As much as I hate this whole movement of list news (Doesn’t “15 Reasons We Should Ban the Death Penalty” just feels like lazy writing?), I also am big into self discovery, and lists are an easy way of showing that. I love the idea of knowing who you are a person; carefully curating all the bits of life around you to represent your true personality. Oh it gets me so excited! I don’t really think it’s something you can accomplish or finish. We are all changing all the time, but it’s fun to check up with yourself and see what has really made an impact on your life. Obviously a major influence on one’s personality is music. There’s so much beauty being written right now, I am constantly being drawn to the blending of poetry and sweeping melodies. And suprise suprise, two of the three of these songs are from musicals. I’m a sucker for story and music. So without further adieu, here are songs that have serenaded my soul, comforted me during creative blocks, and consistently give me chills.
1) Move On, Stephen Sondheim
Sunday in the Park with George
I have included a bit of dialogue here because it’s just such a beautiful interaction. You dont really need to know much about the plot, other than a former muse is visiting her lover/artist again, encouraging him to continue to write. I think this is such a meaningul songs for those who create. This song reminds me that I have something to say, and that it’s natural to feel stuck about how to say it. I listen to this whenever I have a creative block. Everyone faces moments of disillusionment, and this song encapsulates those moments beautifully.
“I’ve nothing to say // You have many things // Well nothing that’s not been said // Said by you though, George.” I swear I’ve written “Not by you though, George” in every notebook I have. I feel like a lot of artists face that roadblock, “Everything has been done, so why do it again?” but it hasn’t been done or said or created by you yet! What an inspiring idea. The lyric “Look at what you want / Not at where you are / Not at what you’ll be.” has become my life moto. Look at the core of your desire, not how far you have to go to get there and not the kind of acclaim you’ll possess when you arrive. This song just feels like a beautiful benediction over a creator: Give us more to see.
2) Being Alive, Stephen Sondheim
Oh man, what a musical. In a nutshell, this song is about the struggle to find meaning in marriage. This character, Robert, is coming to terms with his desires and needs. Ugh, the beauty! There is so much depth to every Sondheim musical that I’m sure this song means different things to different people. While I personally have a tendency towards cynicism of marriage, on a larger scale this song is about community as well for me. It’s so easy, in an act of self defense, to focus on the pain of sharing a life with someone and forget about the immense benefits. It vocalizes all my gripes with marriage and community, “Someone you have to let in / Someone whose feelings you spare / Someone who like it or not / Will want you to share / A little a lot” while giving the reassuring, albeit harsh, advice of married friends (My favorite of this back and forth is, “Don’t be afraid it won’t be perfect, the only thing to be afraid of really is that it won’t be.”). This cynicism though is Robert’s last defense, we see this switch in the middle of the song. He realizes that this type of communion is what he desires, what he needs. This song puts me in the right mindset, it reminds me that the benefits of community greatly outweigh the risks or inconveniences. It truly is “much better living it than looking at it.”
3) Salvation Song, The Avett Brothers
This is a more recent addition to the list, and it’s representative of a band that is really meaningful to me. With moving to a new city I have taken lots of rides to get to know the area more. On my first drive to the coast I put this beautiful CD in for a listen and had tears on my face after this moving song. The Avett Brothers have always been favorites of mine, but the more I focus on their lyrics the more respect I have for the group. Their poetry and melody is inpirational on both an artistic and human level. I want to frame every line of theirs to look at and enjoy. “We came to break the bad / We came to cheer the sad / We came to leave behind the world a better way” Come on? Does it get better than that? It makes me want to live this new phase of my life purposefully and intentionally. I love songs that bring positivity into the world. There’s a line from the movie Renoir where the title character says “There are enough unpleasant things in the world. I don’t need to create more.” In such a negative world it means a lot to me to consume a bit of positivity through the music I listen to.