My guess is that you don’t know me.
I am a music fanatic. I spend a career-threatening amount of time each day thinking about and digesting music, and turning over the realities of the music industry in my brain. I fill the gaps with graphic design, video games, and quoting TV and movies without caring to explain the context.
Recently I’ve been wrestling with the concept of support and what that could mean in the music world.
Usually, when we picture supporting music, we see ourselves buying albums, concert tickets, and band merch. Digging a bit deeper, “support” might also suggest that we stand with the artist, their lyrics, their mission, their beliefs, etc. In fact, sharing an artist’s beliefs is often what draws us to them in the first place.
What began as merely thinking about support transformed into wrestling when I realized that, “Oh crap... I don’t share beliefs with every artist that I listen to.” Not only do many of my favorite artists hold political, religious, and societal beliefs that I don’t, but on an even simpler level, I’ve mostly just not been through what they have. I’ve never been an alcoholic. I’m not a recovering drug addict. I’ve always known my father, and he’s nice. I don’t know pretty much any of the lyrics to Piano Man. The only experience I really share with any of my favorite artists is heartbreak, and even then it was over a completely different woman (I’m pretty sure).
I found myself wondering if it was even right for me to support these artists whose views and experiences are those I don’t share, and in some cases, directly oppose. It’s not like it would be hateful for me to refrain from listening to that stuff, would it? If anything, I’m separating myself from negativity… right? I don’t owe them a single megabyte of space on my phone… do I?
The wrestling began.
I discovered an important difference between support and support (one that you can’t see just by reading both words). As established, a deeper support in one sense is to stand with or behind someone, and by extension, their beliefs and actions. I wondered if, in another sense, support was simply being there for the person. By this definition, supporting an artist involves analyzing and contemplating their music in an attempt to discover and digest its meaning for the sake of discovering on a deeper level its creator.
At first I thought it was ridiculous - the idea that I could knowingly listen to a song about cocaine addiction or prostitutes and walk away an unscathed, decent, heaven-bound, drugless, prostitute-less man - but with the re-realization that sins and sinners are two radically different things came the feeling that I truly was onto something.
Besides, who the hell do I think I am? I’ve had addictions. I’ ve wronged people - even destroyed them in some cases. I sin by the minute for goodness’ sake. Surely I don’t believe I’ve lost my right to be heard, so should I assume these artists have lost theirs? Is it just for God and the world to stop listening once they know what I’ve been up to lately?
If so, I’m totally screwed.
After reflecting for a millisecond upon my humanity, I find myself in need of some serious help if there’s any hope of me getting anywhere decent beyond Earth. Do you hear me? I need help, people. Are you listening? Okay I need an outlet, here. SOMEBODY GO GET MY FREAKING GUITAR.
No, I’m not saying that every artist’s intention is to send out a hell-fearing distress call. Rather, I’m suggesting that, as an audience called to the imitation of Christ, it’s no more a sin for us to listen to a broken musician’s songs than it is a sin for us to listen to a broken man’s words. I daresay it’s hardly different at all. Some people talk. Others play music. Are we listening?
Of course, it would be naive to assume that each and every ounce of music warrants even our attention, much less our support. Unfortunately, there’s a great deal of music that flat-out glorifies sin. We can often identify this garbage effortlessly, as it’s riddled with the usual: self-glorifying, materialistic, prideful, hyper-sexualized nonsense. The tricky thing is that honest, broken music often contains the same sins, so how do we tell what is and isn’t worth our attention?
Honest, sinful, broken music has every right to my support so long as there’s a desire for repair. A musical recap of a drugged out Tuesday night at the club with every intention of selfish, weekly repetition clearly holds no redemptive quality, and therefore loses my support immediately. I’d maintain that listening to such music is sinful so long as doing so supports it, and so long as supporting it means that I stand with the mission, meaning, and beliefs it represents.
Now, some might argue that, simply because artists are freely using their gifts in order to be self-expressive, all of their creations are good by default. In that case, it wouldn’t be worth a second of consideration that any art would be bad to consume.
See, what I find so fascinating about art in general is that it’s the unique gift we’ve been given to imitate God in his creativity. Of course, the important difference between God’s creation and ours is that He’s God and we’re us (key word: imitate). Naturally, that means we have the ability to royally screw up in a way that He just cannot. That’s another gift we’ve been given called free will. Much appreciated, God. Sorry we misuse that sometimes. A lot.
It’s also worth noting that one can fully appreciate the instrumentation in an otherwise entirely unsupportable song, as the lyrics are usually (if not always) responsible for the presence of sin in the music. However, be wary of how mentally difficult it is to separate the music from its lyrical counterpart, and also of those audio samples of gunshots and orgasms. Just… why?
Okay, let me paint this whole picture in another way.
In the spring of 2012, I took an evangelical mission trip to New Orleans, Louisiana. Going in, I figured the meaningful, introspection-inducing conversations would be naturally reserved for a select few bizarre strangers. Of course, it only takes knowing what the word “humanity” means to have more realistic expectations.
I found that every single interaction brought with it at least enough beauty to make me stop and think about the person beyond that two minute conversation. I found myself contemplating at eye-level the lives of addicts, thieves, murderers, soldiers, grandfathers, widows, the poor, and - to my surprise - the average Joe. The only reason this crucial change was even possible is because I decided to do something I hadn’t really done before. I listened, and by doing so, I was there for the person.
Of course, if the extent of a given conversation was a man recounting the time he looted a bookstore for drug money and shot the manager on the way out, my response ought not have supported these actions or the careless and proud eye with which their actor viewed them. If anything, refusing to lend my support would be to oppose actions and attitudes worthy of opposition. Furthermore, if the conversation were to inspire me to follow in his footsteps, we’d both have a serious problem.
Prior to the New Orleans trip, I never really felt it was my work to be sitting there listening to your stories, no matter how real you or your stories were. I wanted to nod my head at you and hear that it was going either “pretty good” or “not too bad” without any interest in whether or not either of those was actually the freaking case. Once I saw to it that those I interacted with were being genuinely heard, I saw more and more beauty unfold, and so it’s been with music; at least for the music worth listening to.
Ultimately, no matter the instance, the opportunity is always there to love and support any given person - musical or otherwise - insofar as we will the good for the person. I figure that refusing to support an artist’s creation can be a damn good way to support their person if the situation calls for it.
Oftentimes the wholesome, raw, broken music is difficult to hear, but I’ve sensed the sins, struggles, fears, mistakes, victories, warring questions, and raw humanity of my favorite musicians through the honesty in their craft. As a result, I’ve come to know the realities of their person on a much deeper level, and I have to believe that we, audience and artist, can only benefit from listening and speaking honestly.
Mark Kaschak is a New Hampshire-based graphic designer, musician, and husband by both day and night. He runs a sweet music blog called Backline and he wants you to check it out.