We believe in the power of music to influence positive change. Influential music often starts off impacting a single person, who then spreads that music to another person, and that person pays that music forward, etc. Before long, a simple song can catapult an entire issue into the mainstream. Music can help issues and ideas reach previously unreachable populations. Just look at the positive influence "Same Love" by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis has had on the issue of marriage equality. So, in light of the power music has on both the individual and society, the Punk Out team took some time to answer the question: "What does music mean to you?"
When I was 14, I bought Taking Back Sunday’s debut album, Tell All Your Friends, from a music store in State College, Pennsylvania, while visiting my brother during his first semester of college. I remember the first few listens in my portable CD player and how the lyrics to “There’s No ‘I’ In Team” shook me like none had before. I remember being young and latching onto certain songs at certain times. Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” is one example. Before bands like TBS opened the doors to the world of emo/punk/whatever, it was anything from KoRn to the Backstreet Boys in my headphones. I was switching between Smash Mouth and The Offspring. Like most people my age, Blink 182 changed everything.
To me, music has always been present. It’s an important decision to make before engaging in almost any other activity. There’s often a song or two stuck in my head. I picked up a guitar and began scribbling lyrics on pieces of receipt paper at every job I’ve ever had. I began lying to my parents to drive to dingy clubs to be packed into pushing crowds for the chance to scream the lyrics to my favorite bands. Alone in my car since I was 17, I’ve been singing along to my own personal therapy. I found a local music scene full of people that inspired me to hold onto my weird interests and hobbies. All of these things are still true about me.
I don’t believe in guilty pleasures, because if something makes you happy then the rest doesn’t matter. I don’t believe in music critics, because it will always mean something different to each individual person. I spend my money on tickets and records. My music collection has taught me more about myself than anything. This has always been me, and it always will be.
When I was a kid, music was a game. My mom would turn down the radio in the car for a moment, look back at me, and ask me what instruments were at work. She'd turn the music back up--and louder--once I'd guessed as many as I could. It's how I learned to appreciate some of the lesser-known background notes and voices--marimbas from vibes, violas from violins.
In college, music was a refuge. It was a safe space when my throat felt tied closed with anxiety and dizzy spells. I walked everywhere with headphones in my ears, which gave me an excuse not to talk to anybody. I could lower my eyes and get lost in the swell of sound, holding on to every word. Sometimes lyrics would grab me as if they'd been written just for my ears, and I'd play that part of the song over and over and over again. I learned to treasure songs that could get me out of bed in the morning, or that could soothe me into sleep after long periods of insomnia.
Eventually, I learned music as a point of connection. When I pulled my headphones out just before class would begin, sometimes I'd hear the person next to me ask what I was listening to. And then I started asking other people. And the best moment of all was having some names in common--rattling off names of bands or song titles like they were old friends we'd both crossed paths with. When I meet people now, one of the first things I ask is what type of music they listen to. If we have common taste, I immediately want to know if we've been to any of the same concerts. Any time I've found someone who's been to the same show that I have, I feel an instant connection with them. I know that at some point, we were standing in the same place, at the same time, singing the same words in unison. It's one of the most powerful feelings for me. Suddenly, the songs I loved are no longer a safe hiding place. They're a shared memory, a point of connection. The game is just figuring out how all the different parts fit together--the voices, the people, the meanings we bring to the music we love.
To me, music is about creating a small safe space, affording an artist the intimacy to expose themselves in a public fashion, while allowing any listener to interact with that exposition in whatever way they choose. Within that safe space, a listener has the ability to explore themselves or explore the world around them, using the album as a guide throughout their exploration.
Music means a whole lot to me, and I know it means a whole lot to every person who contributed to this post, and everyone who decided to read it as well. I'm a huge fan of the band The Naked and Famous, and what I will always remember about their debut LP, Passive Me, Aggressive You, was the feeling of an instantaneous connection I felt as I first listened to it -- the album changed the game for me.
I’ve gotten that feeling of instantaneous connection a handful of times since then, with albums like Brand New’s The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me, The Wonder Years’ The Greatest Generation and The Hotelier’s Home, Like Noplace Is There coming to mind. However, I will always have a special place in my heart for Passive Me, Aggressive You; with its soaring production and dreamy atmosphere, it made me realize how much music meant to me.
When I was a junior in high school I experienced my first real “show.” Up until that fateful day in late September, I had only been to “concerts” featuring the likes of mainstream rock acts like U2 and Rush. For some time I was enthralled only in the deep recesses of classic rock and its inherent superiority complex. Thankfully, however, a group of friends at my summer camp introduced me to this crazy, raucous, and wonderful thing – punk rock.
Of all the bands shoved into my ear-holes during that summer, the one that managed to cast its hooks deepest was Streetlight Manifesto. On that September night I saw Streetlight perform to a capacity crowd in a converted roller rink. Horns blared, guitars screeched out manic chords, and sweat fell from every screaming pore on my body.
But this story is not about the visceral experience of my first real punk show, it’s about what music means to me . . . or is it? For me, that night and the meaning I ascribe to the records I consistently spin on my turntable are one in the same. Music – for me – is about a paradox that exists between the desire to simultaneously escape and embrace the struggles of the human condition.
When I go to shows I want to escape the monotony and stress of my everyday life. I want to believe for just a few precious hours that not only is my life free from problems, but that the world is. However, this myopic view of music must be complemented with the more realistic one, which acknowledges and combats the injustices that pervade our world.
Not only did Streetlight Manifesto give me one night of pure euphonic ecstasy in a sea of otherwise melancholic high school days, but Streetlight Manifesto also offered me a new way to look at the world. This duality is what music means to me. Because yes – a punk rock song won’t ever change the world – but I can tell you about a couple that changed me. And I just might change the world.
Join the conversation! Let us know what music means to you.