It’s Monday and I keep listening to the same songs over and over.
I start with The Killers Are we human…or are we dancers? and then go to the Pixie’s Where is my mind?
Before the Pixie song ends, I search YouTube for Father John Misty and start singing along, “…oh, pour me another drink, and punch me in the face. You can call me Nancy.”
After Father John Misty, I find Johnny Cash singing Sunday Morning Coming Down live from a 1987 show in Austin. This is my favorite version of the song written by Kris Kristofferson.
Before he starts singing, Cash opens up about why he likes performing it.
“I like to do it because it makes me reflect back on where I’ve been, and it keeps me off the street. That’s important for me to do – to look back on where I’ve been – because I don’t want to lose track of where I am. Where I want to go.” -Johnny Cash
Long before I heard Cash talk about why he liked singing the song, I had it on a playlist I listen to when I run. You can tell from the title alone, it’s not the type of music typically chosen for a work-out. It’s a lot more melancholy than cardio, with lyrics like, “…on a Sunday morning sidewalk, I’m wishing, Lord, that I was stoned.”
But I love it. I love hearing my feet hit the pavement, along with the strumming of his guitar. The way the Sunday morning town scenes come alive in my head as I run – the Sunday smell of someone frying chicken.
I hear Johnny Cash talk about the song, and I think it’s not the lyrics or the music I connect to. It’s his vibe, his feelings about the song that come through the music. That whatever it is pushing him to sing it connects to whatever it is that makes me want to listen.
This experience, this visceral connection, isn’t restricted to music. It applies to writers. To artists. To poets. It’s the reason a passage from a Stephen Elliot book I read years ago still sticks with me, or why the sound Warren Zevon makes in his Werewolves of London – like a zipper sound right after he sings, “…and his hair was perfect” – is forever branded into my psyche, possibly my favorite half-second of a song ever.
I don’t know what I believe in God. But I believe in this connection – this experience with words, with music, with art that transcends anything tangible.
I think it has everything to do with…everything.
In an old VH1 Behind the Music episode featuring the Black Crows, Chris Robinson comes at it from a different angle. He talks about his music being part of something bigger, a universal “song” that his band taps into.
“There’s a little kid, right now, in elementary school who’s gonna grow up and write a song and knock us all out, and, I love that. I was that kid, you know. We have just tuned into the song. We call it the song…We just grabbed our piece of the big song. It’s beautiful.” -Chris Robinson
I would listened to the Black Crows Shake Your Moneymaker over and over again driving back and forth from Indiana to Alabama when I was in college, and remember watching that VH1 episode years later when it aired back in 1999. Chris Robinson talking about music – about tapping into “the song” – stuck with me.
I like thinking about words and writing in this way. That we can all tap into something bigger than each of us individually and independently of one another. I believe that the deeper we dig within ourselves when it comes to our writing, the more likely we are to find whatever it is that connects us.
And that’s not just music, or writing, or art. It’s our humanity.
And, it’s kind of beautiful.