Monday, October 10, 2011

Song Meanings

There have been a lot of folks lately who have asked us to share with them the meanings behind some of our songs. We have discussed the subject several times, and have considered publishing Mike’s explanations of lyrics. But truthfully, it’s a complicated issue. So rather than just avoiding the subject, I figured I would take a moment to address the idea as a whole.

Lyrics are a funny thing. When Mike brings songs to the band, there are some songs that he is really excited about, when the rest of us aren’t really feeling it. But sometimes, the songs that we find most moving and powerful are songs that Mike is unsure of when he shows them to us. This demonstrates an important concept in discussing this issue: the value in a song lies not within its writer, but within its hearer.

When I first heard Brand New’s song “Seventy Times Seven,” I was moved to the point of tears. The song was not the single off of the 2001 release, “Your Favorite Weapon.” They never made a video for it. They don’t play it live. But the year I heard that song, a friend’s brother had just been paralyzed from getting drunk and crashing his car. The lyrics of that song seemed to fit the situation that I was so heavily contemplating more perfectly than even my own thoughts did.

But I eventually heard a rumor regarding the actual inspiration behind the song. I researched and found that the explanation could not have been further from the situation I applied the lyrics to. In finding this out, my curiosity was satisfied, but something was lost. I no longer felt the chills down my spine, because I had no personal connection to the writer’s situation.

Some songs are very straightforward. For instance, Mike has explained the story behind our song “Emma Ruth” countless times live. It’s a story that is more impactful when elaborated on. But we have other songs that truthfully mean something different for every one of us personally. When “Stereo” was written, it came out of a period of personal conflict in our band, so its meaning is at least a little different for each of us. But that is perhaps the most beautiful thing about art. It’s meaning is subjective.

A song can mean so much more to so many more people when it’s vague enough that everyone can apply it to their lives. The best songs that have ever been written are ones that never actually lay out what specifically inspires them. When Bob Dylan sings the line, “You’re the reason I’m traveling on, but don’t think twice, it’s alright,” every person who hears it can relate in a different way. This would not be the case if he said, “You slept with my best friend, Dan, and then you took 40 bucks out of my wallet, so I’m going to get into my black ’62 Ford pickup truck and drive to Chicago, I have a gig there tomorrow night anyway. But don’t think twice, it’s alright,” we would lose our connection to it.

Last week a girl wrote to us and explained that she had been inspired by our song, “Beneath Water,” and that the references in it to baptism inspired her to get baptized. That is awesome. But another kid, who is an aspiring writer, finds encouragement in the lyrics “Well maybe I’m the writer that will spark that flame that makes the world believe in the right kind of faith.” That is just as awesome. Same song, two entirely different meanings. So what is important to ask is not what our songs mean to us, but what they mean to you. Therein lies their only real value.

That being said, we may, from time to time, discuss with you guys what specific songs mean to us when we find it appropriate to do so. And of course, ALWAYS feel free to ask us about it in person, and we will most likely open up more in that format. We want to be close to you, and we are always available to discuss anything you have going on in your lives. But as far as the music goes, its impact on us is no more important than its impact on you. So allow songs to move you in the way that you need to be moved, and when you come sing along with us, we can all sing the same words just as passionately, even when the meaning is unique to us all.


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