Saturday, December 24, 2011

How Music and Lyrics Saved my Life

I sometimes wonder if musicians, singers and performers know how much of power they have in their hands. I come from a time when there were only 2 TV channels with limited airing time, one English radio channel and Rediffusion, nothing even remotely close to what is known as the internet but arcades which had pinball machines, space invaders and foosball. Some of the best treats I remembered having was to buy a vinyl record only a few months once after accumulating enough pocket money to purchase it. Though my collections were few they were definitely precious. Vinyls was one of those things we used to give as presents on birthdays and celebrations. The thrill of owning a beautifully designed album cover with perhaps only a few songs of your liking was a gift better than anything anyone could appreciate. The idea of getting it home and playing it on the turntable while you sit in the quiet of the room listening to it was just perfect. It was also a time when we could not own, purchase or get every song we listened to because of its availability or cost. In my hometown the record shops had a service, which is now known as piracy, and copy our song selections on cassette tapes for a fee. Other than that the only other way to appreciate songs was from the radio and I always knew when Patrick Teoh, Janet Ambrose, Faridah Merican or Constance Haslam came on air to host my favorite programs. Every Sunday was a feast for the ears because I could spend hours listening to hits from the US, UK and some local favorites. I usually arm myself with a pen and paper to jot down the names of the songs as soon as the DJs read them out and go to the record shop to add them to my collection.

I can still remember the first time I heard ‘Another Bites the Dust’ and how ‘Funky Town’ was a number one hit in both sides of the Atlantic, when two songs with the same title ‘Woman in love’ hit the charts and that one of the DJs used ‘Pilot of the Airwaves’ for her theme song. And on TV my best times were the midnight movies which really did start at midnight or later. I would sneak to the hall and sit as close as I could in front of the TV and watch with the lowest volume so that I won't wake anyone up to chase me back to bed. But as I experienced life and found that I was different from the 'norm' I began to seek for answers everywhere I could find. Along the way, from an innocent kid to one that was filled with depression and confusion, I always went back to the songs to help me get through the day and keep my spirits up. As life got harder for me carry as an adult I drowned myself more into songs and sang along to get the madness out of my system. I guess that is one of the reasons why I love musicals as well because for one they were repeated almost every few months on TV and practically became part of my growing up ritual. And the other thing was the way lyrics were written that seemed to know what I was feeling; like fallinf in love, feeling on top of the world and sticking to one's own beliefs. Once 'I could have danced all night' was my theme song, not because it was a love song but because it was a song of celebration of  life as though one has been given a new lease. To me, it was the kind of song that I would sing when my wish came true, and I did. I still feel that life is a musical whether its a composition from Lerner and Lowe, Rodgers and Hammerstein,Andrew Llyod Webber, Stephen Sondheim, Leonard Bernstein, Cole Porter, Tim Rice, etc.

The thing about liking a song or feeling close to it is the magic it brings at that particular time because it all seem to come togther and make sense. While struggling to get out of myself when I was caught in between worlds I used to sing pretty loudly to Kate Bush's 'Get out of my house' from The Dreaming album aka I've Gone Mad album so says Kate Bush herself. The song was actually inspired by Stephen King's novel The Shining and the lyrics go like this.

(Get out of my house)
No strangers feet
Will enter me
I wash the panes
I clean the stains away.
This house is as old as I am
This house knows all I have done

They come with their weather hanging around them
But can't knock my door down.
With my key I (lock it)
With my key I (lock t)
This house is full of m-m-my mess
This house is full of m-m-mistakes,
This house is full of m-m-madness
This house is full of, full of, full of, full of fight.

It really made me want to kick down the door of existence down and grab it by the throat. The Dreaming is still my favorite beside Hounds of Love, which I used to play full blast on my Walkman while making a deal with God. And it goes like this:

(Running Up That Hill)
It doesn't hurt me.
Do you want to feel how it feels?
Do you want to know, know that it doesn't hurt me?
Do you want to hear about the deal that I'm making?
You, It's you and me.

And if I only could,
I'd make a deal with God,
And I'd get him to swap our places,
Be running up that road,
Be running up that hill,
Be running up that building.
Say, If I only could, oh...

And Cloudbusting always gave me hope.

But every time it rains,
You're here in my head,
Like the sun coming out--
Ooh, I just know that something good is gonna happen.
And I don't know when,
But just saying it could even make it happen.

When CDs started to flood into the market commercially I purchased my very first which was The Best of Pat Benatar. One of her songs was featured in an underrated movie, so I think, which was a box office failure that garnered a lot of negative reviews. But I loved it and after a long and endless search I found it and rewatched it again recently. The movie, The Legend of Billie Jean, had an anthemic song by Pat Benatar call 'Invincible' that served as the music score and eventually built up to the grand finale to a underdog victory a la Joan of Arc.

This bloody road remains a mystery.
This sudden darkness fills the air.
What are we waiting for?
Won't anybody help us?
What are we waiting for?
We can't afford to be innocent
stand up and face the enemy.
It's a do or die situation - we will be invincible.

This shattered dream you cannot justify.
We're gonna scream until we're satisfied.
What are we running for ? 

We've got the right to be angry.
What are we running for when there's nowhere we can run to anymore?
We can't afford to be innocent
stand up and face the enemy.
It's a do or die situation - we will be invincible.
And with the power of conviction there is no sacrifice.
It's a do or die situation - we will be invincible.

Each time I watch this movie I want to scream out and sing along with Pat Benatar and start a revolution. Well, that's saying so much about how songs really influence me. Heart is also my muse, or rather muses since they are Ann and Nancy Wilson. Just listening to their voices is enough for me to get by and believe since the sisters kickass like nobody's business. Whenever I hear their songs like ‘Never’, ‘What about love?’, ‘Alone’, ‘Who Will You Run To?’, and then some I know I can do anything.

Jim Steinmen is so far the one and only songwriter that I love best for his lyrics but I occasionally would buy into a Diane Warren’s compositions. His usual mouthful of poetic verses is quite a challenge to sing but if you love his creation you'd do anything for love.

(Tonight is what it means to be Young)
I've got a dream when the darkness is over
We'll be lyin' in the rays of the sun
But it's only a dream and tonight is for real
You'll never know what it means
But you'll know how it feels
It's gonna be over (over)
Before you know it's begun
(Before you know it's begun)

It's all we really got tonight
Stop your cryin' hold on (tonight)
Before you know it it's gone (tonight)
Tonight is what it means to be young
Tonight is what it means to be young

‘Tonight is what it means to be young’ was featured in the movie Streets of Fire: A Rock & Roll Fable, which again is cheesy and a little out dated but worth a watch.

After having gone through life's many complicated facets with the help of these god-sent angels, I have now mellowed down to Sting, Peter Gabriel, Bryan Ferry, Kim Carnes, Andre Bocelli, Fleetwood Mac and other veteran crooners, although I still get disco (yes I actually like these kitschy songs), new wave, rock, R&B, oldies and instrumentals in my random play. Depending on what I feel like at the moment I could be baptized by ambient music, soundtracks or show tunes and then go on to classical and opera and jump to a completely different genre. The impact of songs is so great I can't imagine a world without them whether they are ridiculous or superficial or morally guided. I'm sure many of us cried our eyes out, danced like monkeys, sang like there's no tomorrow, dedicated songs to each other or made them theme songs in our lives at least once.

If you were an artiste and you know that your songs change lives would you hesitate even for a moment to showcase your best works for the world to hear?

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