“Leave Out All the Rest” (or, How Linkin Park reminded me that readers often read different things into writing than writers actually wrote)

So, finally, this week, the long-awaited Linkin Park concert occurred in Vancouver.

I’ll answer two questions right off the bat: 1) Yes, it was awesome, and 2) no, it won’t be the last concert I ever go to.

I was quite surprised, however, by the set list the band selected to play.  Not because they played songs I didn’t know or like (I know and like almost all of Linkin Park’s songs, so that’s never a concern).  Rather, it was because their set all at once caused me to perceive the band in a different way than I’d previously done all the years I’ve been a fan, since 2000.

Which, in turn, recalled me to the fact that what a music-lover/reader/viewer takes away from a song/novel/movie/TV show/etc. might be wildly different from the intended message of the artist that produced it.

At times, I was quite stridently reminded of this fact.

“I am not a pattern to be followed”

This will likely come as no surprise to my friends who knew I meant to attend the concert.  As I mentioned in a previous post, people are always shocked when I tell them Linkin Park is my favourite band, thinking their sound much too hard for someone whose other preferred musicians include Sarah Harmer, Tracy Chapman, Moby, Tori Amos, and Yanni.

I won’t argue that Linkin Park’s sound harder than everything else I listen to (which I do like sometimes, especially when working out or driving on the highway). I personally, however, have never found them as intense as some of the other popular alt-rock bands like Nine Inch Nails, Rage Against the Machine, or Limp Bizkit.

Many of their songs are actually quite moderate and at times anthemic (particularly, but not exclusively, on their more recent albums). Meanwhile even their harder, screamier tracks nonetheless possess a real musicality.

This is due to the band’s counterpoint of melodic guitar riffs, mostly pleasant lead vocals, rapping, interesting electronic and programming effects, and angsty lyrics I’ve been able to relate to since my mid-20s – first on the subject of tormented relationships and self-identity…

I’ve lied to you/The same way that I always do/This is the last smile/That I’ll fake for the sake of being with you (“Pushing Me Away”, 2000)

And I’d give it all away/Just to have somewhere to go to/Give it all away/To have someone to come home to (“My December”, 2001)

I wanna heal, I wanna feel like I’m close to something real/I wanna find something I’ve wanted all along/Somewhere I belong (“Somewhere I Belong”, 2003)

 …and now, twelve years and five progressively more sedate albums later, angst of a more existential and societal sort:

I’m swimming in the smoke/Of bridges I have burned/So don’t apologize/I’m losing what I don’t deserve. (“Burning in the Skies”, 2010)

Steel unload, final blow/We the animals take control/Hear us now,  clear and true/Wretches and kings we come for you (“Wretches and Kings”, 2010)

This air between us is getting thinner now/Into winter now, bitter sweet/Across that horizon this sun is setting down/You’re forgetting now, it’s time you let me go, let me go (“I’ll Be Gone”, 2012)

“It’s like a whirlwind inside of my head”

Given this diversity of both Linkin Park’s song subjects and their ever-evolving sound, I likewise expected the concert would present a good mix of styles and tempos, with angry screeching well-balanced with wistful introspection.

Alas, such was not the case.

Their set included many of the hardest songs in their catalogue (including the hardest of their newer, milder tracks), performed in the hardest, rockiest/borderline metal-ist style possible, with much scream-singing, much scary imagery on the screen behind them (e.g. snarling hyenas and skulls), much arm-pumping by the crowd, a few pyrotechnics whose heat I could feel even at the very back of the arena floor, and the bass, distortion, and volume turned waaaaay up.

(It’s bad news when I don’t even recognize the start of my favourite Linkin Park song because I can’t detect any difference between the various tones in the intro’s opening bars.)

Perhaps this unexpected hardness was due to the venue, which was the two-thirds full arena of Vancouver’s NHL hockey team.  Perhaps it was due to who Linkin Park was touring with (Incubus).  Perhaps it was due to the crowd they knew the two aforementioned considerations would attract – a crowd that was a little drunk, a little high, a little rough, and a lot dressed in somber colours.

Or perhaps that’s just the way Linkin Park perceives themselves.  Maybe at their core, regardless of the other elements of their sound, they consider themselves a loud, raging, hardcore rock band, the way I perceive them – subdued, tuneful, medium-core/edgy, and rather poetic – notwithstanding.  Even my interpretations of the above-quoted song lyrics could be way out their compared to those of the band.

“What I’ve done…”

For such is how it is with the interpretation of art: there is no one true explanation of what a given work means.

Rather, different people will offer countless different opinions as influenced by their unique experiences, beliefs, values, biases, and preferences.  It’s impossible not to, we are such products of our own pasts.  Indeed, at times, people remain so faithful to their own experiences, they’ll shoehorn the work of art to fit its most prominent features neatly inside, conveniently disregarding any parts that fall outside of their worldview.

“Blue Flower”, Georgia O’Keeffe, 1918

I might think at the above-quoted lyrics for “I’ll Be Gone” is about the death of a loved one while someone else might believe it to be about the end of a romantic relationship. Similarly, one person might look at a painting and see one thing while another sees something else entirely – something that might be completely distinct to what the artist had in mind.

