Saturday, January 23, 2010

A perceptive take on popular song I recently read is that it serves as a filter on life. A broad statement that can be applied to any art form, but there are at least two reasons it's a valuable way to think of popular song. First, the music lends itself so easily to subjective interpretation, because it is explicitly designed to be a visceral experience; once one responds instinctively, there's no chance that the reaction of any two people will be the same. Second, as a consequence of the first, this filter is much stronger than with the other arts. I wrote earlier about poetry serving as a magic incantation of sorts, a series of powerful invocations that help one in times of duress. One can say much the same thing with popular song, except that it doesn't just come to one's aid: it actively changes one's perceptions of everyday life*. Indeed, it's not clear that there's any deeper meaning to a lot of songs or albums that I like. A lot of times there are just phrases, snippets that speak to me, and the feelings they induce are quite likely not what the artist had in mind when recording it. Again, not particularly surprising - true of poetry, for example - but popular song in general doesn't have the level of intrinsic complexity of poetry, so one is left wondering why exactly it is so pleasing. A lot of times it's the feel of the music, the expression of a feeling that you can't get anywhere else; not through books, film, nor instrumental music. I don't know if it's all about Soul, but certainly the mode of expression is essential to understanding the music.

* Of course, I don't mean to suggest that it must act as a filter on your life, whether you like it or not, but I like the sound of the idea, and I feel like it's accurate in describing my own experiences.

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