Prompt Series #7 – Write about a song and the memories or feelings it evokes in you.

PromptWrite about a song and the memories or feelings it evokes in you.

This is going to be a very different answer than most would give. The song: “Carbon Freeze; Darth Vader’s Trap; Departure of Boba Fett” from The Empire Strikes Back soundtrack release in 1997 alongside the special editions coming to theatres.

Up until middle school, I wasn’t much of a music listener.  The first album I ever had was a cassette of Bobby McFerrin’s Simple Pleasures, which featured his award winning and  iconic song “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”. There are other songs I like better on that album… as well as McFerrin’s overall body of work. I think my second album was the soundtrack to the Lion King. Due in large part to my love of the Star Wars movies, and playing the Shadows of the Empire video game, I was drawn to get this music. I believe it was sometime during 7th grade when I landed this soundtrack, perhaps for my birthday.  The other Star Wars soundtracks followed, with A New Hope and Return of the Jedi during 8th grade. Shadows of the Empire was sometime toward the end of 8th grade at a Borders bookstore, around the time The Phantom Menace came out which I got immediately after seeing the movie at FYE.

The point of that narrative is to explain how I became obsessed with this music during a rather interesting time in my life. I took songs from all the Star Wars movies and eventually arranged them to fit story points in my own life. It was a way of connecting the amazing music and emotion of my life and give it some kind of soundtrack. Middle school was a turbulent time for most, and it wasn’t any different for me. Star Wars themes of heroism, struggle, darkness, and light all fit nicely for the seven years ending with high school graduation.

The song I listed is  the portion of The Empire Strikes Back where Luke lands on Bespin,  Leia watches Han get frozen, Luke starts to wander the halls of Bespin, followed by the start of his duel with Vader while Leia, Chewie, Lando, and C-3PO make a break to find Boba Fett, albeit, unsuccessfully. This is essentially the beginning of the climax of the movie. This track ultimately played overlay in my own personal soundtrack to a certain week in 8th grade.

I am not going to go into great detail, but the week in question involved my interest in a girl, how others decided to pry that secret out of me and then spill the beans very loudly before a class began to the entire class, in which she was also present. I was awkward throughout the situation and helped contribute to the rumor mill to some degree. I ultimately became deeply depressed for several days. Not because interest wasn’t mutual, but more so because I wasn’t the one to convey my own feelings. I felt somewhat violated in a way, cheated by friends and acquaintances, from going on my own path to success or failure. The piece of music conveys intense dramatic elements, shattered love, dark themes, and Boba Fett’s motif plays three times which I always paralleled to me walking down the halls for the three days during that short week in school trying not to attract attention to myself since I felt eyes burning through my soul. The track ends with a heroic piece, signifying the end of the dark three days, as I eventually came out of my broken mood. The entire event was probably absorbed too seriously on my part, but middle school is that kind of era in the heart, soul, and emotions of a  young teen.

I could probably write an entry like this for nearly every Star Wars soundtrack released through 2005, conveying how I associated a musical element from John Williams’s master pieces as a backdrop to my own life and key events throughout. This one stands out though, because it was really at the start of my intense obsession with all things Star Wars, especially with a new movie coming out  in a couple of months. The music helped me absorb the emotion of the time and make sense of the cruel worlds of middle and high school, while also cheering me on to victory in many other ways along the way.

The last thing I will say is that it is a real shame that The Empire Strikes Back didn’t win the Oscar for best original music/soundtrack. The music is the pinnacle  achievement (I think) for Williams with Star Wars overall. I still rank that score as my favorite of all time and could listen to it in full endlessly. I am kind of bummed that iTunes and iPod’s didn’t exist back then. I’d love to know just how many times I actually listened to that soundtrack. Especially on my old CD player as I sat in the backseat of my parents car, trekking to basketball games or weekend shopping experiences.  The music got me pumped for those basketball games too… so many stories for other times, and   a Star Wars track to accompany it.

A Journey with Music: Words are Cheap. Hear the Themes.

