“Breathe. Breathe in the air.
Don’t be afraid to care.
Leave, but don’t leave me.
Look around. Choose your own ground.
Long you’ll live and high you’ll fly,
and smiles you’ll give and tears you’ll cry,
and all you touch and all you see,
is all your life will ever be.”
-Pink Floyd, Breathe
I, like a great many people on this spinning ball of rock, have been fascinated by music since the first time I heard it as a child. As we evolve, we naturally gravitate to the music which provides us with both a sense of self-identity and understanding which cannot be found in really any other artistic medium that I know of.
For all the books I’ve read and the movies I’ve watched, there aren’t any that immediately spring to mind as a direct illustration of how I perceive things or my particular emotional construction.
I do, however, have over 600 songs on my iPod playlist and each one of them illicits a tangible, and sometimes visceral, reaction whenever I put them on, and they run the full emotional spectrum. It all depends on the mood I am in on a given day and I find that if humanity has a truly great evolutionary accomplishment, it’s the innate ability to blend notes and chords with lyric and harmonies to create incredibly moving soundscapes.
Case in point: the lyric I opened this with.
I was barely twelve years-old the first time I put a tape copy of The Dark Side of the Moon into my stereo and hit play. Until that moment, I had no idea who Pink Floyd was other than an old neighbor of mine had a vinyl copy of The Wall on his bedroom shelf back in my hometown, which seemed a lifetime ago at that point.
When I was in college, a friend of mine at the time said she didn’t understand how anyone could like their music as to her, “It didn’t make sense.”
It’s a fair observation to make, as it is definitely not music for everybody. My response is that in order to really get it, you had to know what it was like to feel more than a little crazy. To the best of my knowledge, she didn’t have that sort of context, but even as a tweener, I did.
As soon as I heard that lyric for the first time, it instantly clicked. I got it, or I suppose in another way of looking at it, it got me.
And it’s not like Roger Waters was trying to be obtuse or sophisticated with what he was saying, either. In an interview he gave a few years ago, he admitted he was rather surprised that he’d somehow gotten away with it, because it feels what he called so lower-sixth in its implied simplicity.
Simplistic or not, what resonated with me was the level of unabashed truth I found in those eight lines, and especially the last two. Waters summed up the whole of our existence, like it or not, in just fifteen words. For a kid who was in the middle of the great existential dilemma of trying to discover on his own terms what life was indeed about, it didn’t get more plain and uncomplicated than that.
Mind. Go Ka-boom.
Twenty-five years later, I can still put Dark Side on and get that familiar feeling of someone else speaking my language in a way that I probably never could’ve articulated. That is such a rare thing to find in life. It truly is. If you can find it once, you’re very fortunate. You find it twice and that’s a gift.
Which brings me to these guys.
I actually stumbled upon Rush before finding Pink Floyd. My brother somehow managed to get a copy of one of their best albums, Moving Pictures, and like most kids in the early 80’s, my introduction was the song, Tom Sawyer.
I admit that as a 10 year-old, I didn’t get the song that much. I didn’t understand how Geddy Lee could sing the way he did and I had no idea that I was listening to one of the greatest drummers of all time in Neil Peart.
It just sounded cool. It sounded unlike anything I’d heard to that point in my life and that’s what made the band intriguing.
But it wasn’t until I had graduated high school that I rediscovered them after picking up their greatest hits compilation. At the time, I was functionally homeless, emotionally withdrawn, very disenchanted with the world around me and looking for anything which could give my life a sense of both direction and purpose.
I put the CD in my temperamental walkman, as this was pre-iPod days, mind you, and just listened as I sat on the bus going to my crappy retail job at the local mall, when the song Subdivisions kicked in and I heard the following lyric:
“Growing up, it all seems so one-sided.
Opinions are divided, the future pre-decided,
detached and subdivided in the mass production zone.
Nowhere is the dreamer or the misfit so alone.”
For the second time, my mind went absolute ka-boom.
To this day, I don’t know why Neil’s lyrics strike such a profoundly emotional chord with me, but they do even more so than Roger’s much of the time. There is a level of empathy and emotional exploration in his writing which I simply haven’t found anywhere else.
After my great implosion in 2011, I got a chance to see Rush in concert for the first time two years later. They were performing their new album at the time, one I hadn’t heard as of yet and about halfway through the show, they cranked up one of the songs off it called, The Anarchist.
Given how I was feeling at the time, the chorus hit me like a train.
“The lenses inside of me that paint the world black.
The pools of poison, the scarlet mist, that spill over into rage.
The things I’ve always been denied.
An early promise that somehow died.
A missing part of me that grows around me like a cage.
A missing part of me that grows around me like a cage.”
If someone were to ask me what it’s like to live with depression, emotional trauma, anger, guilt and regret, I would simply hand them these six lines and tell them to read it until it made sense.
Once again, I got the music and the music got me.
I totally get that not everyone likes Rush or Pink Floyd. Truth be told, I know being a hater of both bands is kind of the thing to do nowadays. My brother Patrick wasn’t fond of Rush for a long time, thanks in no small part to my insistent playing of it at almost all hours of the day when we were younger.
I understand. It’s not music for everyone, nor do I expect it to be. Like anything else, musical tastes evolve as you do. The fact that there is so much to choose from is what makes music as a construct such an amazing thing to me because there is something for everyone.
…even Taylor Swift or Justin Bieber, if that’s your fancy. I honestly cannot imagine why, but who am I to judge?
When I was in Portland earlier this week, Patrick, my other brother Matt and I got to see Rush again and as usual, they put on a hell of a show, playing tracks from their entire catalog spanning the past 40 years.
Some of the songs even I hadn’t heard in about a decade or so, but true to form, one of them clicked for me in a way it hadn’t before. The song was Distant Early Warning and the chorus is as follows:
“The world weighs on my shoulders,
but what am I to do?
You sometimes drive me crazy,
but I worry about you.
I know it makes no difference,
to what you’re going through.
But I see the tip of the iceberg,
and I worry about you.”
It doesn’t take a psychic to understand what Neil’s trying to convey here. With where I’m at in my life now, I can relate to it on a level previously unavailable, which again demonstrates for me the incredible power that music has.
Whatever the reason, I just get it and it gets me, and I am profoundly grateful for that.