The Both

Photo by Nihal Demirci Erenay on Unsplash

To hear someone say, “I never listen to the words of a song, only the music,” is nearly as disconcerting as if they had said, “I never pay attention to both ballroom dancers, only the one.”

Words and music are more than just two companions on the same sidewalk.

They are a dance. Even if the one is foreign, or seems to be (Massive Attack’s “Silent Spring”), or is simply so poetic that all it conveys is mood.

Some music comes to a party stag. But if music comes with lyrics, they are more than its “plus one.” The song is a couple, a marriage of two souls, mutually complete.

But I could have told you, Vincent . . .

One of our species wrote this amazing song, someone built the gorgeous instrument, someone else the percussion instruments, someone the recording equipment, someone made the clothing, all of it coming together in such a transcendent work of art.

Somewhere else, another member of our species gave an order to drop more bombs on a city in Ukraine.

I can’t wrap my head around how the same species can achieve such beauty and such destruction, such joy and such hatred. That horrible conundrum keeps me up at night.

The Devil’s Music

Watching this performance for the first time today, I’m literally choked up about how much amazing, powerful music I missed out on as a teenager simply because my mom and stepdad thought rock was the Devil’s music.

It wasn’t until my stepdad forbade me to listen to the Carpenter’s, because “Goodbye to Love” ends with an “edgy” guitar solo, that I simply stopped letting them hear anything I enjoyed. You’ve likely heard me praise my stepdad for the patience he showed in teaching me electrical and mechanical repair, instilling and encouraging common sense. But in this regard, he had none.

That may have been the beginning of the end of Evangelical Christianity for me. But the damage to my musical innocence had been done. As much as I loved the music of Seals & Crofts for example, there was always a squirm factor I had to work through because their religion wasn’t Christian. A shadow across the beauty of Cat Steven’s work, because of what I perceived as Buddhist imagery.

Rock in the 1970’s was a voice of protest, a tide of social rebellion carrying on from the Civil Rights struggle of the previous decade, now with youth’s unwillingness to be caught up in the Vietnam War. You can still find its bitter skepticism in nearly all of Trent Reznor’s work, in much of Maynard Keenan’s, in Zack de la Rocha’s and Tom Morello’s, among others. But nothing matches the widespread vocality of the 1970’s.

I think the rushing power of that social protest was ultimately diluted into the swamp of status quo. And I wonder how much of that was because youth like me, on the tail end of that decade, were indoctrinated to distrust that rebelliousness.

I’m no Satanist. But I’m of the Devil’s party, as William Blake described Milton, “The reason Milton wrote in fetters when he wrote of Angels & God, and at liberty when he wrote of Devils & Hell, is because he was a true Poet and of the Devil’s party without knowing it.”

It took awhile for me to recognize the jail cell of Evangelical Christianity not as a place of safety but of timorousness. I resent being taught hymns of blind faith while denied music of much-needed change.

“Did you think I wouldn’t recognize this compromise? / Am I just too stupid to realize? / Stale incense, old sweat and lies, lies, lies.”

The trickster gods get a bad rap in every mythology. Lucifer maybe the worst of all. But he definitely has the best music.

Love’s Illusions

Jennifer says there are songs she likes whose lyrics she’s never paid attention to. I adore my spouse, but how is that even possible?

Not hearing the lyrics is like eating a PB&J without noticing whether it’s marmalade or strawberry preserves. Worse, it’s like eating a PB&J and not even noticing the peanut butter.

Or like hearing a song and not noticing the music.

I wake up with the lyrics of songs from decades ago stuck in my head. Today it’s this one.