I am musically inept. I don’t know terminology. I don’t know how to read music. I couldn’t name pretty much any popular or indie artists. If there was a Jeopardy category on music, I’d probably never ring in. My musical performance died with the Flutophone in 3rd grade. I cannot carry a tune in a bucket. Music was never a huge part of my childhood. I didn’t ever really adopt a music of preference until I got an iPad Classic in 2008. I was in my early 20s at that point.

Prior to college, my music collection comprised the Star Wars soundtracks, Bobby McFerrin, a couple of Christian artists,  and generic hymn or praise song collections. As college began, I started to absorb more and more contemporary Christian artists. Some of the songs had a theological power. Some of the songs had emotional power. Some of the songs were bad. Especially bad if the songs can replace “Jesus” with “generic boyfriend name” and the song worked in a different, unnerving context. But between the local radio station that played Christian music and dwindling artists of interest, things started to shift for me. I again leaned heavily on the influence of John William’s Star Wars scores and some of Bobby McFerrin’s more obscure works. Which for people not overly familiar with Bobby McFerrin, was far less mainstream than Don’t Worry, Be Happy. Check out the Circlesong’s album, I always liked Circle Song 6 best.

All throughout middle and high school, the Star Wars music was a sort of melodic backdrop to the overly dramatized happenings in teen life. The rich musical variation of  soft and somber cues, the dark and trying themes, hints of love and mystery, and heroic themes of epic battle carried me along. This never really left me.   As I tried to simplify my musical listening experience with the technology of mp3 players and eventually the iPod, the yearning for new stuff slowly grew. And so the last decade has been a musical explosion. Film scores and soundtracks is where everything shifted. Perhaps even a bit obsessive now.

Why does this music resonate with me? I never cared much for pop music. My parents mostly listened to stuff from before the 80s, The older it was, the less rich the underlying themes felt.  Anything approaching the Lawrence Welk show’s territory should be muted immediately. Judging from today’s pop music, the themes, beats, lyrics, and everything about it is highly commercialized and dumbed-down. A lot of songs more or less use the same underlying themes and cues.  I guess the indie scene is pretty big too. There are so many indie artists with the ease of releasing one’s productions that it is hard to realistically weed through them. You kind of have to discover them more organically and have it click for a moment in time. I don’t decry rap music as being the devil, but the lyrical content is pretty important as to whether I would say an artist is really worth absorbing into your gray matter. The beats can be pretty cool though.

What does all this ultimately lead back to? The musical cues, themes, beats, motifs, etc. These are most fully realized in today’s movies, TV shows, video games, and other visual media. I’d say nothing is more diverse than film scores today. At least, nothing catches my ear and pleases it to the same degree with such diversity. You are not limited to some genre featuring a folksy acoustic guitar, over-processed auto-tuned vocals, a guitar group with a crazy drummer, hard to hear grunts, or the likes. No, you can experience those same sounds or entire orchestras with diverse instruments sewn together in harmony. Electronic beats, synthesizers, choirs, experimental pairings of instruments, traditional instruments. It is all there and some real musical masters are weaving it all together.

I think the underlying themes within film scores, pop music, rock, rap, whatever you want is really what attaches us to the music. Lyrics can be shallow, nonsensical, or in languages we do not understand, yet the song touches us. Hence why I think, in general, words are cheap with music. It is the melody, the motifs, the way certain harmonies can touch our emotions that truly has the power. There is probably some science and nature aspect that makes it innate in our humanity. Although I no longer watch the show, it is why I loathe singers on America’s Got Talent that cover songs and how they usually find a way to win more often than not. Singers are generally a dime a dozen. Millions, if not a billion or two, people can carry tunes in a bucket. Hundreds of thousands do it really well and could try to be professional singers. So to me, it is the melodies under the lyrics that truly capture us. Most singers are not doing something original on these contest shows, hence why they  really have no impact after the show. Same goes for any American Idol, Voice, etc. competition.

All rambling aside, instrumental music, classical music, film scores, soundtracks, etc. have captured me. I will have a lot more to say about the ones I like in coming posts. But the last decade has opened me up in ways I didn’t think possible. So words are cheap. Listen for the themes underneath and let them sink into your soul. You will feel good.