Music is for Losers

Posted on 3 Aug 2018 in Breathe | 0 comments

I remember the moment clearly. I was sitting in a pub on the north side of the Liffey after the world famous Musical Pub Crawl. It was the “open mic” portion where they allow people to share a song. My goto staple at that point was “At Last” but I didn’t want to sing after the slim, pristine blonde diva who had preceded me with her slightly nasally rendition of some pop classic.

The evening had been spent in not only sacred musical listening, but also storytelling. That night, I heard a phrase that would shape me forever.

History books and newspapers are written by the winners. Music and poetry are written by the losers, the downtrodden, the brokenhearted.

And I realized how true it was. That the songs that stick with us, and that have changed the world – they’ve been written by those who have suffered and who would never be considered “Great” or “Winners.” The Irish took centuries of oppression and turned it into some of the most powerful music the world has ever known. Rock & Roll, the Blues, Jazz… birthed out of African-American post-slave, mid-segregation racial tension and oppression and appropriated by white folks.

Then I realized that the music that I grew up immersed in, resonating with… was all the brokenhearted crying out:

Tracy Chapman

Indigo Girls

Tori Amos

U2

REM

It struck me today that all these musicians of my youth were predecessors to the activists that are gaining steam in the last decade. Tracy Chapman was speaking of the pain and reality of police violence and redlining against people of color in the 80s and 90s. The Indigo Girls were speaking about the struggles of LGBTQ identity – and gendering, and the challenges of intersectionality – well before it hit the Supreme Court. Tori Amos exposed misogyny and rape culture in one of the most poignant and painful ballads the 20th century heard. U2 – social justice, fighting governmental institutions. REM – paradigm shifts, ecological issues, and shifting boundaries.

It made me realize that our culture needs more poets, songwriters, more of the arts, because they tell the stories of those who cannot buy news outlets. We need journalists and historians.

But we need the fraught, anxious energy of Enneagram 4s who are so desperate to uncover and reveal understanding that they expose their very souls in the process. It needs the vehicle and medium of music and art and poetry to help people understand that things don’t always line up in neat, little orderly procession, and that sometimes, life itself is a Shitty First Draft. But we keep at it, and we allow the music to move us in and through it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *