For every defining moment in our lives, there’s a song that has served as companion, writes DaniBlog Bowler
On the 30-minute commute from a tiny beach town to a school in the city, there was one certainty: as the radio blared out an endless stream of sounds. I would, at some point, shout: ‘that’s my song.’ My father, having heard this phrase countless times. attached to countless songs, would roll his eyes and respond: ‘every song is your song.’
Years later, sitting in the corner of a London recording studio, I recalled this exchange as I paged through American Music, a book by renowned photographer Annie Leibovitz and musician Patti Smith. The memory was triggered by a statement Smith made in the book’s foreword: ‘We are all Walt Whitman. We all sing of ourselves. The songs we create, which address our own condition, will ultimately sing of another. And another.’
In Whitman’s popular poem, Song of Myself, he writes: ‘I celebrate myself / and sing myself.’ What Patti Smith captured, though, was the universal nature of music – how it stands for so much more than the individual experience. As songwriters draw on their own lives, they simultaneously manage to speak to our own situations, feelings and experiences. Some songs feel like they were written just for us, and speak directly to what we are going through at a particular moment. Music can provide us with snapshots of who and where we are at different points in our lives, in a way that nothing else can replicate.
Adele captured the sound of a break-up in 21. Her experience resonated with millions of people who were acutely familiar with the many textures of heartbreak. Beyonce’s ***Flawless, which samples Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s We Should All Be Feminists TEDx talk, reignited and generated difficult and important conversations about what it means to be a feminist today, while Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly comes at a time when
we are questioning the state of democracy in light of ongoing police brutality, and the devaluation of black lives in America and beyond.
Whether overtly political or extremely personal, or a combination of both, musicians sing songs that sometimes dare us to be braver, pull us out of our darkest moments, celebrate our successes, or push us to confront ourselves, and ask questions about who we are, what we want, and the nature of the world that we live in.
Patti Smith was right, we are all Walt Whitman, even those of us who are not musicians. We sing songs of ourselves in different ways – it be the way that we speak of and to ourselves, or how we project that to the world in many different ways, and communicate our lives and experiences.
And as the year draws to a close, many of us are trying to take stock of what the past 12 months have meant for our lives, before the inevitable New Year’s resolutions cycle around again. As we try to make sense of it all, what is the song that we sing of ourselves? If you had to take a snapshot of your life right now, in song form, what would it sound like?
Each December comes with its summer anthem. We wait for it to reveal itself, whether climbing to the top of the charts, heard from passing cars (on repeat), turned up at parties on balmy nights, serving as the soundtrack to summer flings, or moments spent with loved ones. As I turn up Shekinah Donnell and Kyle Deusch’s Back to the Beach, and make the journey back to my small, beach town for the holidays, I will be asking myself about the song that I sing of myself, and attempting to unpack all the complex answers to that question. I’m hoping the answer will be Lianne La Havas’ Unstoppable, because 2016 brings new possibilities, challenges and adventures, and the potential to sing new, different songs of ourselves.