I heard a song this week that made me interested in listening to music again. Unfortunately, you’ll probably never hear it.
I majored in music, played professionally for a few years, then turned to producing television. I currently write video documentaries. I’m usually given a big box of videotapes, photographs, etc., and from those, I create the documentary. It’s in this context that I heard the song.
The documentary is about an admirable young man. Donald (not his real name) maintained a 4.0 grade point average through high school, was a Beta Club member, and participated in the Hi-Q academic team. He also worked as an accounting assistant at a local business. He was active in his church and led the morning devotionals at his school.
Donald was a National Merit Scholar. His principal says he had the test scores and grades to get a scholarship at college or university in the country, including Harvard. Donald chose to go to a religious school because he wanted to be a youth minister.
About a year ago, Donald was in his first semester at collage. He attended a religious event with about a dozen other students at his school. They were returning in a 15-passenger van. A tire blew. The van turned over. Three of the students were killed – one was Donald.
He left behind grieving parents, of course, and also a grieving girlfriend.
In her interview, Jan (not her real name either) talked about what an inspirational person Donald was. She described herself only as “a silly girl who plays guitar.”
I put a tape into the player and watched. There was Jan holding a big acoustic guitar. “Oh, Jeebus,” I thought as the cynical old newsman kicked in. “Just what I need to hear – a girl screeching and flailing on a dreadnought guitar.”
First surprise – she curled her fingers around the strings and began to fingerpick, thumb bent backwards and fingers double-jointedly bent on the fret board in the style of the self-taught. The playing was acceptable for what it was.
Second surprise – a big, full, almost Joan Baez voice. Not at all the whiny late-alternative voice I had expected.
The song started poorly, with mournful lyrics about how she missed Donald carried by a mournful melody. But the mournful part was only the intro – when she hit the verses the lyrics changed to celebrate Donald’s life, and his inspiration to her. Jan had written uneven line lengths with changes in meter and rhyme within the lines – all over a very nice, soaring melody. The second verse lyrics were subtle changes in the first to show Donald’s inspiration to everyone.
Jan sang this song into the wild-sound mic of a video camera. She sang about something that the cared about – that she loved. She sang with passion and feeling and soul.
Yes, she’s only a gifted amateur. But I’d rather listen to someone who cares than the entire Cheap Channel play list.