“Don’t go around tonight
Well it’s bound to take your life
There’s a bad moon on the rise.”
Creedence Clearwater Revival,
Bad Moon Rising
2020 was a…very character-building year, I could say.
The pandemic shook all of us pretty hard, and the fight still isn’t over. Then there was the murder of George Floyd, which brought about the Black Lives Matter movement. Also there was the US Presidential Election. And Malaysia has had its share of political turmoil too — and it would be a sin not to mention the frequent water disruptions. To add to that, I’m sure we all had to go through our own set of tribulations in our personal lives.
Yet, from all that chaos, there have surely been lessons that are worth their weight in gold. I would share the lessons that I’ve learned from the past year — however, I consider myself to be a very musical person. And behind every thought, there was always music.
Here are five songs that I think best encapsulate those lessons.
p.s. I’m trying hard not to write about Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” — because it’s my everyday song and I’ve written so much about it already.
Bad Moon Rising by Creedence Clearwater Revival
“I hear hurricanes a-blowing
I know the end is coming soon
I fear rivers over flowing
I hear the voice of rage and ruin.”
John Fogerty famously wrote this song to capture the vibes of the present times. It was the 60s, and needless to say, a lot had been going on — the Vietnam War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Civil Rights protests, the assassination of JFK. There was an ever-present feeling that the world was about to turn over, and it was immortalized through this song.
When the pandemic broke out, I found an odd sense of comfort in turning to history, as it gives me a heightened perspective amidst all the present turmoil. Other than consuming books and documentaries, I listened to songs like this — songs that reflected the times in which they were written. Because number 1 : you realize that your situation could have been a lot worse (if that’s the case), and number 2 : you realize that when those past events happened, the people who lived through them were feeling the same things as we’ve been feeling now. Everyone felt like their situation was never going to get better, everyone felt like their lives would never be the same — but eventually, things did turn out okay.
Killing in the Name by Rage Against the Machine
“Those who died are justified
For wearing the badge, they’re the chosen whites
You justify those who died
For wearing the badge, you’re the chosen whites.”
Rage Against the Machine wrote this song in response to the police brutality case of Rodney King back in 1991. And regrettably, it has only become more relevant, especially with George Floyd’s death last year.
Racism, as with other dark traits in our human nature, could never be totally quelled. It would always be there in whatever shape or form, and that’s just the harsh reality of our life here. But we can always do the best we can to voice out on these issues, to denounce violence, to strive in collectively being “the better angels of our nature”, as Lincoln put it. And your art is the best prop and lever you have to do just that.
Exist by Avenged Sevenfold
“Do we admit that our thoughts and behaviors spring from a belief that the world revolves around us?
Each fabricated conflict, self-murdering bomb
Vanished airplane, every fictionalized dictator, biased or partisan, and wayward son
Are part of the curtains of society’s racial, ethnic, religious, national, and cultural conflicts
And you find the human ego turning the knobs and pulling the levers.”
I discovered Avenged Sevenfold’s “The Stage” album during the first few weeks of quarantine, when the impact was the hardest. The album discusses human nature (our ego and our penchant for warfare), and societal issues ranging from artificial intelligence to politics and loss of faith. It ends with a long and hopeful song called “Exist”, which invites us to remember our place in the world — or the cosmos, to be more specific.
With an incredibly inspiring spoken-word performance by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson in the last five minutes, it makes us realize how our lives, all our petty conflicts, all our worries are so cancelled out in comparison to the infinitely large and expanding cosmos. And with that, this song was a great companion during my lowest points. It still is, really.
My Back Pages by Bob Dylan
“Half-wracked prejudice leaped forth, ‘rip down all hate,’ I screamed
Lies that life is black and white spoke from my skull, I dreamed
Romantic facts of musketeers foundationed deep, somehow
Ah, but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.”
The album “Another Side of Bob Dylan” was a huge turning point for Dylan. He had stopped writing protest songs, and he was entering a mature milestone in his songwriting, as well as his worldview. “My Back Pages” is an especially interesting song from the album. As journalist Robert Shelton wrote, the song is “an internal dialogue between what (Dylan) once accepted and now doubts.”
He started to become disillusioned with his own worldview, and in the song, he criticizes himself for acting as if he was a know-all. He had come to accept that a world without hatred, war and inequality would be virtually impossible and too idealistic. The world has never been black-and-white as he had thought, and good and bad isn’t always simple to distinguish. He was no different, he realized, from the enemies that he was preaching against.
This song has taught me to be more humble in everything I say and do. It reminds me to not fall into the danger of thinking I’m the smartest or the rightest person in the room. Because my personal beliefs or opinions about any topic could change down the road. I might learn so much more than what I think I already know now. Even with writing, I’m only doing so with I know and what I’m feeling at the moment. As what usually turns out, I might look back at my writings after a long time has passed and just cringe at where I was then.
California by Tom Petty
“California’s been good to me
Hope it don’t fall into the sea
Sometimes you got to trust yourself
It ain’t like anywhere else
It ain’t like anywhere else.”
The release of “Wildflowers and all the Rest” made my year so much sunnier. The original album was one of my all-time favorites already, and to finally be able to listen to the previously unreleased songs completely blew my mind. A song that particularly stands out to me is “California”. I think it revolves around the same theme as the album’s title-track, which is being at peace and wanting the best for yourself.
There is a verse in the demo version of the song that I wish Petty had kept, in which he sings, “I forgive my past, I forgive my enemies. I don’t know, does it last? Gonna just wait and see.” For me at least, California is a metaphor for heading towards a better place in your life, and trusting yourself in doing so. Thinking about the future can be scary at times. But you just have to keep the faith that good things will come your way. You well deserve them, and you will get there.
Hope you have a great year!