If I were to reflect on my most cherished books, songs or movies — I could say that they share one commonality. They speak with an unrelenting positive outlook on life. They refuse to let life get the best of them. They invite their audience to walk tall, to be strong.
Tom Petty’s song “I Won’t Back Down” has driven me through many, many tough times, and more exams than I could keep count of. The songs “Walk” and “Best of You” by Foo Fighters, and fairly recently “Not Today” by Twenty One Pilots are almost always on my daily playing.
I have a tiny poster of one of my all-time favorite movies, The Shawshank Redemption pinned above my study table; a picture of Andy Dufresne staring at his miniature pickaxe with the words hanging above him, “Fear can hold you prisoner. Hope can set you free.”
That also tells us how artists survive in the long haul. They revolve their work around recurring themes in life and in human nature — They’re things that are relevant today, and will still be, if not more relevant tomorrow. Finding triumph in adversity is only one of those many themes.
In Shawshank the character Andy consistently tunnels through the prison walls with a miniature pickaxe for 20 years. An ardent lover of Geology, it appealed to him that all it takes to pave a path to freedom are “pressure and time”. 20 years. That kind of resiliency.
Before escaping prison, he tells his friend, Red about a place in Mexico called Zihuatanejo — Situtated near the Pacific Ocean, it is “a place with no memory”. It’s where he plans to spend the rest of his life.
Upon his escape, Red reflects, “Some birds aren’t meant to be caged. Their feathers are just too bright”.
Universality is why these works are still around in our life. While we might not have experienced the exact events as depicted, we have felt the same way about other things in our own lives. No doubt about it.
Tim Robbins, the actor who portrayed Andy in the film commented, “In the end, it’s a film about people being in jail and having hope to get out of that jail. Now, why is that universal? Not everybody has been in jail. But maybe on a deeper level, a metaphysical level, people feel enslaved by their environments, their jobs, their relationships, by whatever it is in the course of their lives that puts the wall or the bars around them. And the idea that you can survive for many, many years in this kind of enslavement, or prison of your own making, and that there’s a Zihuatanejo somewhere in your future I think that’s something that really is important to people; the idea that Zihuatanejo can exist for all of us.”
It’s very much the same reason why I listen to songs like Best of You over and over again. The lyrics touch a very vulnerable part in their listeners, without having to say anything specific or detailed. It’s simply a song about “breaking away from the things that confine you”, as said by its writer, Dave Grohl.
Simple, but not many songs can do that.
Mark Pellington, the man who directed the music video for the song, gave his testimony, which resonated deeply with me.
“I was drawn to the feelings of the lyrics — the realism and the pain,” he said “And it’s pain of love and pain of memory. My wife passed away nine months ago, and I realized that the world is not black and white; it’s filled with colors of everything crashing together beautifully. And I think that’s what the song is about: accepting the pain and the beauty, being emotional but remaining positive.”
Hopefully this article serves as a reminder to you of how deeply works of art can impact our lives. From that, you should not only be aware of what you read, watch, or listen to — Because there are works that can turn life into a dump hole, that do nothing but make us wallow in negativity to horrible extents. That’s not art that I would personally believe in. But also, if you’re seeking to create new things, do it in a great way. Leave a beautiful legacy.