I need music to give my life meaning. I know that sounds melodramatic, and it probably is, but it’s true: I have trouble understanding my life without music. Music provides not only background noise but context — it gives me markers, memories that I can return to. Today, which is a day I think we’ll all remember for months, maybe years, reminded me why I need music. And not only music, a certain type of song: the Pretty Song.
The Pretty Song is not to be confused with the Beautiful Song. Pretty songs are generally a little lighter than beautiful songs, which are songs that reach for big things and hit them. “God Only Knows” by The Beach Boys, “Your Hand in Mine” by Explosions in the Sky, Beethoven’s Seventh… these are beautiful, but they aren’t pretty. There is a difference.
“First Day of My Life” by Bright Eyes is a pretty song. “The National Anthem” by Radiohead is not a pretty song, but “Fake Plastic Trees” is. Dylan’s “Girl from the North Country” is probably top ten pretty songs ever, as is “Pink Moon” by Nick Drake. “Anthems for a Seventeen Year Old Girl” by Broken Social Scene might be the prettiest song of the past 15 years. To me, at least.
The new song released by Patterson Hood (of Drive-By Truckers) this week, entitled “Come Back Little Star” is a near perfect example of a pretty song, and I’ve been listening to it on repeat for the better part of two days.
The prettiest song I’ve ever heard, though, is “Sweet Thing” by Van Morrison. I heard it for the first time when I was 17 and emerging from a nine month bout with sadness. The lyric, the one that stays with me to this day, haunts me, is when Morrison hollers “And I shall drive my chariot down your streets and cry / ‘Woah, it’s me. I’m dynamite, and I don’t know why.’” That quote was my AIM profile quote for about a year, which, for you younger readers, was just about the greatest compliment someone my age could pay a song a decade ago.
We all have our own pretty songs. And whether they’re by Bone Thugs-n-Harmony or Loretta Lynn, or The Avett Brothers or Maxwell, it’s irrelevant. Music doesn’t mean anything until we give it meaning, by living with it. And I’m not trying to get Philosophy 101 on you, but it’s true. And today, I think, is a day to find your pretty song. To give it a listen.
Still not sure what the hell I’m talking about? Here. Try this.
A pretty song is one that you play in your kitchen, stirring onions that are just starting to crack in the heat of bubbling oil, the sun setting through the western window of your apartment. It’s the song you play on a Sunday morning in April when you’re cleaning your house, the day sunny and blessedly free, the coffee brewing and your loved one grabbing bacon out of the fridge. It’s the song playing when you hold your littlest sister, dance with her standing on your shoes, your mother sitting to the side, her hand over her mouth to hide her heartbroken smile. It’s the song you play when 38 of your countrymen get shot by an insane person, and you’re shaken with sadness, and you want something to remind you that life is a stupid, silly, wonderful thing…which is why I’m writing about these songs this morning, to you.
Let me know your pretty songs. I’m putting together a playlist. I think it’ll help me, maybe. Or at least give me something fantastic to listen to.