By Abhishek Shibu
What is it about musicians that make them impervious to the conventions of life? How is it that raw passion denies all established laws even at the peril of being ostracised? Not just a blatant disregard to the rules but a forceful symbol of dissent wrapped in melancholic riffs which have the ability to pierce through the social and philosophical facade and present to the world bare, naked and unmitigated truth. It doesn’t concern itself with political correctness or even karmic retribution. What is it about musicians? They flow like a young, exuberant river – ready to swallow anyone that should come its way. Simon and Garfunkel envisioned a culture where “people (are) writing songs that voices never share; and no one dares disturb the sound of silence.” This article is a humble attempt to reflect on that passion expressed in secular songs and see if there are any answers to the deep and disturbing yearnings of these flamboyant hearts.
Take for example the heartthrob of the 90s and king of blues, Sir Eric Clapton. Even at the pinnacle of his success, he was engulfed by his demons and given to chronic alcoholism and substance abuse. But with the birth of his son, he found a reason to live – to fight. It took him four years after Conor’s birth to stop running from his responsibilities. Finally, he decided for good, that he will embrace life for the sake of his son. A few days after his decision, Conor accidentally falls from the 53 rd floor of a hotel. By the time the doctors reconfigured what was left of his face, his mother said that it did not look anything like her lost son. Clapton was torn and went into a long period of depression with the first year being the toughest. What does a father do when he loses his child? What does anyone do when suffering, pain and injustice stare at us right in the eye. How are we supposed to respond when children are washed up on seashores and fathers have to tell their kids,“ everything will be alright” as they hide them in helpless arms through their last breaths? Coldplay captures this beautifully, “When tears come streaming down your face/When you lose something you can’t replace/When you love someone but it goes to waste/Could it be worse?” In that period of gut-wrenching pain, Echkhart Tolle’s ‘NOW’ was rendered powerless; Byrne’s ‘SECRET’ was out; and clearly Deepak Chopra’s ‘Quantum Healing’ doesn’t work in the macroscopic world. Clapton could have easily slid back to his substance abuse but he chose to pick his guitar. One year later he stuns the world with his song that goes on to win three Grammys including song of the year. Clapton finds consolation in the idea that, “Beyond the door/There’s peace I’m sure/And I know there’ll be no more tears in heaven.” But even when he’s singing this, he is wondering if with the life he has led, will he ever get to go to heaven and see his son one more time. Is there any hope, mercy and healing to real pain that eats us alive behind our walls of pretend security?
Shelby Lynne wrote a song back in 2001 that can be best described as a ballad of a loving God to his ailing people. ‘Wall in your heart’ begins by accepting the reality of pain and while cautiously leading in with a harrowing D minor, goes on to ask, “What happened to you? I can’t get to you ‘cause there’s a wall in your heart”. Lynne reflects the hurting heart of a father that says, “I know your soul/Just come here to me/I’ll let you run through me/’Cause there’s a wall in your heart that no one can get through/It’s cold and it’s dark and you don’t have a clue/But this wall will fall (even) if it’s the last thing I do, I’ll get through this wall”. How aptly has Lynne captured the essence of love. That it will stand as a bridge over troubled waters if that’s what it takes to bring you back and heal you. It won’t deny the fact that you suffered and discredit pain itself as a ‘state of mind’ or ‘mirage’ but it sees a weary soul, a burdened heart and just sits awhile with him. However, Lynne doesn’t stop here. She proceeds to sing these beautifully hopeful lines, “And I’ll find a way to mend your broken pieces/We’ll hold hands and be friends until the end, and our love will be forever”. In just one song, she has challenged the best of the post-modern ideas. She did not just accept the reality of pain but speaks about love, the sacrifice that comes with it, hope and healing.
But even if the walls were to break down, how does one come to grips with one’s past? Who will give fathers like Clapton, the mercy to forgive themselves? Linkin Park plates this crisis in their song ‘What I’ve Done’.“I’ve drawn regret from the truth of a thousand lies/So let mercy come and wash away what I’ve done.” This poignant idea of submission and accepting mercy resonates in even Creed’s ‘Arms wide open’, “I close my eyes and begin to pray, then tears of joy stream down my face.
With arms wide open under the sunlight, welcome to this place, I’ll show you everything.” Dream Theater in their hauntingly-piercing song ‘Hymn of a thousand voices’ talks about how from every corner people with doubts and pain, with tired but true hearts, come together to sing a symphony for their saviour. They speak of mercy and grace, which pulls the choir “out of the darkness into the light” and “unbind the chains of endless sleep”. Did someone say Metal is just noise? Sufjan Stevens in ‘Casimir Pulaski Day’ sings about his girlfriend whom he lost to leukaemia. In an acoustic soliloquy he remembers holding her body the winter March morning she died. For a brief second he thinks he can still see her breathe but he knows she has gone. Buddha was right! Attachment is the cause of pain. But detachment is rejecting life itself. He looks towards the window through the eyes of pain and hopelessness and sees Jesus staring back at him. Stevens notices his scourged face and can’t help but wonder at “all the glory when he took our place”. He feels Jesus taking him by the shoulders and shaking his face. He ends this riveting rendition by remembering how on the cross, Jesus takes all of his sufferings and gives him a hope to live and love.
How refreshing to realize that it was on an old splintered cross, we see hope, mercy and healing in the face of pain and death. Coldplay puts it as, “Lights will guide you home/And ignite your
bones/And I will try to fix you”. What they are saying is Lights (truth) will guide you to safety and reignite the passions in your heart. And only then will you be healed of your sorrows. Well, John just puts it simply as, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.”
This article by Abhishek Shibu was published in Engage issue dated July-September 2017.
Abhishek has done his integrated M.Sc. in Nanoscience and Technology and is currently a researcher working on development of advanced materials in nanotechnology.