The famous American modern abstract artist, Georgia O’Keeffe, had something to say on this matter.  O’Keeffe is perhaps best known for her paintings of oversized, close-up flowers that have been (erroneously) interpreted as highly sensual and sexual.  On my recent trip to New Mexico, I visited the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe,

“Red Canna”, Georgia O’Keeffe, 1923

which had printed on the wall in one of the galleries the following O’Keeffe quote:

I made you take time to look at what I saw and when you took time to really notice my flower, you hung all your associations with flowers on my flower and you write about my flower as if I think and see what you think and see – and I don’t.

Naturally, differences in interpretation occur within writing as well.  In my novel-in-progress, there are specific themes I am presenting that seem all too obvious to me.  Yet, after my experience at the Linkin Park concert, I wonder if they’re really that evident at all – whatever future readers of my story will, in fact, pick up on what I’m putting down, as it were, or if they’ll bring entirely different understandings to my work.

“I’ve let myself become you”

Ultimately, to quote Linkin Park yet again, “In the end/It doesn’t even matter” (“In the End”, 2000).

Regardless of whether my future readers come from a similar place and history as I do or not, we will end up united all the same in our appreciation for the power of art to convey more than just the sum of its parts – to convey meaning that is both personal in nature and universal in existence.

And as for my feelings toward being made to see my favourite band in a new light, at least temporarily: as I wrote at the start, I did love the concert, and I remain a devoted fan.  One of the things I love most about concerts is hearing the variations in how tracks on an album sound live, for artists’ new interpretations of their work often lead me to find new meaning in them as well, which I love, especially with songs I previously disliked.

Thus, I just held on and enjoyed the wild ride.  It’s true, I was shoved past several times by people trying to get closer to the stage, had my toes trampled, beer spilled on my foot, and was offered alcohol, drugs, and dubious company after the show.

But I also felt music I’ve loved for more than a decade pounding in my chest and under my feet.  I felt the arena floor heave a bit with the collective energy of the crowd, and that was pretty freakin’ amazing.  I was swept away in that whirlwind, pumping my arms along with everyone else and belting out lyrics so loud and harsh, I wrecked my throat and woke with a headache the next morning.

I made what I could of the experience and will now forever carry it, and perhaps someday use it to interpret another work of art in the future.

——————–

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10 thoughts on ““Leave Out All the Rest” (or, How Linkin Park reminded me that readers often read different things into writing than writers actually wrote)

  1. People always laugh when I say I like Linkin Park, immediately associating it with other apparently bad bands like Nickelback. But I loved their lyrics when I first discovered them, and despite the screaming and shouting and initial teenage-like angst, I still do.

    I think the most difficult part about being a writer (apart from, well, the writing) is how others interpret our work. It’s a big challenge. Because as we write, we know what’s happening or why it’s happening, we know that character A chose coffee over tea because he only drinks things which begin with c. Readers will see him choose coffee and associate it with something else, or if we know that it’s central to his character they’ll gloss over that and say that what is trivial to us as the writer is instead A’s defining aspect. They’ll see lines and connections and symbolisms where we only see description to flesh out the story. When we write, we have to accept that we will one day give our stories away and they will become someone else’s. If character A is just human to us, he’ll be a replicant to someone else. …Okay, now I’ve just re-watched Blade Runner too many times. 😉

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    • Linkin Park like Nickelback – as if!
      Thanks for the comment, dlaiden. Everything that happens in a story is part of a bigger puzzle that holds specific meaning for the author, but there’s no telling where the reader will attribute specific importance. It can be in as many different places as there are readers in the world. I like how you say we give our stories away; that’s so true. We never really own them to begin with. The only thing we own is our own interpretation of what it all means. All new stories are just personal interpretations of stories that have already been told.

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  2. Wow, Janna – this does sound like a wild ride! I’m glad you enjoyed the concert (even though it wasn’t quite what you thought it would be). It is experiences like this that really stay with us.
    I totally understand the ‘interpretation’ of lyrics, pictures and stories from first-hand experience. One of my first short stories (Corrugated Dreaming) is about a dark-skinned woman who is in jail for killing her former school headmaster. I based her character on a friend who had come from a pacific island to live in Australia at a very young age. She had told me that people always treated her badly because they thought she was Aboriginal. She said, ‘anyone with dark skin who lives up north is treated like an Aboriginal’. So I put her thoughts to the test and wrote the story – never once mentioning the background of the character apart from the colour of her skin. To my absolute amazement the reviews I received in newspapers and magazines were all the same – ‘The tragic tale of an Aboriginal girl’! I contacted some of the reviewers and they said they ‘thought’ she was Aboriginal because of her dark skin and the fact that the story is set in Australia. This was a really interesting test in assumptions for me!

