05 October 2009

Connect the Music

I had some wonderful inspiration for a post today in the form of a song I listened to on the way to class.

In the morning it's usually difficult for me to hear anything besides the running water in the bathroom as I get ready for the day and possibly the humming of the heat if it's cold enough. Today, on the other hand, I decided to actually hook up my iPod and try to get in a lively mood before my first class. John Mayer was my go-to voice for this occasion.

Now, you know that I love John Mayer but oftentimes I'm asked to explain what it is about Mayer that makes me so happy. Is it that I can relate to his lyrics? Do I think he's "hot"? Maybe my friends are into him? Well none of these are applicable in my situation and until today I don't think I had a solid answer.

Typically I'm all about sharing musical experiences with other music lovers and coming together as one to appreciate a sound we're all obsessed with but sometimes there's no good explanation for why a particular piece of music evokes a feeling in you and might not in someone else. Putting on the song "I Don't Trust Myself (With Loving You)" this morning, I was somehow brought back to the first time I heard the song and how much it meant to me. I had just bough Mayer's album Continuum (on the day it came out of course) and I hadn't heard any of the songs on it save for the single, "Waiting on the World to Change" and the John Mayer Trio version of "Vultures". I didn't know what to expect but the built up anticipation and near anxiety I was going through waiting to hear it for the previous couple months had come to a head and I was prepared to give it my complete attention.

I put the cd in the player and sat back on a white leather chair in my bedroom waiting the final seconds for the sounds to begin. "Waiting on the World to Change" was first and that was fine. It set the mood. Then "I Don't Trust Myself" was next and the opening chords blew me away. I remember thinking it was everything I was looking for in a song - the way someone might feel when they think they've found the right partner - it was everything I never knew I needed. Jazzy, sexy, slinky, tight beats, sparse drums, the lead guitar part that is more melodic than our greatest vocalists, the emptiness of a song that says so much but mostly in your mind... with the music more than the lyrics.

In the days after this discovery, I would play this song while putting on my shoes, while writing, while playing with my cat ... anything. I always wanted to hear it. It took me to a world I wanted to be in. It was my key into a Manhattan penthouse with slate gray walls and luxurious Armani furniture. It was not superficial though. It was the feeling all of these images evoked for me. I have always been in love with modern, sexy, cool jazz sights and sounds. I know the tabloid's "John Mayer" isn't known for this specific vibe but my John Mayer unconsciously achieves this since his first album and beyond. "Neon" on Room For Squares was the same thing. That songs still skips on my original cd version because of my repeat playing habit since I was - oh - 15? Now that I'm quite a bit older, it has come to my attention that I came of age to Mayer's voice and music. He is an old, trustworthy friend that keeps me company and makes me less afraid to face the world when his voice is reassuring me through my headphones.

I don't take this for anymore than it's worth though. It is "just" music and I get that but it means the world to me. There's not too many things you can rely on in this world and I consider myself lucky to have one constant that has stayed by side through thick and thin, high school, West Virgina, college, break-ups, get-togethers, etc. What a gift.

While I still deeply, deeply love the New York jazz sound I feebly tried to explain above, as I get older, I get a little more jaded and rough around the edges. Sometimes the old standbys don't work anymore and that's when I find music that not only soothes my soul but changes it - The National.

The National is the only other music I've come across at exactly the right time and I strongly believe it changed my outlook on life, love, logic, etc. It transformed me if you can possibly imagine one single band doing that. Like Mayer, Matt Berninger's voice was a beacon of light. It just clicked instantly. And strangely, unlike Mayer where the sound of his sparse music felt immediately recognizable to me, it was The National's strange, deep emotional context and connection that got inside me. It was the exact opposite of what I was loving about John Mayer and it set up the foundation of a maturity in my own life that was beginning to grow.

I would love to hear other people's stories of music helping their evolution as a person too but I guess I'll have to wait to until I can do some real research.

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