Sunday, January 20, 2008

Songs in the Key of Life

I am not a morbid person. That's why I chose to title this post 'Songs in the Key of Life'. And one thing that songs can be, is be a heartfelt sonic tattoo to mark emotions at points in your life. And one of those points, whether we want it to be or not, is dealing with death. Writing songs when you are happy is interesting to be sure, and it lends itself well to bubble gum pop as well as some pretty interesting dance music. But damn, is there a more intense and heartfelt subject of songs to get your emotions flowing more than death?

So what really led to this post was the first song that came onto my iPod today. In the bitter, frigid Manhattan air on my way to the subway was R Kelly's 'I Wish'. This is a pure love/prayer song to his fallen homeboy. What has become a cliche since then, but what can honestly work if done well, is the sensitive thug song. And this song works that genre to perfection. We all know R. Kelly ain't no role model, but back in 2001 this was my favorite song on the radio and these are intense lyrics:

Rollin' through the hood
Just stopped by to say what's up
And let you know
That your baby boy ain't doing so tough

And even though you passed
Going on four long years
Still waking up late at night crying tears
Just thinking about those days
You used to talk to me
Smilin' while I'm sippin' on this Hennesy

And he makes the lyric: "Come on and braid my hair" a gospel, tear soaked vocal straight from a grieving heart begging for salvation. Heady stuff.

It takes two songs to make a trend and the next song on the 'ol iPod was 'Banks Of the Deep End" by Gov't Mule. It's hard to argue that losing a best friend is a damn disaster to bear but adding in that Allen Woody was also Warren's bandmate-in-arms as well in the Allman Bros. and Gov't Mule, losing him had to have left a gaping hole in Warren's heart. What we have from him to commemorate this loss is lyrics like:

You took a wrong turn down by the waterline
I heard they had to drag you off the sand
Find a dune and the wind will miss you
Hold on to a piece of dry land

On the banks of the deep end
Where I lost my best friend
Searching for a reason
To go astray

As dead musicians can't write songs, all of these tunes are written from the survivors perspective. That is why what is such a morbid topic can result in some truly uplifting and spiritual music about soldiering on. To continue the playlist, I have to include such a song, which is another favorite of mine: 'All Things Must Pass' by George Harrison. Hearing him sing it, seeing how he has passed on himself, is even more emotional. I love these lyrics about moving on after death:

Now the darkness only stays the night-time
In the morning it will fade away
Daylight is good at arriving at the right time
Its not always going to be this grey

I also included two more great songs about death: the suicide note inspired 'Adam's Song' by Blink-182 and 'September' by Ryan Adams which has the lyrics:

Doctor's on the phone
Then she hangs up and says
"I ain't never gonna see the winter again"
And I don't know how but she smiles

Again, I apologize for the Tim Burton-esque posting about death, but as music lovers you have to agree that losing someone is as much a source of song writing inspiration as probably any other topic. And thinking about losing someone, which these artists do, really can alert you to make an effort to reach out to those who are still around. Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips says it best in 'Do You Realize?':

Do You Realize - that everyone you know someday will die
And instead of saying all of your goodbyes -
Let them know

You realize that life goes fast
It's hard to make the good things last
You realize the sun doesn't go down
It's just an illusion caused by the world spinning round

I'm not an iMeem expert but I think if you click 'launch standalone player' you get full versions. Anyone else know how to get around the songs that are merely 30 second teases??

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