If you ask ten people what the musical “Rent” is about, you’ll get fifteen answers. It’s about artists, La Boehme, struggling, succeeding, love, AIDS, death, life, giving up, trying again, moving in, moving out, and Idina Menzel before she sang “Let it Go” – but mostly, it’s about a year – and the many ways we can measure it. Here’s a flashback (since the title made you start singing the song anyway):
Minutes may be the way we measure time, but each of us has our own way to measure life. Some measure through the growth chart of their children (then grandchildren) scratched on a wall, others measure it in billable hours. Music lovers remember the year with songs (Shake it off!) and readers mark life with the New York Times Bestseller List (Gone Girl). T.S. Eliot famously measured his life in coffee spoons.
I measure my year, in fact – my life – in words. Happy words, holy words, healing words, hopeful words. When I die, I want a memorial that looks like an old school McDonald’s sign – only with a writing quill instead of a heart-clogging M, and the tagline: “Over 1 million words said.” In my world there is the best word, the right word, and the first word I come up with. I am frequently guilty of accidentally blurting the latter before the former can be found. Sorry about that.
As we pack up 2014 and set up 2015 (Maybe that’s why I don’t like New Year’s very much – it’s a lot like moving) – let’s invest in a few good words.
Courage – Jump, both feet, into the things that scare you the most. Take apart the roadblocks in your life – even if it requires the same care as defusing a bomb. Stand up to the things that bully our world – be they people, systems, powers or simply stupid thoughts.
Justice – Defend the innocent, find the guilty accountable, uphold the rights and responsibilities of citizens, law enforcement, banks, leaders, followers and lovers. Stop howling for blood, start working for good.
Peace – Start with yourself. Start with your heart. Peace isn’t a thing we achieve, like a diploma. It is way that we live, that we see, that we breathe. Take peace out of the “pretty concept” aisle of your internal grocery store and place it in the hardware section – it’s a tool. Own it. Use it. Maintain it. Daily.
Hope – Have hope that is active, not a dream. When you plant a seed in the ground, you can’t dig it up every day to see if it’s growing. You must acknowledge it is currently covered in dirt and hope someday it will grow. You do things – water, nutrients, sunlight – because those are part of hope, too. In time, it will sprout. Don’t just look our dirt encrusted world and shrug. Do the work of hope – water it with generosity, nurture it with wisdom, shine light on what needs to change, and transform it.
Love – Do it.
What is 2015 going to be about? It’s about artists, La Boehme, struggling, succeeding, love, AIDS, death, life, giving up, trying again, moving in, moving out, and Idina Menzel singing “Let it Go” (sorry about that, too). It’s about a year. And a chance for more seasons of love.
Leave the mistakes, the grudges, the late night rallies, the fails, and the past in 2014. Take with you the love, the lessons, and the words.
I have the world’s worst taste in music. Don’t take my word for it. Here’s some testimonials: Three years ago a college intern working in our office said to me, “You know, for an older lady – you have the worst taste in music I’ve ever seen.” I didn’t take the intern too seriously because:
- I was 46 at the time.
Then, last year a friend visited us for Thanksgiving. He’s not the kind of guy that’s famous for keeping his opinions on the inside (or even using his inside voice). So, after driving him around over the weekend, he turned my car radio off and said, “All you listen to are ‘bubble gum sluts’.”
I didn’t take him too seriously because
- I know more adults who chew gum than kids.
- The only person’s sex life I care about is mine.
- If Lady Gaga spent all her time on that music just so she could buy some bubble gum, more power to her!
But, yesterday – my own wife, whose opinion I actually do listen to, said with a withering voice, “I wouldnt hear any of these songs if it wasn’t for you.”
So – there you have it. Truth is, I listen to all kinds of music for different purposes:
- Housecleaning: 80’s Music (Madonna has cleaned many a bathtub with me).
- Relaxing: New age-y meditation, instrumentals, Spanish guitar.
- Writing or studying academically – Classical – particularly baroque.
- Writing fiction: Whatever my character would listen to is what I put on.
- Fantasizing I’m a Medieval Queen – Medieval Baebes/Celtic (This takes up a large portion of my day)
- Thanksgiving to New Years: Christmas Music, Baby 24/7.
- Boxing – Rock, harder the better.
- Driving, Exercising, Living, Breathing, Most of the time: Dance, Synthpop, Hip-hop, Pop, Rap, Top 10, etc.
So, yeah. Worst taste ever. Before your write off my musical appetites as apocalyptic – I will say that pop music offers some good life lessons.
Ellie Goulding’s ethereal voice blended with Calvin Harris’ electronic mix skills (I Need Your Love, Outside), Jessie J’s writing, Ariana Grande’s voice and Nicki Minaj’s rap rhythm (Bang, Bang), and of course any song featuring Pitbull (he’s provided a feature line on over 80 songs for other artists) will show you that pop musicians love to flavor their music with other voices.
Collaboration makes songs great because of the diversity found in the music. In Western culture where we are constantly placed in competition and taught to live in a “me first” world, the ability of musicians to work together consistently, and invite differences into the mix is a breath of fresh air. Working together never sounded so good.
- Sampling and Covers
Pablo Picasso famously said, “Good artists copy, great artists steal.” Nowhere does that happen more than in pop music and it’s awesome. I love the music of my teen years (80’s) but I don’t want to live in the past. So, nothing makes me happier than to hear Rihanna’s sample (2006) of the tag line from Soft Cell’s cover (1981) of the Gloria Jones hit (1964) Tainted Love. See – 40 years of music collapsed into one song and I can dance to it.
Sampling and covers not only bring back the good old days – but can make me hear an old song in a new way. I know as part of the GBLT community I’m supposed to adore Elton John (I think it’s in the contract for my lesbian card) – but I’m not a fan. Even the “big songs” leave me a bit cold – except “Crocodile Rock” – I love that song.
One of Elton’s songs I never connected with is “Your Song” although many of my peers adore it. I found it dull, obvious and over-dramatic. Then in 2010 Ben Lovett from Mumford & Sons produced Ellie Goulding’s cover of Your Song and …wow…I finally got that song – better yet – I felt it.
- Name it, Claim it.
As a fiction writer I am always threatening to toss my name into books the way rap singers make sure their name is featured in a song. I can see it now:
Rebecca turned toward Tom, ready to confess the secret she’d kept like a worn penny in her shoe. She gazed into his soft, brown eyes not daring to believe in his forgiveness. “I know I’m not Kellie Schorr,” she said. “But I have something to say.”
Okay, so – maybe not. But I adore the way musicians work their name into things – some well (Nicki Minaj) and some painfully horrible (Jason DeRulo – who finally announced he was retiring from singing his own name). Narcissistic? Yes. But at the same time there’s something encouraging about any artist who says “this is me – this is my work, this is what I do.” Artists sign paintings, writers put their name on the binding and singers get their due as well.
I celebrate diversity and working together, bringing new life into old efforts, and being proud of your creative work. Because when the iPod runs out of power and Pandora is offline – those things will still exist. Music can make us better people – no matter what genre we love.