This morning I learned that Eric Church, a musician I respect and admire, was a headlining act of the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas, where over 50 people were killed and over 500 were injured during a mass shooting early this week. Eric Church wrote a song afterwards with haunting lyrics asking, “Why you? and why not me?” I read his Facebook post, where he shared his feelings and his love for his fans, and I listened to the song he just wrote and performed at the Grand Ole Opry.
It was while I was reading the comment section of his Facebook post that I was again reminded of the incredibly important role that art plays in our lives.
I read comment after comment of people thanking him for writing that song. Individuals who survived the massacre saying they hadn’t been able to cry until they heard that song. Those still in shock now able to reconnect with their heart and loss by simply listening to a song. Others who survived past infamous massacres sharing their experiences and expressing gratitude for a song that speaks to them. Church has captured the questions and feelings of so many, and validates their pain and confusion. It’s a shared experience: bringing together hurting souls, sharing each other’s weakness to produce a new beautiful type of strength. It’s life and healing in the midst of death and separation.
This is what art is about. This what we as artists do- we help people connect with their own humanity and the wide spectrum of emotions we all experience. When it comes to tragedy, either personal or collective, some people may never bring themselves to seek therapy and sit and talk about their feelings. They may never seek help in processing their own loss, even though they desperately need to. They may live the rest of their days half-alive because of unfinished business their mind or ego can’t bring themselves to deal with. But art, and in particular, music, often has a way of slipping in unhindered, of triggering a heart response- a true reflection of the state of the soul. Art gets past all the mental barriers because it doesn’t speak to the mind, it speaks to the deep places of the heart. And in this way, art is therapy, for both the artist and for the consumer. It is permission to FEEL, and learning to accept our very real feelings is a crucial aspect of healing- and living.
I think now is a good time to examine the role the country music genre has played in American life, since this week’s tragedy in Las Vegas happened during a country music festival. I am reminded of the song “This is Country Music” by famous country star Brad Paisley. With unashamed pride, Paisley sings about country music’s reputation for addressing specific topics other musical genre’s might not touch with such simple frankness. Love it or hate it, country music covers the gamut of human emotions and experience: joy, celebration, love, heartbreak, loss. I think Paisley’s song is a reminder of what art truly is:
“So turn it on, turn it up, and sing along
This is real, this is your life in a song
Just like a road that takes you home
Yeah, this is right where you belong”
So far, my most profound experience as a musician happened when I was 21 years old. I had just finished playing a set of original songs at our local coffee house, and was mingling with the small crowd. A man I had never seen before walked up to me and took my hands in his own. He looked me in the eyes, with tears in his own, and thanked me. He said that in listening to my music that night, he felt as though he found his soul again.
This is the power of art. This is the power of music. It illuminates the meaning of life, teaching us what it truly means to be alive. It can help mend a broken heart and also usher in new hope and possibilities. It can help a soul become reacquainted with itself. Art meets us, right where we are. It asks nothing of us but to open and connect with our own souls- and with the very Soul and Source of all creation. As an artist, I am overwhelmed to know that my artistic expressions can have such a powerful influence on another. I am awed at the amazing gift art truly is, and I am deeply humbled to be a steward of such a gift.
Eric Church is one of those artists I have always admired as being a truly gifted song writer. His songs “Lightning”, “Carolina”, “Homeboy”, and “Springsteen”, have all touched a piece of my soul, as well as countless other souls. And in the aftermath of such violence and heartbreak in Las Vegas this week, Church is again helping us connect with our souls and with each other. Because this tragedy occurred during a grand celebration of life through the power of music, I believe that music will inevitably play a large role in helping to heal these wounds.
In the end, I think the most valuable lesson art teaches us is that we are not alone. We’re all in this crazy ride of life together, and the recognition and embracing of our commonalities is the only way to truly heal the broken heart of humanity.
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