Once again, I find myself in a position to apologize for the fact that I haven’t posted anything in close to two weeks. I would like to blame it on the holidays, or possibly on work, but that would be a lie. Truth be told, I have to blame it on HBO’s Westworld, which I finally watched, and Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor. These have consumed my evenings since Christmas, and as a result I haven’t done any writing. On the brighter side, I still did the requisite listening. So expect a flurry of posts regarding the artists of the last two weeks.
As I’ve stated ad nauseam, music can influence your world and your world can influence music. From sadness to anger, we sometimes choose the music we listen to based on our mood, and sometimes music changes our mood. One of the things I haven’t mentioned when this was discussed before is music that inspires us. Sometimes it’s the lyrics that say something to pick us up, sometimes it’s just the way the melody hits us. Myself, I’m a sucker for ascending chords and/or driving 4/4 time rhythms. In my life, there have been a handful of songs that I would consider to be inspirational. These are songs that have the ability to pick me up when I’m feeling not-so-great (they do their best to assault my full-scale depressive episodes, but that is a tough shell to crack, even by their powers combined). These songs are the ones I belt out at the top of my lungs when I’m in the car. They are the songs that, although not explicitly associated with a moment or a memory, I have played at those moments when I needed them most, either when life got me down, when I needed a nudge towards greatness, or just when I felt really good about a small victory.
Although I’ve never been a big Moby fan, I picked up his Everything is Wrong album because I was told it was excellent and I had an insatiable hunger for electronic music at that point. I was not terribly impressed, but I still picked up the 2 disc remix album a little later. I actually enjoyed that a lot more. I liked the whole premise of a “non-stop” mix, and to this day it’s still one of the only albums I have never put on shuffle for that reason, since each track flows seamlessly into the next. I had liked the ambience of Into the Blue on the original album, but I was blown away by the “Spiritual Mix” on the remix album. I first noticed it while reading comics, and as the heroes came out of the smoke to take on Onslaught in the finale comic to that sage, the music of the Spiritual Mix swelled at just the right time. It was great timing, but I’ve since used it when I needed a little pick-me-up, and it hasn’t been any less effective. It hearkens my mind to the idea of a hopeful struggle against impossible odds, and isn’t that how we all want to see our lives some days. No one wants to believe that we’re outmatched, we want to believe that we’re the Riders of Rohan, charging Pelennor fields at just the right moment.
After my failed attempt at college, I entered the work force without a decent set of skills to work my way into any kind of logical “career.” I could find work doing manual labor, since I’m a larger guy it wasn’t a stretch for a hiring manager to believe I could handle moving boxes around. Later, I was able to move from that into customer service roles, again requiring not much more than the ability to answer questions and operate a point-of-sale system. In my late twenties, I decided that customer service was not what I wanted to spend the rest of my life doing. I did not feel enriched or empowered by it, and saw no long term future in it. When friends suggested I parlay my technology know-how into something more, it seemed like a good fit. But breaking in at that stage of the game would be difficult. I had to get my foot in the door at a level higher than “help desk.” My bills and my lifestyle could not afford that kind of set back. So I enrolled in a technology “boot camp” program. It was a six month focused course on Windows Server administration, complete with certification exams. I had decided that thi would be my chance, my big break from “jobs” to “career.” The certifications were the important part. They were intense exams that could say I knew my stuff without the work experience to back it up. Over the course of year, I took and passed eight such exams, earning myself the credentials as a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer, but before each exam, I would listen to Invincible by Muse. It always set the tone of confidence I needed to go into the exam and pass it. After getting my passing results, on my way home, I would play This is the Day by The The.
That song would come up again and again. I listened to This is the Day the day I moved into my house. No furniture, just a bunch of boxes in an empty space. I set up an all-in-one stereo, hooked up my auxiliary cable to it and played The The at max volume with the windows open while I sat on my porch on a bright August day. It was also the some that played at my wedding, as the recessional.
When I finally did break out of retail, it came at the perfect time. I was slowly sinking into more and more of a hole in my job. I was feeling trapped, feeling like opportunity would never come and that I was deluding myself into thinking I could ever be anything better (again, Imposter Syndrome is really a bitch). As I mentally assessed the “walls closing in around me,” I got a call from someone who wanted to take a chance on a guy with tons of potential but not yet tested. Interviews went well, background checks were done, offers were made and I was on my way to a job as a Network Administrator. This moment used Florence and the Machine’s Dog Days are Over to punctuate the mood.
There are other songs lacking a life moment or an occasion, but are no less inspirational when I hear them. I love the hopefulness and positive reinforcement of Ian Axel’s This is the New Year. The cast of Glee (yes, I watched Glee, fuck your judgement) does a great version, but the original is just as good. Elton John’s Tiny Dancer is a song I’ve belted out in my car, believing I’m in that scene in Almost Famous where the band, angry at each other, comes together while singing along to it. Something about Queen and David Bowie singing Under Pressure, especially the great build to the climax, has always gotten me right in the feels. I couldn’t place why, but Venus Hum’s The Bells is probably one of my favorite songs in this category. The swell for the chorus is amazing, and I find myself “screaming at the top of my lungs” just as suggested in the song. I love the “damn the man” and “don’t let the bastards get you down” mentality of Ben Fold’s Fred Jones Part 2. I always get choked up on the last verse. The original is amazing, but the version on University A Capella done by the Gracenotes at West Chester University of Pennsylvania is even better. I don’t know who the singer is, but she wrings every bit of emotion she can out of her performance and it’s beautiful.
But to come back to why this post ended up here, in TV on the Radio week, I have to say that one of the songs I find most powerful in inspiring me is Killer Crane. I will admit to not understanding all of the symbolism and imagery, but that isn’t as important as the themes I pull from it. The ideas of forgiveness and of letting the past go are pretty important to me, a person who has a lot of difficulty letting the past go. The amount of times I have cranked the volume on this song and sung it badly in my car is jarring. The base on my car is a little off-putting during this song, but I manage to drown it out with my own off-key rendition. I do not have the vocal range or acuity to do it justice, but I never don’t try.
For all the times I have used music because I was angry and wanted to remain angry, or because I was sad and just wanted to continue wallowing, there have been some great moments where I have found songs to pick me up or to push me forward. It’s important to have that mix of music. We all could use a little push sometimes.