I haven't been watching a lot of tv now that the Tour de France is over and I've taken a second job, but I caught part of a VH1 special last week. It was a re-broadcast for the Canadian market of the Storytellers series, the episode featuring Bruce Springsteen.
Being a devotee of punk during the eighties I never gave the Boss much time. I knew that he was well thought of as a songwriter but that was about all I knew, despite hearing Born in the U.S.A. round about a thousand times too many.
On the show he was playing songs and explaining his intentions with the lyrics. It was eye, er, ear opening. It was obvious that he'd put a lot of thought into it all, at least after the fact. The emotional subtext stuff he was talking about apparently wasn't a conscious thing when writing the tune, but he claimed he'd felt every last bit of it even at the time.
A couple of days later I watched K.D. Lang performing the Leonard Cohen tune Hallelujah on live tv. It was jawdropping, literally. By the time she was done my mouth was dry because it was hanging open. The depth of emotion she presented was amazing. If it was acting, the woman deserves an Oscar.
I was much more aware of Ms. Lang because of the Cowpunk stuff she'd done with the Reclines. But I had no idea she'd developed into such a singer. Ok, I kinda knew because my Mum had played this tune for me last time I visited. For some reason the artist didn't register, although I was impressed by the song. But I digress.
All of this made me realize something. Something that I've been trying to get at since the CBC interview the band. Why do I do this music thing? I've given lots of reasons for that and now I realize there's yet another. Perhaps the most important one.
Music is emotion, or more accurately a means to convey emotion. But it's more than that, it's a means to repeat emotions. Some songs are evocative every time you hear them and, provided you don't over expose yourself, they will continue to be evocative until your personality changes. Here's the part that stunned me when I realized it: this is true for the performers too.
The ability to inhabit a song, to feel the emotions it's trying to convey while performing it is one of the most important aspects of performance, it's what separates art from pop. I've known this for a long time, but my little tv excursion last week showed me another aspect to it. If the song is true and meaningful to the performer then that performer can experience those emotions at will. Just sing the song and there it is.
This is a skill of course and perhaps not an easy one. But it does explain the addictive nature of music making. Unless you've studied Method Acting or are very in touch with your emotions it's very hard to simply make one's self feel a certain way. I can't do it. As an intermittent sufferer of depression ( the clinical kind) I'd give anything to be able to feel happy at will. And perhaps I can.
There's a couple of tunes the band does where I feel the same way every time we play them, this despite being an instrumental act. One of which (E cho B each) fills me with eager anticipation every time we play it. I take a solo 3/4 of the way through and I have to fight the temptation to rush to get to it. When it goes well I get goose bumps, literally. Some effort and practice and this emotional connection could be a more conscious part of my musical experience.
I've said before that I can't quit music until I've written something profoundly joyful. Everything I've done (more accurately, half done) to date has been sad, angry or both. I'm pretty sure I need to get that out of my system before I can move on to joy so I'm not too fussed about it. The potential for joy is within me, as it is for everyone. If I can get it out into song form I should be able to experience it over and over. A selfish goal perhaps, but one I'm willing to keep working on until it I reach it. Maybe not too selfish, if I really do achieve a means of feeling joyful at will, yah think I'm going to keep it to myself?
Shared pain is lessened and shared joy is increased. About time I started increasing stuff in the world.