A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 200: Union of Song and Soul

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The Strumbellas and I are not finished with each other yet.

Over three years ago I wrote a blog post about my love affair with the Canadian band the Strumbellas. Just last weekend I was able to see them live at the Hope Vollyball Summerfest in Ottawa. It is the second time I’ve seen them live (the article was written before I had a chance to do that) and both times have been unforgettable experiences: Fun, life-affirming and joyful amidst songs about life challenges, mortality and mental anguish. That is the Strumbellas in a nutshell.

I decided to re-post the article today as part of my Year of Creating Dangerously. This band has meant a lot to my own creative journey; they’ve helped me embrace the darkness in myself in order to make the light that much brighter.

And if they ever come to your town, I highly recommend you spend some time with them, too.

The Union of Song and Soul 

There is a soundtrack to my life. It hasn’t been composed by Hans Zimmer or John Williams.  There is no unifying theme, no brass section for the exciting bits or strings for the romantic stuff.  Minor chords do not sound in the background when I’m in danger. My soundtrack doesn’t follow all the expected formulas for scoring a movie. But, then again, my life is not a movie. Good thing, too, as my life would probably be a slow-pace, independent film with lots of actors you’ve never heard of and no budget for any CGI or special effects of any kind. Likely straight to video, too.

But at least there would be a soundtrack. And a kick-ass soundtrack, if I do say so myself.

There’s a scene in the movie “High Fidelity” where the main character reveals that his record collection is sorted chronologically, according to his own life story. To find out what album he’s looking for, he has to remember certain events in his life or past relationships. It’s as if his life and his love of music are lived simultaneously, blending and weaving with each other, influencing each other, crafting, if you will, a soundtrack to his life.

I am a major music lover or, as my wife calls me, a “music snob”. If I didn’t have a family to provide for I would probably be living in some dingy basement apartment surrounded by vinyl, CDs, cassette tapes I can’t part with and perhaps even some eight-tracks just for the retro-weirdness of it. I would’ve been a less interesting and less medicated Lester Bangs.

As the years roll by I have discovered how much the music of my life rolls along too. I am not a nostalgic music listener. In fact, I kind of despise nostalgic music listening – that is, when middle-aged folks like me listen almost exclusively to the things they cranked on their boomboxes in high-school. These are 40-somethings who talk about how totally awesome Bon Jovi/Journey/Loverboy/(insert hackneyed ’80’s band here) is and how music today has gone down hill from when they were younger and blah, blah, blah-blah blaaaaaaaah…

Wow. My wife is right; I am a music snob.

Of course, there are times I listen to music for purely nostalgic reasons, to summon feelings from past times in my life. But I find more and more that I view music as a continually unfolding composition in my life; a soundtrack that is uniquely my own. I don’t dwell exclusively on the songs of the past, no matter how wonderful they may be, because there are new songs in my life. There is an ever-expanding playlist with room for more and more tunes to come.

I was considering this because I have recently been smitten by a roots/pop-folk band called the Strumbellas. I get smitten every now and again. My family knows when said smiting has happened because they get to hear me playing that artist or group over and over and over.  They have a lot of patience with my musical crushes. The Strumbellas are a six-member group in the vibe of the Lumineers or Mumford and Sons. The main obstacle to their success is that they happen to be Canadian, which is, of course, their own damn fault. Other than that, their music is great, evidently causing a lot of spontaneous dancing to erupt wherever they play. I have not been able to see them live yet. If you happen to see them or have seen them, let me now about the spontaneous booty shaking, okay?

While driving to church one Sunday morning, I heard my first Strumbellas’ song: “In This Life”. After a pleasingly simple guitar riff and very catchy handclap intro came these lyrics: “I know the seasons ain’t been changing and everyday looks like rain/ But I’m still hoping for that sun/ The streets are filled with demons, lord, that’s never gonna change/ But I still want to be with everyone/ I know there’s something for you out there in this life/ I know there’s something for you out there in this life.”

There is someone I love who desperately wants to live an abundant life but struggles with her own demons. When I heard that song I started to get teary eyed; it was as if I was singing it to her, as if the Strumbellas had written and recorded a song for what was on my mind and on my heart in my life right then and there. Before the song was done I was smitten! And I experienced once again the power of life and music blending together and becoming part of my soundtrack; part of me.

After my Strumbellas CD arrived and I listened to it over and over and over, I ordered another one and listened to that one over and over and over. My family endured my crush and, once again, music and life came together. I discovered that so many of their songs deal with death and losing a loved one. The lead singer/songwriter of the group, Simon Ward , lost his Dad when he was only 16; I lost my Mom a little over a year ago. In their songs I was hearing incredibly life-affirming, danceable music supporting lyrics dealing with the subject of death. Here was a group seeing the spectre of death as a great motivator for life; the reality of the grave making your chance to dance so much sweeter.

I love music. Music can be so many things. It can remind us of good times, bad times, ugly times. It can make us jig and it can make us bawl. But perhaps its greatest aspect is the mystical union of song and soul. I don’t know where my life is going, what scenes will play out, but I know there will always be an ever-unfolding soundtrack and that makes me feel a deep sense of joy.

Here’s a link a Strumbellas video for “In This Life” – Enjoy!  http://youtu.be/SjxdvGJDYm8

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