Whether it is the song played during the first dance at a wedding or the radio somehow reminding you of a deceased loved one, music has a long history of being intertwined with our deepest emotions. Yet this doesn’t just seem to be the case for the listener, as many artists use stories of their most painful memories as inspiration for their art. There have been many instances where I’ve listened to a song and reflected on how much sorrow is carried within the lyrics. Country music in particular has staked a reputation for generating a great deal of these morose melodies, present both in classic country as well as the current contemporary trend. While this may be true, the question still remains whether such music is simply the result of inspiration though somber events, or some much more personal to the artist.
In Luke Bryan‘s song “Drink A Beer” from his 2013 album Crash My Party, Bryan tells about losing his best friend, which many assumed to be him referring to his brother who died in 1996, as well as detailing the grieving process he faced afterwards. When asked about the transparency within his music in a Rolling Stone interview, the country singer offered a simple answer, saying that opening up his personal life offered a sense of reliability, especially for those undergoing similar tragedies. Because the loss of both his brother and sister coincided with his progressing country music career, Bryan considered them less as inspiration but rather “completely immersed” within his career. To him, the sadness simply flowed out from who he is as an artist, rather than anything deliberate.
Yet sadness and loss within country music is not just experienced by the listeners. In my favorite country song of all time, “When I Get Where I’m Going,” by Brad Paisley and Dolly Parton, this duet talks about the struggle of living in such a broken world, facing many “sins and temptations” and experiencing “pain and darkness.” When asked about this, songwriter Rivers Rutherford answered in an interview that when the statement “Where I get where I’m going” came up, the only thing he could think about was heaven, since he had just lost his grandfather. Because of the this, the whole song was shaped around this idea of loss and redemption. However, the idea wasn’t picked up until Rutherford connected with Paisley, who had just lost a close aunt, and agreed to sing it uncut in it’s entirety. This shows that even during the songwriting process, the mutual feelings of loss connects beyond just the lyrics, as it creates an understanding beyond that which can be explained by words.
It is for this reason that I believe the mutual understanding of personal struggle to be so powerful that it connects individuals, whether in it’s initial development or public broadcasting, on an intimate level that country music has seen great success in utilizing.
“After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music”