Sunday, 6 September 2015

现实 | Reading between the lines

Posted by: Ryan O'Riordan

Hey. Sorry for the last however many posts' lateness. I bet you can't even remember what it was like to have updates on a Sunday, can you? It was a definitely a simpler time back then, before thunk went through the phase in every movie about music you've ever seen when, intoxicated by their own success, the main character goes crazy. Well, those dark days are behind us now, that's for sure. We've embraced yoga, started studying philosophy and finally paid for all those sports cars that ended up at the bottom of swimming pools. What I'm trying to say is that now we're actually gonna try and post when we're supposed to. We didn't exactly fall at the first hurdle. Maybe it was the third, or the fourth if you're feeling generous.

Anyway, the actual topic of this post is a question that I've been asking myself quite a bit lately: can you really say you love a song without understanding it?

I'd like to stress here that I'm not trying to be elitist or anything. I'm not saying "Ha! These stupid plebs don't even know what their favourite songs are about!" I've just been wondering if someone's enjoyment of a song is, for want of a better word, limited by not understanding it as fully as the artist intended. Surely we've all had "hang on, that song's really about what?" moments. To provide a personal example, take 'Holland, 1945', the song I recommended in my last post. I originally liked it because of how fast paced and catchy I found it. It's basically impossible to not tap your foot from the line:

'One evening, 1945...With just her sister by her side'

However, later on that same week I decided to look up what the song was actually about. I found out that it's part tribute to Anne Frank, part meditation on the effect of the Holocaust on those who survived. So yeah, I suppose it's a little bit heavier than I first thought.

Now that I know how sad and meditative the song actually is, I've been finding it a little bit more difficult to tap my foot to the fast bit, so it's not the fun little tune it was for me last week. However, now I (kind of) understand what the artist was trying to say, I feel like like I'm also able to appreciate it that bit more.

Another song that I'm listening to quite a lot at the moment is 'Fake Plastic Trees' by Radiohead. My love of this song provides a bit of contrast to 'Holland, 1945', because I've known what it's about for a while. If I feel like listening intently, I can enjoy the band's take on the 'Fake Plastic' society that modern capitalism has given to us. When I'm in this state of mind, the lines that stand out are:

'She lives with a broken man... A cracked polystyrene man... Who just crumbles and burns'

It's a harrowing portrait of someone who has become so worn down by the dull stresses of everyday life that he has become fragile and likely to break under the pressure. The fact that he is described as being made out of polystyrene is particularly powerful. It gives us the impression that he is completely artificial, without any human qualities or individuality left.

At other times, though, I'm switched off and I just appreciate it as something to try and sing along to, and break out into a big grin when it gets loud at the end. So far I haven't quite been able to match Thom Yorke's falsetto, but that won't stop me from trying. In this state of mind, the lines that stand out the most are:

'But I can't help the feeling... I could blow through the ceiling'

Partly, this is because I like to interpret it as a positive message at the end of a quite depressing song, a declaration that we can still be individuals in what can sometimes be a rigid society. To be honest though, the main reason these lines stick out when I'm switched off is that they come during the loud section of the song. When you hear them, Thom Yorke kind of shouts and lines come out as:

'But I can't help the FEEEEEELIIIIIIIING... I could blow through the CEEEEIIILIIIIING'

I've always loved songs in which the singer's thoughts when they're writing a specific section seem to be along the lines of: "You know what? I'm just going to fucking go for it".

Seriously. Listen to 'Fake Plastic Trees'. Thank me later.

So, we all know that it's possible to enjoy a song in different ways, both as a thought provoking piece of art and as something to jam out to in the car, or in your room when no-one can hear you. One of my favourite things about music is how subjective it is; I've had great conversations with friends about songs we've both listened to, and the different things we take away from them.

Whereas I look on 'Take On Me' by Aha as the ultimate car karaoke challenge, for you it might conjure up hundreds of precious memories, or be the single most profound thing you've ever heard in your life. To try and answer the question I asked at the start of this post, I think it would be strange to say that one of us enjoys it "more" or in a "better" way than the other. I think it's perfectly valid to have a go at understanding whatever deeper meaning there might be behind a song. By doing so we also gain insight into the thoughts of our favourite artists. However, I think that taking this attitude to the extreme, as with most attitudes, leads to you being not very fun to be around.

Maybe I'm just blinded by my hatred of people who think that all hope for good music died the moment when whoever it's fashionable to hate at that moment started making music, but I think that to say: "I am the music and taste police; you are enjoying this song incorrectly!" misses the point with an awful lot of music. Not all music is intended to be studied, and if artists didn't want at least some of their songs enjoyed superficially, would the chart system exist as it does now?

That last paragraph was a little bit ranty I suppose, but to round off this post... by all means make the effort to take a closer look at songs you like, but don't make "deepness" (or whatever) the sole criteria you judge music by. You can miss out on an awful lot by not being able to see the forest for the trees.

Ryan's listening to: 'Regret' by Everything Everything



Read my previous post here.

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