Meaning in Art: Our Personal Relationship with our Favorite Songs.
At the most fundamental level, the songs I listen to are about feeling; music and emotion go so fittingly hand in hand. It’s art, and there’s this weird feature of our interaction with art in that it is meaningful to us, individually. As I ponder this, however, I ask myself this question about who brings meaning to the piece. Sometimes a song is given an agenda overtly by the hand that penned it. We can look at examples like “7even” by Andy Duguid and Jaren or “Still Holding On” by Conjure One and Aruna to see this in action. Oftentimes, songs have lyrics that are laden with meaning that is transparent to us. The rare songs that move me most, however, are the ones that come into my life and are open to the interpretation of each person who hears it.
Andy Duguid Ft Jaren – 7Even
Conjure One feat Aruna – Still Holding On (Original Mix) [WITH COMMENTARY]
To me, it means one thing, it feels one way. Maybe my heart soars and I can feel the sunshine of Summer 2012 on my skin again or smell the rising breeze coming off the Mediterranean. Maybe with these sounds I can just barely feel the chill of the February air on my skin and the anticipation burning inside me as I stand outside, in line, to see on of my favorite artists of all time. Whatever that feeling is for me, it’s mine. It’s my own time past that I am finding inside this piece of art that was created by another human being with no knowledge of my history and that’s its beauty.
These thoughts are coming to me on the eve of a concert by Alesso because I’m thinking so deeply about my relationship with the song “City of Dreams”. I know that when I hear this song it’s just going to lacerate me emotionally and I’m wondering why that’s so exciting to me. It’s because feeling is the most human thing we can do and I feel so fortunate to be able to feel so strongly, so alive in the moment, when I am interacting with this art. I know I’ll look around me, and everyone else will be having their own personal experience with this music and sharing it as a group at the same time.
It took me a long time to understand why I love this song so much because translating emotion to language is a time-consuming task. But I think I’ve finally figured out why I relate so strongly with this song. It has literally nothing to do with what Alesso or Dirty South originally wrote this song about. I have no idea what the meaning of this song is to the artists behind it and I have no desire to know. Knowing would almost sour the experience of it for me because I’ve brought my own interpretation to it that connects with my history and my life. It lets me feel alive in my own story.
I’m not even sure if I know that the lyrics in my head are 100% correct but it doesn’t matter when you understand that the experience of the song is your own. The way the song is to me is mine, it’s beautiful and sorrowful all at once:
City Of Dreams (Original Mix) – Dirty South & Alesso Ft. Ruben Haze
Everything seems like a city of dreams,
I’ll never know why,
But I still miss you.
There she’s standing in a field of lights,
I close my eyes,
And I still miss you.
Whoa oh oh, Whoa
I still miss you,
Whoa oh oh, Whoa
I still miss you,
That’s it. Those are all the words in the entire song. These lyrics are full of pain: “I still miss you” regardless of how hard I’ve tried to get past it. With the word “still”, it says “I’ve had time to heal and I don’t understand why I still feel the pain of this wound after so long”. At the same time, the music is so uplifting and joyful that it seems to contradict the tone of the lyrics but this is where I find my own meaning in the song. As the energy of the song rises, the voice of Ruben Haze in unison with our own voices singing along, gain in strength as we continue to cry out “I still miss you”. The song is written in a major key (E Major) and this gives it a sound that is uplifting and happy. As we are filled with joy, we cry out “I still miss you” stronger and stronger until the song finally explodes into the drop. What can we make of this dichotomy of emotion?
To me, the simultaneity of this pain and joy is about how we heal from the wounds of the heart. This song is life. At first, we hurt but as we heal we feel joy once again. The words “I still miss you” transition from our lament to our source of strength. The song changes from this brief moment of despair and it erupts with the fire of our vitality. Where we once felt pain from our loss, we replace this same pain with newfound joy and we are healed. In my mind, after the storm, I realize that it is ok to miss the person that I once knew and I feel grateful to have felt this happiness at all.
This is the power of the personal meaning in art. As I listen to this song in a crowd of smiling faces, we all sing out the words of our own nostalgia (which, along with shame, is the most powerful emotion). Whoever or whatever it is that you miss, you fly on the wings of these chords and are transported back to that time where you were so full of joy and feel it again in the briefest space of 6 minutes and 40 seconds as that song plays. You sing and you dance and you feel and this reminds you that you are alive and you’re going to be ok.
So what is your story? How do you connect with your music?
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