Friday, August 19, 2011

The Music of Pride

Music. Ah, music. I love music. Always have. Still do. I like to listen to it. I like to write about it. I like to discuss, dissect, and debate it. I collect it. I have records, cassettes, CDs, mp3s, VHS videos, and DVDs (but no 8-tracks, just because I don't have a player). The first thing I do in a new car is set the radio presets. I like having soundtracks to my memories. I like measuring distances by how many songs I can listen to before I get there.
And a lot of people can probably say similar things. But why me? Why do I love music? That is the question that was posed to me by a friend today. Why do I love music so much? Especially given the following: 
  • My personal music experience consists of the half year in the elementary school band (although I am not sure the valve trombone really qualifies as an instrument).
  • A little over two years of piano lessons which led nowhere.
  • And there was the six months I owned a cheap electric guitar where I played it exactly twice before selling it to someone else (and making a tidy profit, I might add).
  • Music was not prevalent in my childhood (my father didn't listen to music, and while my mother liked music, it was never a big deal around our house). 
  • I have no discernible musical talent.
  • I have no rhythm.
  • I couldn't carry a tune if my life depended on it.  
So why do I enjoy music so much? Why were mixtapes my favorite gifts to give as a youth? Why do I still make mix CDs and different playlists for people? Why do I spend so much time making mix CDs and different playlists for my own enjoyment? Why did I spend countless hours and years making "favorite hits" collections of 224 different artists? Why did I spend a good portion of 2010 creating 117 different "mix" CDs based on various moods/themes/etc.? Why did I create 40 CDs of music from around the world to compete in some sort of "music olympics" created in my head? Why is it that I try to not let a day go past without listening to some music, any music?

I have given a lot of thought about that throughout today. And other than the regular reasons people normally give (Music is universal. Music is primal. Music is romantic. Music is rebellious.), I was having a hard time coming up with something that made sense.But I think I figured it out. Kelly Clarkson.

That's right, Kelly Freaking Clarkson. Kelly Clarkson is the reason I love music.

Let me say right away that she is uber-talented. I know that. Everyone knows that. While not all of her songs are my taste (her odd country love being a case in point), she has a great voice and is spectacular to hear. She writes good songs and chooses talented people with whom to collaborate. She is a beautiful young woman who is popular and doesn't restrict her own greatness.

But that is not why I love music. This clip, from American Idol, is the reason why.

Now, I know some people are probably thinking, so what? She hit a super-high note at the 1:15 mark of the video. Pretty impressive, but there are other singers that can do that. What makes that so special? Was it the hat? (It wasn't the hat, but what a cool hat, eh?)

Well, the people thinking that are dead wrong. That pearly gate-rattling note at 1:15 was immense and I loved it. But that is not why I love music. And it is not why I love Kelly Clarkson. Or why I love this clip. Nope. Her talent is not the reason I love this. Although they really should have just stopped the competition at that moment because no one else was anywhere close to her. (Yeah, you heard me, Guarini.)

It is the NEXT note she sings. After the show-stopper at 1:15, she unleashes a gutteral growl/scream/cheer at the 1:20 mark that is unlike almost anything I have heard before. The word she sings is "you" but it might as well have been "FUCK YEAH! I DID IT!" There is an elation in that note, a pure passion for success.

It is the vocal equivalent of Kirk Gibson rounding the bases after hitting his pinch-hit home run in the World Series. It is the soundtrack of a Tiger Woods fist pump when he sinks a 25 foot birdie on the final hole for victory. It is the voice of Sarah Michelle Gellar's smile during the last shot of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

That note, at 1:20, is why I love music. It is the revelry of affirming that you did it, that you succeeded in your quest. Music may be universal, primal, romantic, rebellious, and a hundred other adjectives. But it is also that joy.

Music, at its best, is human success. It is the sound of the knowledge that we are boundless. And for that understanding, for that epiphany, for that truth, I thank Kelly Clarkson.

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