Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Cannonball By Lea Michelle

Okay, Shaun, here you go:

Cory Monteith’s death resonated in popular culture. As one of the stars of the popular show Glee! his character endeared himself to audiences as a jock who liked to sing. His co-star Lea Michelle was also his girlfriend and when he died we were all shocked. As hard as it was to imagine loosing a co-start the tragedy of loosing a boyfriend as well was heartbreaking.

Pop music is sometimes frivolous and it's sometimes profound. Taylor Swift has made her mark using her music to work through the emotions and struggles of her own life. It’s fun game to listen a song and try to figure out which boyfriend she’s singing about. While this is entertaining, does this make her songs better? Not necessarily.

The Coen brothers claim that their film Fargo was based on real events, which they later revealed to be a false statement. Does that film feel different when you assume it reflects real events? Yes. When we harness the story in reality our suspension of disbelief changes as we allow ourselves to believe more of what we see to be plausible then a film we are told is fiction.

Pop singers are actors. We don’t expect that what they are singing about is actually something they have experienced. There is a suspension of belief that  was at one time actually crazy in love. When we are told that a song is based on a true story, we listen to it deeper and try to decipher what the lyrics are really saying not so much metaphorically but more literally.

When I heard that “Cannonball” was about Monteith’s death, I expected a heartfelt tribute, instead a got something very different. In this way, connecting the song to a real life tragedy threw me off course.


From the first word of the song, you know this isn’t your ordinary song about death.  Is it “breakdown,” as in she’s having a mental breakdown or is it “break down,” an action and get out of the walls she has built up around herself.

If I wasn’t told ahead of time, I would have thought that this song was actually about a break-up, not the death of a loved one. It is exactly these different ways that you could interpret this song that makes it interesting.

The mourning of Cory’s death has put her in darkness, and she needs to find a way into the light.  She lights the “fuse” and like a cannonball she flies. A cannonball doesn't fly, rather it’s propelled for the purpose of demolishing. While this analogy may seem strange, it fits what Michelle is trying to say. She can't simply fly away from the darkness of her loss, she needs to be propelled by something more powerful than death. In this way she can move on with her life and let go of her fear.

While we are seeing a trend of artists mining their own lives for inspiration for songs and sharing these intentions with their fans, the story behind the music really doesn't speak to the what is truly meaningful in music. 

All songs are amalgamations of emotions that come from true life.  Some songs speak more directly to actual events than others but all songs express feelings that come from the human experience.  Artists can provide context for us which appeals to many people and makes songs feel more authentic.  However, if the story doesn't reflect events in our own lives and the song doesn't resonate with our experiences, the connection to an actual event becomes meaningless. 

Great music doesn't have to be about actual events to be intensely personal and artistically profound.  Truly great music needs to authentically reflect emotions from our lives.  This makes the song feel as much about the story behind the music as the story of our own lives. 

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