The late movie critic Roger Ebert once said he didn’t have a favorite movie but that he had many favorites. In terms of music, I feel the same way. Jimi Hendrix, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Led Zeppelin, Fleetwood Mac, the Rolling Stones, the Doors, Sam Cooke, Prince, Michael Jackson, Ice Cube — depending on the day and how long the car ride is, I will listen to any, or all, of these artists with glee. Please do not ask which is my favorite. Did Voldemort have a favorite Horcrux? No, he needed all of them. So, too, do I need the variety of sounds, styles and emotions that each of these artists offer in their music (Sorry, that was an awful “Harry Potter” analogy).
To truly enjoy music, I need the wailing voice of John Fogerty, the deep, echoing chords of Hendrix, Ice Cube’s anger, the unique sound of Led Zeppelin, Morrison’s oddness and Prince’s artistry. Listening to Run-D.M.C. right after Eric Clapton, or “Folsom Prison Blues” followed by “Ain’t No Sunshine,” gives me such an appreciation for all that music is — for all that art can do. These artists have nothing in common — different beats, themes, sounds — except the ability to create beautiful, harmonious noise that conveys a message, story or poem. The creative passion binds the great musicians together, and yet it also separates them. For it is the act of creation in which the musical spectrum takes shape. In other words, it is in creating that the artist makes music according to his or her own inclination or style. And a good portion of what makes these artists truly great is this difference in style.
By listening to this diverse range of expression, we enter into the most direct form of creative diversity life can offer. And this entry is a vital part, I think, of the human experience: The ability to make something meaningful out of insignificant means is one of the essential characteristics of humanity. We are all creative in our own ways. Even those of us who are not musically inclined or artistically motivated are still creating friendships, still forming and shaping ideas, still making diverse life choices. At the very heart of humanity lies an ineffable urge to make sense of things by making things; it is the privilege of being a human being that through those made things — relationships, businesses, music, literature, sculptures, architecture — we can acquire a deeper understanding of ourselves, life and where we fit in this world.
Music, to me, carries within itself this power to make sense of, supplement and enrich life in a way that no other medium can. Show me people who can absolutely resist the urge to get up offa that thing when they hear James Brown screeching “Get Up Offa That Thing.” Show me people whose souls would not be touched when they hear Yo-Yo Ma create a beautiful melody in “The Swan.” The fantastic spectrum of music, from entertainment to poetry, from Taylor Swift to Bob Dylan, is part of what makes music such an important part of enjoying life. If we expose ourselves to not just country, but also hip-hop or maybe classical or classic rock at least, we are engaging in the truest expression of the creative urge. By doing so, we affirm our unique humanness — we indulge that capacity to make sense of things through made things.
As you can tell, I hope, I take music very seriously. It is not just a means of entertainment, though that genre or style is oftentimes necessary for me. I, like everyone else, need to switch off my mind for a while and enjoy a catchy song. But I guess what I want to say is this: Music is so much more than that. There is a layer to music that lies beyond human expression; it can move me to tears or leave me deep in thought. There is a power there — let’s enjoy it together.
Scott Stinson is a UF English and philosophy sophomore. His column usually appears on Tuesdays.