As I wasn’t blessed with enough talent to be one, I’ve always kept a special place in my heart for musicians. It’s part envy, of course—a friend lent me his guitar for three years, at the end of which I still couldn’t play “Happy Birthday” —but also great admiration for the way a song can capture the mind and lift the soul in a way words alone can’t.
Since I don’t get to read much for pleasure, I write for a living (i.e. sit in seclusion for most of the day) and need something beside the 13 or so cups of black coffee I drink every day to keep me going. My twin life-savers—my iPod and satellite radio—are, by necessity, never far out of reach. I’ve built enough of a collection over the years that there’s something for every moment including the more-than-occasional need for a lift, a breather or a (non-caffeinated) jolt.
In my first “Almost Holy” column, I wrote that Jeff Buckley’s rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” is my favorite hymn. A couple weeks after that, I was asked in an interview to offer the song most descriptive of this moment in my life. As my work keeps ratcheting up and I find it increasingly difficult to keep up with everything, it wasn’t hard to blurt out Guns N’ Roses’ “Welcome to the Jungle.”
While the new releases from The Roots, Pete Yorn and our own resident rock-star, BH Editor-in-Chief Bill McGarvey head up my current listening docket, to kick off the “Spiritual Soundtrack” series I’m going to throw out some other tried-and-true favorites.
The Killers—“All These Things That I’ve Done” This is one of my “going into battle” tunes, just something that gets me pumped before writing, heading out, making an important call; an ode to keeping on, and keeping up.
Ben Harper—“Blessed To Be A Witness” I once hated Harper, until seeing him in a studio session. Walked out sobbing – and a lifelong fan. Anyone who can write a song about the statue of “Christ the Redeemer” atop Corcovado Mountain in Rio de Janeiro as beautiful as this is pure genius.
Fiona Apple—“Across the Universe” Call me obtuse – I never really got into the Beatles until hearing Apple’s cover of the Let It Be track which, in many ways, is more beautiful than the original… Sure, she may be given to emotional outbursts at her shows (as I witnessed over the summer), but I knew the lyrics better than the material for an Astronomy exam I was made to endure in college. I tried to sub the former for the latter and, as my transcript reflects, didn’t get any extra credit for it.
Ray LaMontagne—“Trouble” I have a funny feeling that, if I ever get to meet Him, the voice of God would bear a strange resemblance to LaMontagne’s…
Better Than Ezra—“Closer” BTE frontman Kevin Griffin wrote this one about the emotional tumult of being a new father. Listening to it reminds me that it’s an experience I won’t be prepared for for quite some time.
Tracy Chapman—“Change” A friend who used to live near the soul-rock icon in San Francisco once told me that she’d always be on the lookout for “Tracy Chapman sightings.” And who could blame her? When Chapman asks “If you saw the face of God and love, would you change?” it reflects a key lack of our times – too many of us are too set in our ways, too much of the time. If nothing else, faith is an openness to change; it’s good to know that someone’s preaching that.
Martin Sexton—“Glory Bound” After listening to him for five years, I finally got to see Sexton live last month. Predictably, it was the closest thing to a tent revival I’ve ever experienced as, like Buckley, the term “hymn” applies to much of his work. This song’s one of those, about the leap of faith and, to put a theological spin on it, the sacrifices of saying “yes” to one’s vocation.
Iron & Wine—“The Trapeze Swinger” This song has the most evocative imagery of heaven, love, everything, I’ve ever come across… Observant readers will remember I quoted it in the profile that kicked off this column. Oh, and please play this at my funeral.