Written By: Brendan Fitzgibbons
One of my earliest and best memories as a kid is sneaking into my big sister’s room downstairs when she was gone, and diligently combing over, examining and eventually playing all of her CDs. As they sat stacked in what seemed like a never-ending epic and incredibly slick CD tower, I acted like an overzealous archeologist, with U2, Third Eye-Blind, Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston and yes, Snow (cool Vanilla Ice), as the artifacts.
It was thrilling and dangerous, and that’s because your older sibling’s music is like a portal into an unknown universe, where everything’s mysterious, exciting and definitely better than anything you could have possibly known.
Eventually, I made these “borrowed” music sessions into an almost daily ritual, especially when the house was empty. I would sneak off downstairs, grab my sister’s latest and best disc (God bless you Columbia House), rest it gently on the middle of the gaudy CD mount, and let it absolutely rip.
I blasted Dave Matthews Band “Live at Red Rocks,” U2’s “Achtung Baby,” and Mariah Carey’s “Music Box” so much, that I literally burned a hole through them. A fact that my sister noticed in no time, because when she played them, she’d yell from downstairs, “WHY ARE ALL MY CDS SKIPPING????!!!” I tried to reassure her that they were all the exact same CDs, but now just the remix editions.
Looking back on the hundreds of hours I spent ruining my sister’s possessions, I don’t think I was just trying to be her, or that I was simply globing onto to anything that even remotely resembled cool. Ok that was part of it. But ultimately, I think I was doing it because I figured out that music gave me the license to dream.
If dreams are a rocket ship, music is the fuel. Music is an anthem, a party, a reminder, a warning, a release and a welcome home. And fundamentally at the core of all great music, is an aspirational call to reach for a higher, better version of ourselves.
When people talk about pop culture, they often refer to music, movies, literature and TV as “not real,” as if to say we exist in a world where the boundaries between what we hear on Spotify, and the person standing next to them are abundantly clear. The sentiment implies that music is ethereal, illusionary, beamed in from some otherworldly far away place, therefore not real, and your neighbor standing next to you is tactile, material and you can see them, therefore real.
But how can there be ANY separation between these two entities when you cannot have music without the person and the person cannot exist without ever hearing music? What if the whole point of art is remind us that we’re spinning in orbit a thousands miles an hour in a messy, beautiful, scary, hilarious smattering of life that’s amorphous, completely infinite and has no boundaries of any kind.
And when we process pop culture, it doesn’t simply pass through our consciousness like a brief midafternoon rain shower. If that were the case, then why are bros in their mid-30’s still doing Anchorman quotes (other than the fact that they need a Netflix account), or how my grown adult friends still refuse to go in the ocean because they saw Jaws when they were five, or why so many online dating profiles say they’re looking for their “Jim and Pam?”
On our best days, we take the highest ideals in art, especially in music, and use them to be better. When I’m feeling directionless, doubting where my career is going, I watch Glen Hansard scream into the microphone after he broke his guitar from playing too hard, “DON’T GIVE UP. DON’T GIVE UP ON ME!”
When I’m questioning the fact that I’m not on the same life path as nearly all of my friends and family, I listen to Joe Pug say, “So we threw away the atlases, all the heavy ones they handed us, they called us everything but savages, but we found a couple of passages that were ours.”
Or when Frightened Rabbit tells me “make tiny changes to earth,” I remember to maybe smile at someone I normally wouldn’t, give a compliment I’m scared to say, or pick up a piece of trash that wasn’t mine, because these “tiny” things add up to a way better world.
When a relationship ends, I listen to Glen Hansard after Levon Helm died, tell a crowd full of people that when we lose someone, “We don’t lose anything, you gain the best of that person. Because the best of that person you inherited.
On those immaculate days where time stops, I listen to Patti Griffith, who reminds me to enjoy it and that, “All we really have to do is have ourselves a heavenly day.”
Or when I want a lesson on priorities, I remember that I was fortunate enough to go see the last night of Bruce Springsteen’s show on Broadway, where he told a packed house hanging on his every word, that his mom had Alzheimer’s and she often couldn’t remember his name. But she loves music. So whenever his mom comes over, he always makes sure music is playing in the house, and as soon as she steps in the door, she starts dancing.
Bruce Springsteen, one of the most successful artists in history, a man worth millions of dollars and has all the awards one could possibly fathom, then said in one of the thickest silences I’ve ever heard, “These are the things at the end of the day…are all that fucking matter.” He then launched into Dancing in the Dark.
These are not autonomous sentiments that exist outside of us. They are essential lifelines of truth delicately woven into the fabric of our psyches, and when we proudly wear them, they’re shine like a first place trophy for the soul.
So the next time you hear music, I hope it makes you happy, I hope it makes you dance, I hope it makes you kinder, and I hope it makes you better, even if you have to steal it from your sister.