5 Songs to Change Your Life
This is a not a music review or a list of “Best Songs of 2015”. Rather, the following is a personal reflection as told through music. Songs that have played an important role in my life, whatever that may mean.
Postcard From 1952 - Explosions in the Sky
For this list I knew I had to bring one song from my list of “Pretentious Orchestral Post Rock”, and so went through my iTunes looking for the one. There are a few bands I put on the list of “Pretentious Orchestral Post Rock” (see: Sigur Ros, This Will Destroy You and From Monument to Masses), but none match Explosions in the Sky and their raw power and energy. I saw this band open for the Flaming Lips (hands down the best show I’ve been to), and they just totally nail it. Their songs all basically follow the same pattern, light guitar and ambience, drums kick in, heavy distortion filled big finish. But, this song, and especially it’s beautiful music video, get me every time.I’m starting to tear up already as I type this with the song going on, and I’m not much of a cryer in real life. Sad things don’t seem to affect me. If a friend says something I don’t like, or if somebody I love passes away, I just kind of keep going. But, when I turn on music, it opens something inside and I can cry extremely easily. Music is my emotional connection to the world. And, nothing gets me more emotional than a good “Pretentious Orchestral Post Rock” song from the best band of the group. The song gets me excited and scared and hopeful in a way that no other song does. When the drums roll along I just feel like anything is possible. This is coming from a kid who doubts himself in just about everything he has ever tried doing ever. I spent a lot of my short lived music-writing career trying to emulate this band. And, while I never quite got it, they really kept me going for a long time.
Thoughts of a Dying Atheist - Muse
Muse is my favorite band ever. I don’t think they’re as talented as Radiohead (and, to be honest, some days Radiohead is my favorite band ever), but their excitement and energy is unparalleled. So, I started looking through Muse to pick a song to put down here. I think Black Holes and Revelations is a better album than Absolution, and I probably like Take A Bow and Animals more than this song, but I picked this one because I freaking love a great rock song. A lot of their later stuff appeals to my love of interesting time stuff and synths, but this song, and really the whole album, is nothing but a great rock song. The guitars are loud, the lyrics are angry and meaningful, and the bass carries the whole thing. It’s short - it’s only 3 minutes long, and every second of it is pulsing. This especially resonated with a younger version of me who loved the lyrics, “Scares the hell out of me. The end is all I can see,” as if somebody else acknowledging a fear of death validated my own (I don’t know if I really deluded myself into thinking that Muse is the only band to write about death, probably the most common theme in all of rock). Coming from my origins of Green Day and Blink 182 (and other mediocre 90’s punk-pop), this song just reminds me why I love music: it’s fun and exciting, but sad at the same time. You can’t really dance to it - all you can do is sit back and let it wash over you.
Floe - Philip Glass
Full disclosure: this is a recent addition as I only found this four months ago in my annoying “modern composers” phase, but boy is this song something. It’s six minutes that starts slowly with single synths playing and very progressively gains flutes and a woodwind section before rising to a seeming cacophony of noise and instruments none of which mesh to form one song. It sounds like the bustle of everyday life with each instrument struggling to be heard over the confusing sounds of the rest of the band. I first heard this as I was davening mincha from my dorm looking out on Washington Heights and, this is gonna sound stupid, but I felt almost something that I understood. As a young confused kid, unsure of what he believes or thinks or anythings, trying his best to pray to Somebody or Something, this was the song I was looking for. I’ve felt emotional while listening to music, but right then, at that moment, I knew what I felt: I felt alone. I felt a wish to be different from where I was and for the rest of the world to care. But nobody would because my problems are just my own. And that moment, the one where the song came through my speakers, as I prayed that Somebody would hear me, stays with me. While the moment may no longer exist, I keep going back to it. It was real. It was a real moment of connection and loneliness and desperation all culminating in one big emotion. And, I’ll be honest, I’m listening to the song right now as I type this and I can’t help but go back there. And, just as the song cuts out abruptly, it feels like there’s no answer; everything just ends.
Young Americans - David Bowie
Back in high school I went through a Bowie phase where all I listened to was Hunky Dory and The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars. Now, this song is from neither, but the reason it makes this list (even though it’s from Bowie’s later, weirder phase) is because of one Sunday when I was in the eleventh grade. I worked at a bagel store throughout high school called Rosenfeld’s. One of my coworkers was this kid named Zach. He and I became pretty close friends (and still are), and we used to goof around. He wasn’t much of a Bowie fan, but he had this song on his phone and used to play this game wherein he’d just play this song in the most unsuspecting moments and places over and over and over again. And I grew to hate the song with all my heart. But, ever since then, everytime I hear this song I’m back to that moment and I start to tear up. It’s this stupid nostalgia for a moment that wasn’t even that great, that I keep coming back to and trying to capture. I didn’t love the 11th grade, nor did I love working at this bagel store. But, this one song is able to transport me back to that time and make me think that it was the best time in my whole life. It’s the only song that really has the power of associating me with a moment in time. It’s a song, and a moment that I’ll carry with me forever. Or at least, until I forget about it. Whichever comes first.
Ramble On - Led Zeppelin
It feels almost obligatory to have a Zeppelin song on a list of songs to change your life. In fact, I’m convinced every single person who listens to rock goes through a Zeppelin phase. But, it doesn’t make it any less valid. I was a stupid kid. Like, a really stupid kid. Up until about the fifth grade, all I listened to was N’Sync and The Backstreet Boys. Not only did I listen to these very mediocre boy bands, but I wrote a fan letter to N’Sync. I’m not proud to write that sentence here (or anywhere - hell, I’m not really proud that it happened in general), but I’d be lying if I didn’t. But, then something happened towards the end of elementary school. It began when I saw School of Rock, and then I started seriously playing the guitar and listening to Green Day. I then began my pretentious phase wherein I thought I knew more about music and rock n’ roll than anybody else. I proclaimed any rock album after 2004 to be a betrayal of rock and an act of “selling out”. It was during this insufferable phase of my life, in a desperate act to look like I knew more about music than I did, I bought Led Zeppelin II. Now, I don’t condone at all buying an album in order to look smart or sophisticated or anything, but I do fully condone buying Led Zeppelin II. Every track on that album was different and interesting and doing things I had never heard before. I was taken with the strange breakdown on Heartbreaker, and the drum solo on Moby Dick is amazing, but Ramble On, a classic Zeppelin song if ever there was one, is what sold me. It starts off slow and acoustic with John Paul Jones’s light bass carrying the track. And then, just when you think you know what the song is, Robert Plant’s famous screech kicks in as he screams, “For now I smell the rain, and with it pain, and it's headed my way.” I have no idea what this song is about - references to Lord of the Rings still confuse me - but the music is amazing. It makes me think back to when I picked up the guitar and wanted to be Jimmy Page. It reminds me of what it feels like to be eleven and sure of myself. It reminds me of what it means to be young and stupid and to connect to music more than anybody or anything. It makes me look back and wonder who that kid is. Seriously, go buy Led Zeppelin II.