It’s another Saturday night and I find myself sitting on a couch, belly full of tasty mexican food, wii controller in my hands fending off the advances of three other warriors playing head-to-head tetris on a big-screen tv! My friend Neil and his daughter and son, we randomly assemble to wedge small rectangular shapes in piles at the bottom of the screen.
Our favorite background music to this retro game has been nicknamed by Carman, Neil’s wife, “the druggy music” due to the psychedelic tones. I am using the phrase “our favorite” quite loosely, because it is the best of what is available in-game. At the same time, the kids Mattias and Alicia, ages thirteen and seventeen respectively, have figured out how to plug an iPod into the family stereo so we have recently expanded the soundtrack.
Neil and I find the “soundtrack” quite fun, randomly trading the words for funny phrases, reinventing the songs, often with a fresh song critique built into the new lyrics. The kids are sometimes fan, and sometimes offended at our take on the artists ideas.
For example, there are two songs that keep coming up in the playlist for which we are not enormous fans. Both songs happen to be by the band Imagine Dragons.
First up is the song It’s time.
Now, after a little research what I have discovered is that the band’s lead singer wrote the song during a depressing time in his life growing up in Las Vegas, wanting to leave that town and his life as a Mormon. So the song is a conflict between his desire to leave Las Vegas and resolve the inner conflict with still feeling like a Mormon in his heart. Everyone else has placed all sorts of other thoughts on the meaning of the song. I don’t care about that. What Neil and I care about is the lyric that says “I’m not changing who I am”.
Mid-tetris battle the kids explained their shock at our disrespect of this song. “But it’s wrong to change who you are. I mean, you can’t really change who you are.” To which Neil and I replied, “Growth is change! Everybody has to grow! That lyric is a bunch of crap! We are always changing. And some people suck and they need to make some changes. Think of bullies. Other people just don’t want to change and so they make everyone else feel bad for reminding them they need to grow and change.” Shear and completely confused silence washed over the room as indoctrinated ideas fell far short of their idealized presentation!
Throughout the rest of the evening, if the kids wanted something from Neil, “Dad can you help me with the stereo?”, Neil would reply, “But I am not helping you. Why should I? I’m not changing who I am!” I think a tiny bit of the selfish unreality of that lyric began to sink in. Of course, he would help them, but he opportunistically made use of the rest of the night as a teachable moment.
Oddly enough, I think that catchy phrase in the song is just a poor choice of words. The rest of the song is really fine I think. It is about change, really. And it is about making a choice to remain true to what you believe as you go forward. To polarize that into immutable attributes and behaviors from which you cannot ever change is … well … a crappy world view. But then again, these guys aren’t educated philosophers. They are college drop-out band members who accidentally indoctrinate the world with their lyrics written in “dark places” in their lives.
Next up is the song “Radioactive” which also sounds both fun and intense as well as spooky and scary all at once. I kind of think that was the point. The music video seems to imply that the song is about an apocalyptic changing of the guard where innocence aggressively unseats the power of people who would otherwise destroy innocence. It is almost impossible to find that meaning in the song itself, and the video is nearly as mysteriously unintelligible. So do I like this song more? Not really. Some of the symbolism in the lyrics is so confusing that I am not sure it reinforces the right qualities and values.
Here is the thing. I think that the group has some interesting stuff to say that is thought provoking. And songs like Every Night and On Top of the World are almost manic relative to It’s Time and Radioactive. And that might be a revelation in the end, all on it’s own: maybe the lead singer is manic depressive? I have no idea. If he is, then I pray he finds good help. If he isn’t then I am not sure what unleashing these songs on kids will do other than reinforce some goofy ideas. But that is what the whole blog post here is about. It is about how art, in many forms, influences the paths our brains take on a daily basis. Looking too often at picture of war could be really depressing. And listening too often to music that doubts and questions everything with aggressive intent or complacent resolve is just as unhealthy. It is like digging a trench in your mind. The “wheels” of your thoughts will just keep falling into those trenches, going exactly where they’ve always gone.
On the flipside, it might be time to imagine a brain workout that digs all new trenches. If the music, the art, the movies, the friends, the job all seem to lead our mental wheels into the same ruts all of the time and you feeling complacent subjection to that nearly fated reality, then it is time to stop saying “I’m not changing who I am” and instead ...
Face the reality that Artist: Switchfoot; Song: This is Your Life and that
you need to make changes that
get yourself over to Artist: Switchfoot; Song: Where I Belong so
you can Artist: Switchfoot; Song: Thrive.
If you are living complacently,
then Artist: Switchfoot; Song: I Dare You To Move.