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  3. Hi Dianne. That’s an interesting experiment you conducted. I guess that beyond often having “different” interpretations to an artist’s work, people often interpret it in ways the artist plainly doesn’t want, which can be very frustrating (Georgia O’Keeffe and her flowers are another example of this: I learned at the museum that people always interpreted her work as sexual because her photographer husband had published some erotic photos of her and created a persona of her as highly sensual). Although, perhaps there is also great opportunity in this as well to confront readers with their assumptions – to make them aware – and encourage new ways of thinking and being.

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  4. “In my novel-in-progress, there are specific themes I am presenting that seem all too obvious to me. Yet, after my experience at the Linkin Park concert, I wonder if they’re really that evident at all – whatever future readers of my story will, in fact, pick up on what I’m putting down, as it were, or if they’ll bring entirely different understandings..”

    This crosses my mind frequently. I try not to let it hamper my work so that it becomes Hollywood-ized, as in, over-saturated with explanation. I prefer the Swedish/Finnish style cinemas – less is more, imagery vs. narration. I try to steer the reader towards whatever I’m feeling/thinking at the time of writing, but inevitably they’re not Me, and they’re not telepathic. That’s the amazing gift we all have, as individuals – no matter how similar we are, how many archetypes we pertain to understand or be, there are still threads of difference. What sparks off a feeling in one person, might richochet off a memory in another to cause a different emotion.

    Memory is all we have, really, to make us ultimately different.

    (Linkin Park – OK, Chester really – were a firm favourite of my teen years, for the reasons you stated. While everyone headbanged along to Limp Bizkit and Offspring, I preferred actually having something resembling a melody to sing along to. Hope you’ve encountered this before:

    Two of my favourite bands, melding to create musical perfection.)

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  5. Jana, in my opinion you were right to begin with! I recently saw Linkin Park playing live in Jo’burg*, and the mix of songs was much more like what you were expecting. The fact is of course that a large and vocal section of their fanbase ONLY like the harder songs and despise the “wistful introspection”, and I am certain that their expected audience in Vancouver had a lot to do with their choice to concentrate on the heavier stuff. I think (here I go making assumptions) that they had very little idea of what to expect from their South African fans and thus the set they chose to play here was more indicative of what they are about. I also think that it’s important to look not only at their body of work, but at the directions they’re taking it in. It feels to me that as they became well known (and rich) and thus freer to do what they want rather than what record execs thought would sell, they have also become more experimental and more prone to writing sweet, moody songs about politics, death and the apocalypse. I love their sad songs in particular and my most cherished memory from the concert is balancing on upturned beer mugs and watching as the entire huge stadium (one of the 2012 Soccer World Cup stadia; packed to the gills!) waved their cell phones while the guys played “Leave out all the rest”, “Shadow of the day” and “Iridescent” seguing into each other as a single song. So anyway, I don’t disagree with your main point, that you can never know how your audience is going to interpret your stuff, but I get the impression that you are feeling just a little sad that “your” LP aren’t who you thought they were, and I think that maybe they are after all.

    *I found your article searching for “Linkin Park terrifying hyaenas” because I was fascinated by them. I was less of a fan of the man with an ovarian tumour for a head. Well, that’s how I thought of it, it was a guy whose head was a sort of chrysanthemum. Made of teeth. 😦
    Oh well, now you have a really good example of what search terms send people to your blog.

    P.S. I will forever believe that “I’ll be gone” is about the movie “Prometheus”. 😀

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  6. Hi Lesley, thanks for the comment. I agree, LP is definitely still a well-rounded band with a variety of moods and sounds to choose from. I think I was more surprised by the concert than anything else, as I hadn’t heard that hard sound from them for some time, going by their last three albums. But you’re right; some fans are still stuck in the Hybrid Theory days, to which I say, yes that was fun in its day, but it’s since been twelve years. For sure, the guys are going to have grown and changed a little. But each to their own. Personally, my favourite LP album of all at present is A Thousand Suns. These days, I only really listen to Hybrid Theory and Meteora when I’m working out, or driving somewhere really fast.

    They did do that same slow-song medley at this concert as well, and I’m happy to report it gave me a whole new appreciation for “Leave Out All the Rest”. For any concert I go to, no matter how many times I get shoved or stepped on, and no matter how much beer gets spilled on me, I always consider it a success when I come to hear a previously-unliked song in a new way such that encourages me to give it another shot on the old iPod. I actually really enjoyed the concert, in part because the crowd and venue were so far outside of my norm.

    Those are some wild (no pun intended) search terms that sent you my way. They weren’t logged by WordPress (it just said “unknown” and “other search terms”), so yes, this has been educational for me. 🙂

    I haven’t seen Prometheus, so I won’t say you’re wrong. 🙂 (Not that I would anyway.)

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  7. Hey Janna (sorry for spelling you wrong in the previous comment)
    After the concert I seriously rediscovered A Thousand Suns; up till then my favourite had been Minutes to Midnight. I was never so much of a fan of their older stuff, but I was glad that they mixed it up during the concert because it meant less fan whining afterwards! Isn’t it weird that we’re talking about what was essentially the same event, on opposite sides of the world?

    P.S. the Prometheus theory is entirely a product of my own overheated imagination, but I stick to it anyway 🙂

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