Saturday, May 21, 2011

"Listening" to Music: More Than Sounds

Yesterday, as I was downloading pictures onto my Facebook album, I simultaneously went on You Tube and listened to music from the 90s, and eventually the 2000s (thus far). Later in the evening, as I looked back on it, I reminded myself that you need to discern between what is popular and what is right.

During her acceptance speech at the Academy Awards in February 2010, actress Monique (Best Supporting Actress winner for her role in the movie Precious) thanked her husband "for showing me that sometimes, you have to forego doing what's popular in order to do what's right." Indeed, she was right. And indeed, there is a huge difference. Consider, when you listen to music, are you more in tune with what the song is talking about, or are you mesmerized by the "tune" (or style, or sound) of the song that you don't care about what their saying? As I was listening to music from the past decade, I found that many of the popular songs in, say, 2007, we mostly rap or hip-hop (many of which I've never even heard of).

Call me a cynic or a snob, but I'm glad I'm not caught up in the "popular" music scene. I say this not to be against the music scene. I say this to state that I am not one for mere escapist music, in general. (On the other hand, listening to classical music from composers like Bach or Beethoven can be escapist for good reasons.) The type of music that I appreciate and value is the type of music that is honest and speaks truth. I speak not only of contemporary Christian music and such, but of music from films soundtracks (e.g., John Williams, Hans Zimmer, Thomas Newman), rock (Coldplay, All-American Rejects, Beck), and acoustic, to name a few. I'd like to really hear a song that makes you think or that means something to you.

The late Tupac Shakur

Getting back to the hip-hop scene, one artist I will vouch for (although not entirely) is the late Tupac ("2Pac") Shakur. Before his death in 1996, Shakur was known for his honest yet often provocative music on thug life, the streets, and brotherhood, as well as family. (His endearing track "Dear Mama" is a good example of the latter.) One song that I revisited a week or two ago was "Changes," which skillfully crafts issues and themes of the times and of life. In fact, Shakur opens with the line, "I see no changes/Wake up in the morning and I ask myself/Is life worth living/Should I blast myself?" It's a near-harsh line, but also a near-universal one. Are we willing to wake up everyday and face the challenges the world hurls at us? Are we willing to make changes for the common good of our relationships, our jobs, and even the way we live? I applaud 2Pac for bringing to light these questions (depsite a few course words on the track).

In short, I am for music that makes you think, that gives you inspiration or optimism, that gives you encouragement from whatever challenges life throws at you. And it can or doesn't have to include words. Amazing how the heart and soul are impacted.

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