When I think about the suffering and pain in our country today, my eyes sting. It’s come to an ugly head in the news the last few weeks: shootings, natural disasters, fires, crimes that went unpunished, political agendas flung left and right, hearts broken, lives ruined. There are more questions than answers, it seems.
I hate feeling useless. I know I can’t save the world, that my reach may extend only to those around me, but that doesn’t mean I don’t wish that I could fix everything. How do you reach people and help them to see that their pain is not the end?
Modern Medicine Men
While aching over recent events and my own feelings of helplessness, I stumbled upon the song “Rejoice” by Julien Baker. The song delves into personal agony and hardship but frames it within a broken-hearted rejoicing. It answered some of my questions and addressed an important angle of pain.
I believe that music helps the healing process. I think that musicians are perfectly suited to inspire hope precisely because music is the art form most accessible to the greatest number of people.
A musician friend of mine recently observed that the most meaningful art is often born of pain and sorrow. A good artist recognizes the distortion in our world and explores this disconnect in the hopes of achieving honesty and restoration. We need artists who can capture our pain and yet offer hope.
Music can make the most complex of issues approachable, cloaking ideas in melodies and harmonies that we hum without thinking. Eventually the lyrics bury themselves in our minds and we find that as we think about them they can change our perceptions. These ideas can help us think through various issues we are facing and even help shape our view of pain. The musician has the chance to draw people into cultural questions and potentially offer solutions. A quick stroll through the twentieth century will show countless examples of musicians addressing social and cultural issues and having an impact on society. And it cannot be denied that musicians have an ability to reach people and communicate ideas that otherwise might go unnoticed and and ability to join people together. This hasn’t changed in music today—it’s only become more noticeable.
More than ever we need to hear a narrative of finding hope, learning from our mistakes, realizing that we can change and that maybe we need to. Narratives need to be shifted, eyes opened, people reached as individual and valuable human beings. We may ache at suffering and injustice, and change may not occur with the flip of a switch, but these things aren’t the end.
I think one thing that makes our age special is how localized and personal music has become. In my conversations with numerous smaller artists over that last few months, one thing has stood out sharply: Each of them wants to reach into the common space, to make connections with people. They want their creation to influence individual lives, and I’ve seen that play out. I think that musicians are in a prime spot to influence culture, especially those who are reaching into communities, homes, parks, and common spaces.
With music being more accessible than ever, we live in a unique time when musicians can help shape the narrative of beauty and pain. And there is a desperate need for musicians to sing beauty into our broken and pain-ridden world: to address our wounds, find meaning in our suffering, and help us heal through harmony.