You cannot discover a great new song until you find yourself in a situation that needs definition. What do you think about that? First, let’s define the term Great Song as it is to be understood for this exercise. I’m talking about those songs that just, ugh, hit you right there. These aren’t songs you hear and sing along to a few times. These aren’t songs that you buy on iTunes at 1am because the chorus is in your head. These songs are true mixed tape fodder; these songs are part of you. These are songs that just come together—lyrics, instrumentation, melody—it’s a zen experience.
Great Songs don’t come often, maybe once every year if we’re lucky. The logical reason is just that the chances of someone else’s personal art touching you in such a deeply personal way are so slim that you couldn’t possibly hope to find Great Songs any more frequently. Well fuck logic, because I know the real reason.
One detail of a Great Song is the one lyric where you just stop and say ‘Yes. They get it’. Whatever is going on in your life, this song says it more eloquently than you even knew was possible. Coincedence? Nah, it’s projection. If there’s nothing going on in your life, you aren’t looking for words to describe it.
Great Songs can be happy, like that song that still reminds you of first love (I’m ashamed to say it’s What It Takes by Aerosmith for me) or heartbreaking, like the song that reminds you of a lost love (Black Muddy River by Grateful Dead, lay off me I’m from a small town). It doesn’t matter what emotion you’re feeling, just that you’re really feeling it hard. You’re searching for reason, for support, for anything that will make it easier to understand. Where do you find it? In music. Are you pinning for a girl that doesn’t love you back? Ryan Adams knows your pain. Do you feel like you made a mistake you can never take back? If Johnny Cash gets it, how bad can it be?
I think this phenomenon is what gets all of us into music in the first place. Those first new experiences convince you no one else has ever felt like this ever in the history of all feelings people have ever had ever. Then there’s that Great Song. We all have a first great song. I don’t even remember what mine was helping me figure out, something ineffable, but I remember how I felt that first time I heard R.E.M. sing Strange Currencies.
What’s sad for me is that the older we get, the fewer new experiences we have. We still fall in and out of love, we still suffer losses and celebrate victories, but a truly new sensation becomes rarer and rarer. Does that also mean that the chance of discovering these Great Songs goes down proportionally?
I wrote that last paragraph and hit the wall. “Shit”, I said, “is that what’s going to happen? Because that’s pretty dark.” Then I asked Drew what he thought. Then, much like a Great Song, he nailed it—articulating what I was thinking more succinctly than I was capable of. It’s not that we stop having first experiences as we get older. It’s that we have the same experiences slightly differently each time. Each variation adds details we haven’t seen before. Details that need definition. What will define those definitions? Looks like we’ll need some more Great Songs.