I must start out by stating the obvious: I am an enormous music snob. I’m sure it’s needlessly so, especially for someone who loves music as much as I do, but it is unfortunately true. I have very specific criteria by which I judge anything I hear. This isn’t unusual, everyone has their own criteria, their own taste upon which they judge music, movies, books and people. Mine’s just sadly more excluding then others while also being far more inclusive than most. It can’t be described or explained, it just is what it is. I have been both lovingly and teasingly chastised for my seemingly arbitrary judgement standards. It is something I have both held onto tenaciously and tried my best to loosen my grasp on. I’m not proud of it, especially in light of my generally broad musical taste and appreciation, but something I have struggled with. How does one reconcile something unexplainably part of them with the logical recognition that it is foolish? I just don’t know, but I am working on it.
Which leads me to the purpose of this post. Several weeks ago I had run out of books that I felt like reading. For one reason or another I have been unable to settle on one book over another for most of the last couple months. I have picked up easily a hundred books and been unable to delve further into them than the first twenty pages or so. I have read a few things, oddly enough they are either incredibly long classics or random things suggested by others, in this time but haven’t fallen in love with anything. Including the book that allowed me to push back the boundaries of my musical judgement a little. I was in a second hand book store looking for an out of print edition of a book that had been suggested to me. When I found out that they didn’t have it I wandered over to the section containing some of my favorite authors looking to pick up anything by them that I’d yet to read. I eventually picked up Songbook by Nick Hornby. Hornby has long been one of, if not my absolute, favorite authors. His voice is well defined, unique, and conversational. Reading his books, for me at least, is like hanging out with a good friend telling you a story. Even his nonfiction is like this, which is what Songbook is. The book is a series of essays on some of his favorite songs and why they are his favorites or how he connects to them. The edition of the book I picked up had some additional material that hadn’t been in the first printing. And it is from this that I found my interest piqued enough to pick up a country album, something that to most who know me will be surprising.
Based on what Hornby wrote about the music, which wasn’t describe specifically, I became curious. I pulled out my phone and opened up my Pandora App and typed in “Steve Earle.” When the music began I wasn’t much impressed. It sounded run of the mill country/rock/pop. Then the next song came on and it was the same sound but by a different artist. I felt let down by Nick and determined to stop listening. Then the next song came on, one which he actually wrote about, and my heart stopped. The song was Galway Girl. It’s not the best song ever but it does have some beautiful mandolin playing and I first heard it last summer in a bar in Ireland standing next to my then fiancé. Then it was played by request by a small Irish band to a crowded room of locals and tourists all hungry for their “Irish experience.” Well they got it that night and so did we. Having heard the song I looked up what album it was on and downloaded it immediately. Was it in someway musical torture? Probably, but good music is good music and I’m not going to run away from that just because it makes me cry.
I’ve listened to the album several times over sense I first got it on my phone and it continues to grow on me and forces me to reevaluate my judgements. Good music speaks to you and some of the best speaks for you. It helps you articulate thoughts or feelings that are too complex or too poignant for you to come to yourself. It enriches those thoughts and feelings that you can come to yourself and adds irrevocably to your life. This is what Steve Earle’s Transcendental Blues album has done for me. It says things to hard for me to say, it lifts my spirits when I need them lifted (which right now is often,) and it had added something beautiful to my life. The lyrics to some of the songs reach right inside my heart and pull out the words that have been trapped by my swirling emotions. It pulls them out and shows them to me so that I can see just what it is I’m feeling when things have become too difficult to look at with any kind of reason or logic. Almost every song on the album has something to say either to me or for me and I wish I could share that, I wish I could pass that along to the person I want most to hear it. I had the opportunity to do so a couple of weeks ago but didn’t and I think I know why. I wanted to hold onto something for myself, something that couldn’t be used to speak to someone else the way I’m sure other things I’ve given probably have been or will be someday. But maybe that’s selfish. Music isn’t meant to be held onto jealously, no expression is, it’s meant to be spread so that it can find a home in the hearts of anyone who will have it.
Regardless of why I Think I didn’t share it, the fact is I didn’t because I didn’t want to expose myself anymore than I already had done. The lyrics would have shown my feelings for what they are better than I had the ability at the time to communicate. And that’s what music does, it exposes you. Whether it’s to yourself or to someone else, it pulls back a curtain inside you and reveals something secret that no one knew was there.
I’ll end this here because I am verging on being overly philosophical and getting away from my purpose (I’ve been doing a lot of both the last couple months and not necessarily here.) Buy the album and listen to it. Look up the lyrics and you’ll see something. Maybe it won’t be what I see and maybe it won’t speak either to or for you the way it does for me. But if you do, you’ll know more about how I’m feeling than most of these posts have shown, more than I have either the strength or ability to articulate myself right now. Especially “Lonelier Than This,” and “Halo Round The Moon.” They’re both beautiful songs that say a hell of a lot for me and hopefully will for you too.
At the end of the day I’ve learned that my judgements need to be less harsh and maybe music isn’t meant to be judged as critically as I have most of my life. Someone tried to teach me that lesson once and maybe because of her, and years of her bringing music to my life I would disregard out of hand otherwise, I may finally be learning that lesson.