong.
Change the voices in your head
Make them like you instead.
Usually I’d be the last person to agree with a sentiment that places self-esteem over self-respect (there is an important distinction between the two, after all), so when I first heard the chorus to this tune I was prepared to hate it. A lot. Who is Pink, after all, to tell teenagers that they’re perfect when they’re probably really little bastards? Let’s not inflate their egos here, Pink. Come on.
By the time this tune came on the radio again and I actually heard the whole thing, however, I’d worked through my moment of being all judge-y judge and was prepared to listen. What I heard was an anthem that spoke to my inner insecure, self-loathing teenaged self. I hope that it’s speaking to the actual teenagers of the world too, and it’s obviously a timely piece of music with the rising awareness of how much bullying and other pressures from peers can ruin a kid’s life. The verse I quoted above was a particularly poignant one for me: being kind to myself has always been a struggle for me, and I wrestle daily with the problems that come from having a truly and profoundly awful self-image; I can’t imagine how difficult the same issues are for kids who are still trying to figure out who they are, riding the tide of hormonal puberty, and dealing with the sometimes practically-sociopathic behavior of others who are just as screwed up. And this song has an important message for them: that it does get better. That somebody loves you, or somebody will. That you aren’t alone. That you shouldn’t let anyone make you feel like you’re less than you are. That your life is your own to live, and you shouldn’t let other people dictate for you what sort of life it’s going to be. And it doesn’t hurt that Pink sings it with a sincerity that borders on painful. This song isn’t so much my usual thing, but I’d never call it less than perfect.
The Swell Season – “High Hope” (featuring Moji)
Cause I’ve been living in a half life
Not sure which way to turn
why must a man lose everything to find out what he wants?
I knew this list would have to include a Glen Hansard tune because, in the space between his two bands (The Frames and The Swell Season) lies a musical lexicon which, frankly, has made my life and my emotional landscape a richer thing. When I’m talking about music that moves me, I could feature practically every song the man has ever sung, but I chose to restrict myself to one, and in particular to one performance that lifts me up every time I hear it.
Seeing a Swell Season performance live is really the closest I come to a religious experience. Every time I hear Glen Hansard talk on any subject I feel as if my spiritual horizons have been expanded, and in saying that I don’t mean to imply that the guy tries to be a motivational speaker, has all the answers or is even particularly profound (on purpose, at least). He seems to look at the world in this sort of intense, soul-searching, thoughtful way that ends up offering all sorts of ideas and insights about life and relationships that just… if I might go so far as to say it, it helps you understand yourself. It’s an active and difficult search for emotional fitness and a recognition that the search itself is the important part.
With this particular song (and quite a few others in the band’s repertoire), Hansard often asks the audience to sing along. At this particular show, he heard a voice in the crowd that he really liked. So he invited the person attached to that voice to get up on stage and help the band make a bit of art. I love this song because it invites you to take a risk, to make a decision, to focus on the future instead of dwelling on the past, to wish others well in their journey and hope that you come together again sometime, even if your paths are diverging. I love this particular performance because Moji, that audience member pulled up on stage, is clearly having the time of her life, seizing the moment, and contributing her own talents to making something beautiful. She gives a piece of herself to the crowd and lets that energy be amplified and returned. It’s joy for the sake of joy, and another moment that can help us all remember how to live: with love, without fear, and in a state of wonder.