Random Thoughts on Music, Wonder and CynicismBy: Matthew Perryman Jones
A few years ago a friend of mine gave me a CD for my birthday. He handed it to me and said, "trust me". The cover was mostly white with what looked like faded inkblots. I barely made out the name scribbled on the front that read "Sigur Ros". I have to be honest, from the first chord I was sucked in. The bending guitar sounds along with the incoherent vocals that sort of float around like a ghost in an empty stairwell resonated with me. There is a transcendence in the music. Some people listen and think it's depressing. I find it inspires me to lend a sharp eye to what's going on around me and to listen more intently. It kind of turns the saturation up on life and widens the lens of perception a little more. I have always liked music that does this.
When I was 14 my musical landscape stretched wide open when I first heard the band U2. This was the mid eighties. Van Halen was still awesome, but when I heard U2 I immediately spit out my bubble gum and started digging into the feast. The music transported me into another world. They were singing about stuff that meant something more than the typical smarmy love songs. I remember going on family vacation and listening to "The Unforgettable Fire". I had it on tape and listened through my Sony Walkman. I would just stare out the car window and let the music pull my insides out. At times I felt like I could burst from the swelling sense of awe. There was something spiritual about it, and by that I mean it awakened the sense that I was more than skin and bone; more than just a teenager trying to figure life out. The conviction and the feeling behind the music seemed to be pointing toward a bigger picture.
I have always been caught up with this notion of a larger story-that life is more than what it seems. To actually live from this perspective causes me to suspend my judgment and to pay close attention to what's unfolding. I don't live this way all the time, but I'm always being brought back to that perspective. There is a sense of wonder that comes with it. Music and other forms of art do the job of helping sustain the capacity for wonder. At least that's the case for me. However, no matter how much one tries to preserve this sense of wonder there are things that work against it and try to kill it. We grow up and become wise to the ways of the world and the skewed intentions of people. We get wounded and jaded. Eventually cynicism seeks to take the place of wonder. Well, for me it has. Everyone's story is different and everyone has a battle to fight.
Cynicism, I have concluded, is nothing more than soul-rot. Our world is full of it. I spent most of my twenties succumbing to it's charm. It seems sophisticated and perceptive. But really it's nothing more than a coward dressed up in a tweed blazer smoking a Peterson pipe. Cynicism is dismissive and disengaged while looking invested and astute. For the last several years I have been fighting this bent to have a clever dismissal for things, people, politics, religion, etc. I have fought to keep the wounds of my past from informing my view on life. I refuse to be the sideline spectator who rests on his vain pontifications about everything that's wrong with the world. There is a lot that is wrong with the world and there is no need to pretend that everything is OK. However, we are made, as Cornel West puts it, to "love our way through the darkness of the world"-this is what I choose to be about.
How does this all tie in? I'm not sure yet. I guess it has to do with the thought behind my latest record, "Throwing Punches in the Dark". The title may suggest something violent and dark, but that's not what it's about....well, not really I don't want to explain everything behind the record. I think it's good to leave some interpretation to the listener. I will say that "Throwing Punches in the Dark" is about a good fight. I think to love is to fight. By now, most of us know that love is not a fluffy fairy tale where everything is easy and pretty. Love is strong and ruddy. It fights for what's good, true and beautiful. There's a lot of resistance toward how things are meant to be. This resistance lives inside of me and that's where the fight starts.
The music that matters to me is the music that insists on the transcendent; that sounds like muddy feet and outstretched arms. If you are what you eat, then this is the stuff I want to feed on. Music has that other-worldly ability to nourish the spirit and enlarge the soul. I'm done with the flimsy cynic seeking to hide himself in the steel armor of pseudo-intellectual babble. I want to hear a voice that sings from the ache of hope and love. I want to feel the swinging of fists through the resistance and despair. In the words of Bruce Cockburn, "got to kick at the darkness til it bleeds daylight". Amen.