Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Power of Music

I have always felt that music can provide a powerful experience and can affect our mood, thoughts and emotional state. The music we listen to can also be a way in which we express our beliefs or find messages that resonates with us.

I use music to help me process emotions. When I am sad, sometimes I listen to a sad song to help me “cry it out” or I might choose to listen to a song that makes me happy and takes my mind off of whatever it is that is causing me pain. I use music to set the mood for all kinds of occasions because music is that powerful. As an event coordinator, ambiance is incredibly important and nothing can make or break your event like music can. Need to set the scene for a romantic evening? Music can help you out. Need to get people amped up? Play “Eye of the Tiger” – it works EVERY. TIME. Don’t believe me, click here.  See? You’re already bobbing your head, biting your lip and furrowing your brow.

Rise Against is one of my all-time favorite bands and their music definitely has political messages, ones with which my own political beliefs align. More importantly, their music tells stories that I find significant and not just entertaining.  

If I ever need to get amped about something, I listen to RiseAgainst’s Savior. If I need to get out some anger or go on a run or lift weights, I listen to RiseAgainst’s Prayer of the Refugee. If I need some courage to overcome something daunting, I listen to Rise Against’s Satellite and if I ever need to cry or be reminded of the true cost of war, I listen to Hero of War.

Music is a powerful medium and while some researchers claim that songs don’t contain actual pain, they can evoke that type of emotional response by taking us back to a painful time in our life.

“though the song may not explicitly carry a painful message, the listener might ascribe meaning to it by feeling a sense of identification, or using it as a means to revisit past painful experiences” (Church, Hurts So Good).

While I haven’t personally experienced war, I have a cousin I am really close to who is and has for the last 15 years. I vividly remember the day the first bombs dropped on Baghdad and he had been in Baghdad for six months already. I remember the terror I felt and how sick to my stomach I was. I started to cry as I watched that city being blown apart because none of us knew where he was exactly or if he would be alive later that day. After his first few tours of duty, I was able to see him and he wouldn’t tell me his “real stories” but I could tell that there was more to the stories he was telling us. I could see something in his eyes that I still can’t describe to this day.

I also remember the day I found out that he was being sent home to heal because his Humvee had been hit by a missile while he slept right outside the driver door and shrapnel had torn through his leg. I can still feel my chest get tight when I think about the time he was leading his men on a mission inside a city and they got separated from everyone else due to heavy enemy fire. The best way he could describe it was, “Jess, have you seen Black Hawk Down? Yeah, it was similar to that. Just without helicopters.” He may not resonate with the song “Hero of War” but I think of him whenever I listen to the song and it always makes me cry. I cry because of the innocence that is lost during war. I cry because patriotism for one’s country (anyone not just America) can lead to committing acts that are unspeakable. Lastly, I cry because I can’t imagine the events that happen during war time that can break people’s psyche and send them home a shell of who they used to be.

I am not implying that all service men and women who have seen action have this happen to them but they all experience “something” that changes who they are, their belief system or how they view the world. Nor am I saying that my cousin’s psyche has been broken, because it hasn’t. His experiences have reshaped who he is and how he believes and they have impacted my own beliefs and previously held opinions.

Hero of War is a song that brings all of that to the surface for me and it does so in an unexpected way. The song depicts a young man being recruited to the armed forces with the promise of seeing the world.

He said "Son
Have you seen the world?
Well what would you say
If I said that you could?
Just carry this gun
You'll even get paid"
I said, "That sounds pretty good"

The young man then experiences boot camp and all that comes with it.

Black leather boots
Spit-shined so bright
They cut off my hair
But it looks alright
We marched and we sang
We all became friends
As we learned how to fight

You can feel his patriotism and dedication to his country in the chorus.
A hero of war
Yeah, that's what I'll be
And when I come home
They'll be damn proud of me
I'll carry this flag
To the grave if I must
Cause it's a flag that I love
And a flag that I trust

Then the war becomes real.
I kicked in the door
I yelled my commands
The children, they cried
But I got my man
We took him away
A bag over his face
From his family and his friends

He tries to remain who he used to be but war is starting to change him.

They took off his clothes
They pissed in his hands
I told them to stop
But then I joined in
We beat him with guns
And batons not just once
But again and again

A hero of war
Yeah, that's what I'll be
And when I come home
They'll be damn proud of me
I'll carry this flag
To the grave if I must
Cause it's a flag that I love
And a flag that I trust

Then a moment comes that changes who he is and his entire outlook on war.

She walked
Through bullets and haze
I asked her to stop
I begged her to stay
But she pressed on
So I lifted my gun
And I fired away
And the shells jumped through the smoke
And into the sand
That the blood now had soaked
She collapsed with a flag in her hand
A flag white as snow

A hero of war
Is that what they see?
Just medals and scars
So damn proud of me
And I brought home that flag
Now it gathers dust
But it's a flag that I love
It's the only flag I trust

The recruiter wasn’t just talking about seeing the physical world, he was inadvertently offering the young man a chance to see a different version of reality.

He said "Son
Have you seen the world?
Well what would you say
If I said that you could?"

This post may seem like a diatribe against war but it isn’t. This post is about the power that one song has to make me feel deep pain and sadness about an event that I have only experienced through a loved one. Church’s research subjects explained that they used sad songs in a therapeutic manner. This song serves the same function for me at times when I need to express grief I feel about those immediately impacted by war.

1.     When you are sad, do you listen to sad songs to help you process the emotion or happy songs to help get you out of your “funk”?
2.     Has a song every impacted you, for good or bad, even when you haven’t experienced the specifics of the song?
3.     Do you think music is as powerful as I have made it out to be?

1 comment:

  1. Hi Jessica!

    Wow, that was a powerful music video. I’m glad you provide the lyrics, because it allowed me to further digest the evolution of our song’s hero. I did watch the video, and I can’t undo what I have seen, but I wonder if I would have had as strong of a reaction without the haunting images, relying only on the music.

    Your video reminded me of the reading from a couple of weeks ago concerning the Vietnam War. Many critics argued that what Hollywood distributed was not a true representation of that war. You mentioned that your cousin compared his experience to the movie, Black Hawk Down, but has he mentioned if this music video is an honest portrayal? It was incredibly dramatic; is the change in the soldier often that severe?

    In your questions you mentioned the power of music and the processing of emotion. Interestingly, upon reflection, I can report that music affected much more when I was younger than it does now. The songs I hear from my past can instantly take me back 20 years, but I have no feeling or connection with today’s music on the radio. Perhaps there is a biologic component, that when your brain is flooded with hormones and is still developing, the senses have more strength to leave a mark. Now that my brain is middle-aged and my hormone levels have plummeted (or at least leveled off) music and lyrics don’t stick as much as they used to. Another option? Perhaps stress and my to-do list have displaced my ability to let music sink in. :(