“When we were children, we used to think that when we grew up we would no longer be vulnerable. But to grow up is to accept vulnerability. To be alive is to be vulnerable.”
In an Alter Bridge concert, lead singer and rhythm guitarist Myles Kennedy can often be heard playing the guitar parts of the song Blackbird by The Beatles, before the band starts belting out their own song of the same name.
One can imagine that as he plays those parts, his mind is flooded with memories of his late friend, Mark Morse, who sold him his first guitar when he was young, and taught him the song as one of his first repertoires.
To soothe his own grief, Kennedy started writing one of his best songs, Blackbird, when Morse was dying from his long battle with cancer. In the song, Kennedy refers to his friend by the Beatles tune that he had learned from him. Just as the song was nearing its completion, Morse died.
Kennedy had seen his friend in his state of suffering for a long time. In the lyrics, he bids farewell to his friend, expressing his hopes that he might finally be in a better place that is full of hope and devoid of pain.
“Let the wind carry you home
Blackbird, fly away
May you never be broken again
Beyond the suffering you’ve known
I hope you find your way
May you never be broken again”
Blackbird is widely held as a favorite among the fans, as well as the band themselves. Despite being an emotionally difficult song, especially for Kennedy to perform, it is the highlight of their shows. The band has heard from countless fans telling them that Blackbird saved their lives, just as many of their other songs in their catalogue, which largely revolve around the theme of hope.
“It’s such a universal theme: loss and death,” said Kennedy in an interview. “So I think that’s part of the reason so many people gravitate towards that song; because we’ve all gone through it, and we’re all going to continue to go through it.”
Having dealt with lifelong anxiety and depression, Myles Kennedy is no stranger in battling dark thoughts and feelings. Yet, writing candidly about these struggles were how his songs managed to find their way to their ardent listeners. His inspiring songs, were in fact, directed towards himself first. They were written as a way to comfort himself in whatever he was going through.
He once said, “Depression is a beast. I’ve danced with it plenty — all my life, and a lot of creative people do. Fortunately, I have an outlet to try and deal with it, with my music.”
And as he said in another interview, “Songwriting, for me, has been the best outlet because it helps me write these songs and create these mantras that I can replay in my own head.”
For my own part, I’m one of those many people who could say that Alter Bridge’s music has pulled me from the darkest corners of my life, many times before.
Their songs are like resolute mantras, that beckon to you in your most trying times. Alongside Blackbird, which deals with grief, some of my favorite songs include Metalingus, about reapproaching life with newfound clarity; Broken Wings, about finding meaning in dark times; Ties that Bind, about breaking away from the people and beliefs that hold you back; and The Ghost of Days Gone By; about leaving the past where it belongs.
Listening to Alter Bridge reminds me of the comfort that I personally find in writing, and just how much of a blessing it is to have this craft as an outlet for me to express myself. This craft is like a loyal friend that tirelessly listens to your banters, and even guides you in thinking deeper, in considering life from different perspectives.
And the beautiful thing is that if you write as honestly as you can, the byproduct of it is that other people can find meaning from it as well.
Coming back to Blackbird, I couldn’t imagine how hard it must have been for Kennedy to write and sing those lyrics. But my heart swells every time I listen to the song, because in some way, I feel that the lyrics are meant for me — in that it makes me realize that there is much more to life than our suffering.
Again and again, I’m reminded of the value of being vulnerable in sharing art, in being unreserved in displaying our humanity. Because it is only by being vulnerable that we truly get to connect with one another. It is through vulnerability that our art can mean something to not only ourselves, but to other people as well.
As Kennedy explained, “As an artist, part of your challenge and job is to maintain a certain amount of vulnerability and transparence with your emotions. Though it’s not always easy to explore some of the things that you explore as a songwriter, it’s necessary.”
He added, “If you find a way to do that and you’re genuine about it, you then experience the listener expressing how it moves them and what it means in their life and I think that’s the pay off. If you take that risk and dig deep inside and essentially regurgitate these intimate feelings or insecurities or fears or whatever it is, the pay off is when you realize that that’s reflected back through the fans. It’s a give and take.”
I personally have no idea what I would do, or where I would be without this outlet to keep myself sane and healthy. Who knows — I might not even be alive today, if it weren’t for this unassuming and vulnerable act of putting words onto a blank page, which gives my life an immense sense of meaning.
But most importantly, I’d like to say a sincere thank you from the bottom of my heart to the artists I’ve loved, who were vulnerable in their art. I truly believe that art makes life worth living — and it wouldn’t be so without the courageous decision to bare a part of yourself out there in your work.