Remember driving alone late at night, the soft air drifting in through open windows. You’ve just finished your night—dinner with friends, a great live show, or maybe a fight with your significant other. You’re on your way home or you’re driving nowhere looking only for a new state of mind. And then a song starts playing on the radio and, from the first chords, it’s the right speed, the right sound, the right words. Your world falls away, and you’re living only in the arc of the song.
I’m not able to make music like that. Although I’m the child of a drummer and a singer, I possess little to no musical talent. I can find the beat in a song, but I can’t find pitch or a note on the piano. I’ve had ample opportunity to locate some innate musical skill—sixth grade choir, seven years at the clarinet, failed attempts at piano and guitar. I can plunk out the notes on the page, but I can’t kid myself that I’m making music.
While my parents didn’t pass along their natural facility, they did introduce me to great music. I saw Bruce Springsteen when I was eight, Ella Fitzgerald when I was eleven. John Prine at twelve. The Flatlanders. Steve Earle. Emmylou Harris. I have found the rest of popular music through good friends and good radio (yes it still exists).
So where am I going with this? I may not be a musician, but I’m devoted listener and student of pop music history. Music remains enough of a mystery that I devote time to understanding what makes a song work. What makes it ramble and build, turn and break, resolve. What makes it play in my head long after the album has stopped turning.
The synthesis of sound and verse offers us transcendence, a fleeting moment of clarity derived from but beyond our normal experience. A lyric moment. Let’s take a spin.