Monday, April 19, 2004

Notes on the Notes that Matter

Some of us expect an awful lot from the music in our lives. We not only expect the music to entertain us, we expect it to enlighten, inspire, and uplift us. Some of us would be mighty lost if we hadn't discovered a particular song, a particular artist, a particular lyric, or particular melody at a particular point in our life.

This thought flashed in my mind while I was reading the terrific Los Angeles Times interview with Bob Dylan that appeared a few weeks back. The interview is one of the few times in his career that Dylan has talked at all about the way he writes. Among the nuggets of information:

"What happens is, I'll take a song I know and simply start playing it in my head. That's the way I meditate. A lot of people will look at a crack on the wall and meditate, or count sheep or angels or money or something, and it's a proven fact that it'll help them relax. I don't meditate on any of that stuff. I meditate on a song.

"I'll be playing Bob Nolan's 'Tumbling Tumbleweeds,' for instance, in my head constantly -- while I'm driving a car or talking to a person or sitting around or whatever. People will think they are talking to me and I'm talking back, but I'm not. I'm listening to the song in my head. At a certain point, some of the words will change and I'll start writing a song."

Long time readers of the newsletter and those of you who know anything about me know that the greatest song ever written, the Beatles' "Hey Jude" also happens to be my all time favorite song. It is the one song that no matter how crappy I'm feeling, how sad I am, no matter how many times I hear it, it always makes me feel infinitely better. I'm always amazed that the structure of the song is so perfect and it supplements its subject matter so wonderfully that whenever I bang out a version on my piano to the frightened attention of two kitties (seven legs between them) even I can't manage to ruin it.

The song starts with a singer's solo voice and by the end of the song (nah nah nah nah nah nah nah) it sounds like there's a gazillion people singing along, consoling the singer as he tries to console Jude. From beginning to end the singer and his friends manage to take a sad song and make it better.

While not quite in the same ballpark as "Hey Jude" my favorite song right this instant is Erin McKeown's peppy little "Slung-Lo." It is another song where the singer is feeling a little blue, a little lost and low as she flicks on her stereo. The music she hears immediately brightens her world. "She was so down, look at her now/She's dancin' til she drops/Everyone knows, give it some time/You'll find what you have lost..."

Indeed the bouncy infectious melody is irresistible and McKeown's little girl vocals provide the perfect frosting to a innocent little ditty that is one of those songs that gets the toes a tappin involuntarily.

The blue-eyed editor included "Slung-Lo" on a compilation she was kind enough to make for me a few weeks back. I haven't been able to stop listening to the CD ever since and when it gets to the McKeown song I inevitably hit the repeat button. I hadn't heard it before yet it is the kind of song that sounds like it has been around forever. "Slung-Lo" is all sunshine and morning dew yet it keenly acknowledges that to appreciate the overlooked stuff of life we have to at least have spent a little time in the darkness as well.

There's probably plenty of music right now to fill up all the heads that exist in this moment in this world so we don't need any more songs. Yet "Slung-Lo" is a great example why we must keep our ears open and our heart in a like state. As we go along it might be more and more difficult to do just that but the rewards of a song that can get the heart beating just a little bit faster (and longer) and the body moving joyfully at the same time is something to behold and to hold on to.

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