Anyone who considers him-/herself a music lover probably has what I like to call a “life musician”.
I have two:
- The nu metal, rap-rock group Linkin Park
- Alt-rock singer-songwriter and pianist Tori Amos.
At first glance, there probably doesn’t seem to be much these two musical acts have in common, and I supposed they don’t save for what they both mean to me.
As my life musicians, my fondness for them runs far deeper than for an artist whose music I happen to fancy. Or the singer of that current earworm I can’t get out of my head.
Rather, my life musicians are the singers whose music has played in the background of most of my life, scoring every major phase to the point that my memories of those times have become encoded in tunes themselves.
Whenever I listen to those same songs now, I’m immediately recalled to what I was thinking at the time, how I felt, and my hopes and fears and fantasies.
My life musicians are the singers of whom I’ve always, it seems, been a fan, and expect I always will be.
I own every one of Tori Amos and Linkin Park’s albums, some in more than one format: CD and MP3s that I’ve listened to on first my laptop, then an iPod, and now an iPad. (I even have one Tori Amos album on cassette tape!)
Their new albums are always auto-buys for me, often without my even listening to samples or singles for the purpose of a complete listen all at once so I can prolong and savour the experience.
Even if one of their albums isn’t exactly to my taste – if it’s a little too much of a deviation from their usual sound, or too experimental, or too much of the same, or just not what I was needing to hear at that particularly time in my life – I can always find something to like about it.
And even though those particular albums may remain my least-played of them all, I still auto-buy the next release because my life musicians have earned my loyalty.
They earned it by writing songs about me.
Somewhere I belong
Obviously Linkin Park and Tori Amos haven’t actually written songs about me. But in some ways, they kinda have.
Linkin Park, for example, is among the hardest musical sounds I listen to (and their latest album, which was released earlier this month, is very hard indeed). My love for their music always comes as a shock to those who know me and the rest of my musical tastes.
But I’ve always found personal meaning in Linkin Park’s music – they’ve always managed to sing to my personal issues as if they somehow knew – as far back as my early 20s.
I still remember the night I watched the video for their 2000 debut single, “In the End”, on the Much Music Top 20 Countdown. It was unlike any type of music I’d ever listened to before; it literally sang to me.
That song was actually one of the more mellow tracks on their debut album, Hybrid Theory; most of the others were a lot harder, with power guitar riffs, guttural screaming, and aggressive lyrics, although they also all had rhythmic rapping, alt-rock singing, and an overall consideration for musicality and experimentation with sound that put them above your typical rock-metal act.
I was an angry, angsty kid in my 20s, so I found such Linkin Park lyrics as “Shut when I’m talking to you!”, “I took what I hated and made it a part of me”, and “I wanna find something I’ve wanted all along, somewhere I belong” very relatable.
Their first two albums were very much in that vein, and I was very much like that right along with them.
For their third, fourth, and fifth albums, though, their sound and song themes, while still hard, started to change (to the ongoing chagrin of many fans of their first two albums).
These releases were noticeably softer with less screaming, more singing, fewer hard riffs, more electronic sounds, and even, in some of their remixes, a bit of dub step. There are still hints of this evolution among their über-hard sixth album.
They also started writing fewer songs about tortured relationships and damaged self-identities and more about wider-reaching problems like government corruption, threats of nuclear war, inequality, and other existential and societal issues:
That is to say, their sound has grown up, and so have I right along with them. I’m no longer a pissed-off 20-year-old but a 30-something who is sad and scared about the current state of the world.
I can’t wait to see where their continued evolution – and mine – will take me next.
Here are my top two favourite Linkin Park songs – one from my angsty 20s and one from my contemplative 30s, each of which I was drawn to the very first time I heard them:
“Easier to Run” (from Meteora, 2003)
“Burning in the Skies” (from A Thousand Suns, 2010) (my favourite LP album)
I will write about my second life musician – the amazing Tori Amos – after I see her in concert for the second time on July 16.
Who are your life musicians? How did you first discover their music? What memories does their music conjure in your mind? Tell me about it in the comments.