Five songs in the history of my life have awakened something in my soul that ushered in radical change. The changes seemed to be baking deep in my … manifestation chamber and suddenly, birthed from the particular mathematical, tonal and emotional reality of the music. Some of the change has nothing to do with the content of the song. Yet others are so spot on, the song could have been written by an outsider observing my life.
The Rising, Springsteen
I had been called to Springsteen for one reason or another. Scene: I was twenty two, I had a solitary summer, internal exploration. I read more than forty books varying from the spiritual “The Disappearance of the Universe” to paperback romantic glory of “True Blue”. While searching for my new paperback journey at the now defunct Borders Books and Music, I found Springsteen’s “The Rising” single for 1$. I picked it up…cool art.
Initially, I remember thinking I really liked the way the drums sounded. It rocked! But then the words hit, man. I see you Mary in the garden, in the garden of a thousand sighs. I lost my breath, erupted in goosebumps and suddenly felt like there was a place for me in the world. There was something archetypical about the name “Mary”. Was it mother Mary, someone you knew, a friend. The name was just…heavy. The song spoke to me on a way to move forward in life.
Rebirth. Come on up for the Rising, tonight.
He was singing about everyday acts and making them mythological. I wanted nothing more than for that everyday magic to be displayed in my life.
At the time, I was trying to come to terms with what evil, heartbreak, joy, and good all meant, how they fit into the story. I was trying to put into perspective very emotionally troubled teenage years. The Rising introduced the idea to me that we were all, in fact, poetry in motion. It blew the lid off of a spiritual depth that I did not know that I had. I would never see the world or music the same after hearing that song.
It changed everything.
This song may be a cliche. I don’t fucking care. This song is pure magic. I had heard it my whole life and liked it.
I don’t know what the hell the song is really about. But to me its about adventure. It calls from the past and the future, from some magic, ethereal place. It reminded me that life is more than just trying to find a paycheck to pay your bills. Life is about how we’re “gonna take the time to do the things we’d never had.”
The song evokes imagery of Indiana Jones (long forgotten words or ancient memories) and the adventurous (moonlit wings reflect the stars that guide me towards salvation), romantic nature of Jewel of the Nile (amazing movie [Hurry boy she’s waiting there for you]).
Sitting at a chain restaurant bar watching my brother karaoke, this song quietly changed my life. It was strange that it was in that setting that the song made its impact. But truly great song nonetheless.
Running from the Rain, Thursday
I also don’t know what this song is actually about.
I was never diagnosed with depression, but much of my late teens and early twenties I was haunted by a certain longing. An emptiness. A melancholy that marked these points in my life. I had an extreme desire for the simple times, times I knew and understood. I had a reoccurring dream when I was a kid. My dad was raking leaves for a friend and I was … “helping”. Laying in those leaves on that fall day, looking up at the sky I was safe.
I was happy.
I was peaceful.
I remember the smell of the leaves and the smell of fall freshly coming in.
I remember when all I worried about was playing with the neighbor kids. Running through the rain, trying to find shelter, smiling. So we forgot our names lying in the tall grass…
It was innocence. It was purity. This song sounds like a funeral for these elements.
When I was in college, friends and family were going to jail, committing suicide and just…dying. There was a sound, split all the heavens apart.
Life was harsh and were feeling it. The gates come crashing down. The realities of life were being experienced. And trying to reconcile the feelings on innocence that were had as a child and the feeling of meaninglessness and fear that adulthood was ushering in. Will it ache every time I hear the storm. It’s running all over me.
The tragedies and sorrows of mine and my loved one’s lives were becoming internalized. They were part of who I was now. We were all together in my heart, running from the rain. Trying to get back to the feeling of lying in the tall grass. Careless, weightless.
I was sending the message into the void: I’m carrying this and I don’t want you to feel like you’re carrying it alone.
I will be with you, running from the rain.
Great Expectations, Gaslight Anthem
The ’59 Sound became the soundtrack to my late 20’s and early 30’s. Many could look at my life at that time and say that I had it all. A home in suburban America, a good job. I was raising kids, at the time. I didn’t feel grown up. I was still listening to the same records as I did when I was a teen. A good friend told me I had to listen to this record.
Mary, this station is playing every sad song. I remember it like we were alive. Mr. Fallon had my attention. Every. Fucking. Word. Of. The. Song. Was. My. Life. The talk of diners, where me and my friends would discuss the meaning of life and the latest heart break. He was using the weight of Springsteen’s Mary. It was like Fallon was there with us.
There was something heavy in my soul being stirred. A truth was revealed: There was something wrong with my life. It was like I was watching it, not living it. I couldn’t get into my part, my life. I never had a good time, I sat by my bedside, with poetry…
One of my best friends was getting divorced at the time. I saw tail lights last night, in a dream about my first wife. I couldn’t believe that I was old enough to have divorced friends.
I was just waiting for something to happen. And suddenly I knew. I was going to to tear it all down. I was going to hurt the people that were in my life. I was going to light the whole thing on fire because it wasn’t right. I wrestled with it for a while. I was in denial. I wasn’t honest with me. And I’m still haunted by what I did.
This song brought the emotional truth from the depths of my soul. And if I hadn’t heard it, my life might be completely different.
Son of a Highway Daughter, Ruston Kelly
Late thirties, divorced, soul crushing job. I had taken to just driving for hours at a time just to get out of the house. Nashville, New York, Louisville, Indianapolis, Philadelphia…wherever.
Late one lonely night, a friend texts me about ‘Dying Star’, Ruston Kelly’s new album. I was unfamiliar. But on this cold night, I laid with the blanket over my head and the third track played. I’m the son of a highway daughter, born in gasoline. A shot of lightning went down my spine. I text my friend back something like “track three… Oh. My. God.”
Yeah, I’m always dramatic.
The song went on. He was confessing. He was coming to terms with who he was. He was full of regret. He was retracing his steps, trying to find his fatal error. He was lost.
It was real and perhaps simply a consequence of when and the state of my mind when I heard it. But there was something in the subfrequency, the subconscious of the song that rang true with me. It was a surrender. It was a resting place. A place of reflection, of hope. A place of forgiveness. There was a broken spirit in the song that was ready to rise again. That was me at that time.
I had asked the universe to steer me in the right direction. I opened my heart like a sail and like John Locke banging on the hatch door (sorry if you’ve never seen Lost), I was screaming “what am I supposed to do!” This was the answer, well it was a … please hold. It was a regaining of faith. That town kept calling me.
I felt magic in my soul again. I had hope. I was older and wiser, I had a better idea of what I wanted. I’m closer to my path than I ever have been.
I firmly believe, that music is magic. If my life was absent these songs, it would be completely different. These five, in general, really stick out as gateways, living a breathing entities in my life. Gates that must be passed before I reach the Southern Oracle, roadsigns directing me in the direction of my gut, my spirit and purpose. The deep parts that are hard to see when you’re “in it”.
Music is a mirror when you don’t know who you are.