Music has the power to stir the soul. A song can change our mood, can push our emotions to new heights. Never is that more true than during those times where we are already emotional, whether from joy, grief, or somewhere in between. I’m often moved to tears by music, and I feel that everyone should admit, at least to themselves, that it’s possible for them to feel the same.
Over the past few years, I have shared some of my favorite songs, albums, and musical stories on this site. On this dark night (I write this shortly before 1 AM) I would like to do so again, but this time for a different purpose. I don’t intend for you to listen to these four songs because I said so. No, I’m telling you that a day will come when they will be played for me, and I won’t be there to listen. Whether the time until that day is best measured in months or decades, I can’t say. I know that they have summoned some of the strongest emotions I’ve ever felt, so I want them to be heard at the one time I’m certain people will be emotional because of me.
These are in no particular order. I know they also don’t exactly go together, but I’m a complex man. I have many facets. Not all of them meet at straight edges.
Avantasia – “Cry Just A Little” (Youtube link)
One of my favorite bands, and one of my favorite stories told through music. I’ve talked about The Scarecrow before, and I devoted considerable space to this song. But that’s because it deserves every word of praise I can give. It’s hard to do a metal ballad right. It’s even harder when that ballad also has to tell the story of a man rejected by society and willing to sacrifice his very soul for one shot at the life and love he dreams of.
The nameless protagonist begs not to be loved—he believes himself unworthy of that—but simply to be acknowledged. Why don’t you at least lie and say that you care, or that you even know I’m there? Believe me, I’ve been there many times. I don’t believe in the existence of demons or devils, unless you count the evil men and women of the world. There have been times, though, that I wished I did, if only to make the same offer of myself.
It’s not about love or fame or wealth. It’s about being remembered. It’s about having someone who cares enough to remember you. Too many people don’t have that, and I often wonder if I’ll number among them when the time comes.
Breaking Benjamin – “Dear Agony (Aurora Version)” (Youtube link)
I specify the Aurora version of this song solely because of Lacey Sturm’s angelic vocals. “Hauntingly beautiful” is a phrase I use too often, but it’s very appropriate here.
Again, I’ve mentioned this song before on here. I’ve used it as a post title, added in the lyrics, and referenced it multiple times. I’ve dreamed myself and the woman I love singing it together. That’s how much it has affected me in the scant two years since its release.
I live each day in pain. I have for years. I don’t always let it show. Even my closest loved ones never know the true extent of it, because I learned long ago that few people want to hear about depression, and even fewer want to help in a way that relieves the agony for one precious moment.
A song about fighting with each breath until the pain finally does stop, until you reach that final moment where you know you’ll never have to feel again, that speaks to me. Coming from an evangelical family, I often heard my elders say of the dead, “At least he’s not hurting anymore.” As a child, I never truly understood that. As an adult, I certainly do.
Anders Osborne – “Higher Ground” (Youtube link)
To speak further of pain, this song might be that feeling personified. The last time I listened to it was in January 2014, the night my cousin died. To this day, I can still recall the anguish of that cold, dark evening. I couldn’t bear to look at him, so I stayed with my grandmother. I locked myself in her bedroom, threw my headphones on, queued up Black Eye Galaxy, and just cried.
The singer was dealing with addiction (probably heroin, considering “Black Tar” is the name of another track); that’s what the whole album is about. But the message of this closing track is universal. We all want to find that higher ground, that way of rising above the aches and pains of earthly living. For those of us who aren’t religious, it’s much harder. We lack the comfort and certainty that come with faith. We can’t be sure, and that’s scary.
Once again, I have to refer to my family. As far as I can tell, none of them have ever had to struggle with that kind of doubt, and that means it’s something I can’t share with them. I can’t talk about it to those I’ve known the longest, because we’re so far apart on the matter that we just talk past each other. And that only feeds into my perception of being alone. In this case, I really am.
Allman Brothers Band – “Will The Circle Be Unbroken (Live)” (Youtube link)
Despite what you might think, this is technically not a religious song; it was originally written for a secular purpose, and the religious trappings were added later.
I’m a Southern man. Always have been, always will be. And this is a Southern anthem, part of that collective unconscious we share as a culture. Especially when it’s performed by one of the culture’s greatest acts.
Really, what else is left to say? I love who I am, where I live, the people I’m able to call neighbors. There’s no other part of the country or the world that I’d rather make my home. While I can’t share in every part of what it means to be a Southerner, this is a common ground, a place in the middle where I’m willing to meet. And it encompasses all of the themes I’ve been trying to speak here. The pain, the grief, and the hope of something better for someone, if not myself.
We all need to let these things out from time to time. For me, music gives voice to the thoughts I find so hard to speak. I want that to be true for as long as I live, and even beyond.