We’ve all heard enough droning about the genius or complexity of the art world’s favorite artists; I don’t see much correlation with what time actually ends up celebrating.
Seems to me, as we age and our joys gets simpler, and I think this best comes with having children, the faith-inspiring, purpose-inspiring segment of art occupies more of you. And those types of works are simple. They will forever just come from pretty stuff layered on to simple, awestruck thoughts: “I miss you.” “Don’t go.” “I’m lost.” “I’d die for you.” “I’m so alone.” “Don’t worry, we’ll make it through.”
Despite a half-century of prattle about the perfection of Bob Dylan’s inscrutability, most never feel a rush of spirit from that, and I don’t think his defenders do, either. For the purposes of being lifted up, drawn out, that comes from simplicity. I’d bet you more likely feel spiritual joy from “roll down the windows and let the wind blow back your hair.” With Dylan, “Don’t think twice, it’s alright” lasts longer than that stuff about the dude with a Siamese cat on his shoulder.
(“Speak for yourself.“)
And music, despite being taught as some pure form of human expression, gets dominated by timing and culture. A contemporary intending to bare his pain isn’t going to drop “Danny Boy” on a pan flute in 2015; he’s going to offer something based in the aesthetic comfortable to him, and digestible to his audience of normal people who aren’t making art for a living. Literally every male I know over the age of 35 lifts weights to Soundgarden. Our parents will go to their graves humming the Beatles. Conversely, the Four Tops will never, never again make a teenager squeal. “Brilliant” sounds considerably more dopey or pompous as we age, accompanied by the realization that it sounded that way to everyone else beyond 21 who had other things to do when it had hold of us.
Much of the following reflects my having been an American teenager in the 1990s — and obviously, as an editor of PJ Media, you might guess that I’ve come to loathe a significant strain of the culture behind the music I nonetheless respond to. But this generation of political and media leaders ascending and soon dominating the field is shaped by this stuff, and I don’t see some of these missing anyone. That rush of finding G-d in art came from these for me — starting with just seven, I may try another post soon if asked — and I expect their simplicity and awe-inducing properties can’t be missed.
Next Page: Number 7 …
7. The Pogues, “Love You Till the End”
This may not even be that great of a song, yet I would place greater odds on it being your favorite than the rest. I like to imagine it represents the scene it sprung from better than the obedient punk “counter-culture” you’d otherwise picture.
There really isn’t a counter-culture, just like there aren’t any real socialists. Just another wave of romantic youth traversing “I’m lost” and “I’d die for you” at the same time, fuel for great art. This song isn’t great but it’s perfect; it inspires faith and wonder:
6. Ray LaMontagne, “Empty”
Listen for the cello here; it sounds like a prayer. The song is pained and hopeful, a contrast which certainly defends the idea that G-d and faith is everywhere, perhaps more so in your troubles.
I wouldn’t analyze LaMontagne’s words, just listen to his chosen melody — you understand loneliness, this was his attempt to reach anybody, or you. Most writers and artists I know need that validation; I see G-d in them being able to find it:
5. The White Stripes, “Ball and Biscuit”
If you’re stranded on a desert island with a guitar and amp and a reliable power source, you would never produce this song. Jack White, in that situation, doesn’t write this song.
This song isn’t a nadir of useless vanity — this sort of preening is very much a human condition, and it serves a purpose that only arises when a man (usually a man) finds himself in competition for a mate. With a bunch of guys who look like Tom Brady compared to him.
Maybe you look like Tom Brady, but probably not, and Jack White sure didn’t, so he needed to either learn how to be funny or charming, or how to be daring, or how to hold an electric guitar over his crotch area and control it so violently that Tom Brady’s jaw drops, and the girls’ jaws drop, and the amp turns blue fire and vibrates itself into nuclear fission.
Masculinity isn’t “toxic.” It encourages the best of human accomplishment, and brotherhood.
I don’t want to kick Jack White’s ass because he can do this, and thus had a tad higher chance than me of leaving with the most exciting woman in the room — I want to buy him a whiskey and buy my own guitar.
If you’ve never heard this before, you’ll feel like a teenager watching peak Michael Jordan with your boys. Your jaw literally drops, you fall off the couch, yell a bunch of crap like “NO HE DIDN’T ARE YOU F***ING KIDDING.” I like to picture an unknown, dorky teenage Jack White circa 1995, showing up at a house party with his amp, getting mocked by the bros and the cheerleaders, and then he starts playing and blows the plumbing out, and Gob rips off his pants:
If you’re in need of a testosterone-based spiritual awakening, this is as good as it gets. Your shirt will come off at about 1:50, then the remainder of your outfit a little later prior to your being treated for a spleen rupture and a burst appendix.
Listen for him at about the 5:00 mark, quietly asking: “You get the point now?” If you aren’t an SJW, you do:
4. Pat Benatar, “We Belong”
You just snorted.
Now pretend you’re at summer camp in the ’80s, and tell me this didn’t make you believe in something lovely about the world when you were a kid. This song felt … important. Like it could bring about the Messiah, or get the little red-headed girl to give Charlie Brown a hug.
The more you think about it, this could be your favorite pop song now, too. Think about what your kids hear when you turn on the radio in the car today; wouldn’t you rather it be this?
3. Smashing Pumpkins, “Tonight, Tonight”
I’ve read that Corgan put this together for his own benefit, as a celebration of what he’d survived and as an inspirational trinket, like that picture of Grandpa, or a wedding band. He reportedly dealt with an abusive stepmother for 12 years, and came out the far end of that hell with an “I’m happy, finally” and “no one can stop me” song for the ages. He manages to take his aesthetic, uniquely anchored in a specific era of popular culture, and made it not only accessible, but awe-inducing to all without tempering his intent.
Bruce Springsteen supposedly set out to write the Great American Rock Song with “Born to Run”; accidentally, Corgan managed a competing claim:
2. Damien Rice, “Amie”
I first found this album on a work computer at a receptionist’s desk I was temping at in Hollywood. I played it softly there, realized I’d stumbled on something I would never stop loving; I wanted to play it for my wife right away, whom I’d just started dating and I had a suspicion I would never stop doing that, either.
I don’t hear any pretense here, just a man heartbroken at getting older, and with a woman in his life more beautiful than he can bear. Reminded me of The Beatles’ “In My Life.”
“Tell me, that you still believe … “. It’s nearly too sad and pretty to handle a listen:
1. Pearl Jam, “Man of the Hour”
This song ended the gem of a film Big Fish, released in December 2003, a film about a man piecing together his thoughts about his father while the old man lay in his deathbed, and I happened to go watch the movie alone in January 2004, days after burying my grandfather on New Year’s Eve.
Grandpa Jack lived a perfect life. His life’s work was the root of most joy and notions of family and security any of us had; we all knew it and couldn’t imagine that such a man was made of the same stuff we were, and thus capable of dying. I mourned but never felt he was dead, just that a new era was starting and we would come across him sooner than later.
The lovely film ended, and Eddie Vedder started singing my literal thoughts.
I don’t remember a thing of Big Fish besides waiting until this song and the credits stopped, and knowing I’d always have my faith and my Grandpa: