There is a long tradition in popular music of writing music based upon the experience of performance and life after that last encore is sung, the house lights go up, and the mix tape the roadies put together gets played as the audience fights their way to the parking lot. It seems to hit artists after their first big tour – this need to express the experience of being the rock stars they had dreamed of and the raw emotion of finding out that after the bright lights and big noise, they still need to connect and find intimacy. There is a sub-genre of these songs about the look and feel of what its like to be before the roaring crowds of the stadium ( Journey’s “Faithfully” with its reference to “Circus lights”), the feeling of emptiness when the crowd has gone and the performer is left alone on the stage (Jackson Browne’s album of the road “Running on Empty” with the classic post-concert tune “The Loadout”), or just the longing for connection that is hinted at but not consummated when a performer feels the crush of the monitor around his ankles, the light gels burning above the stage mix the hues of the audience’s faces into a emo-wash montage akin to a Casper David Friedrich or a post-punk Pointillism found in a Georges-Pierre Seurat . The latest entry into this sub-genre is Snow Patrol’s great single “Run” from their 3rd album Final Straw.
As reviewers have raved about Snow Patrol (particularly those of us who tune their radio to KEXP.org), the trio from Dundee’s far-ranging influences as an “infectious pop punk racket with a distorted, amp-popping twist.” According to lead singer Gary Lightbody, “Basically our favourite bands were poured into [Final Straw] and at the time we were under the influence of American rock – the Pixies, Dinosaur Jr, Soundgarden – but we were listening to My Bloody Valentine and the first Super Furry Animals album too.”
“Run” is a song of departure and hope for a real tomorrow long after the buzz in your ears and the after-concert blur comes into real time focus. As the song opens, the singer is playing his last encore for a fan:
“I’ll sing it one last time for you/Then we really have to go/You’ve been the only thing that’s right/In all I’ve done”
As the singer and fan blend into the music, the euphoria of being “in” the song becomes the via media – the middle way – to lose the self and begin the ‘afterlife’:
“Louder louder/And we’ll run for our lives/I can hardly speak I understand/Why you can’t raise your voice to say”
Theology talks quite a bit about ‘performativity’ – the notion that what we ‘believe’ is only as real as what we ‘do’. Songs like “Run” turn the mirror back on the performer and asks the question – after the lights come back on and the amps are unplugged, what now? Are we lost in the longing to return to that moment when the “louder, louder” cry bleeds out all the thoughts of our oh-so-mundane lives? Are we hoping that the fantasy constructed in the eyes of the adoring fan may actually be love in all its height, depth, and breadth? For Christians caught up in the ‘shock and awe’ of blasting guitars, Casio-lite keyboards and clanging drums while a row of ‘praise singers’ poised before the congregation rhymes “dove” with “love from above” – is the desire for “louder, louder” really a cry to retreat into the moment of noise rather than take hold of the benedictus of sending into a risky life in the flesh? Just a thought…
At any rate, “Run” is a great song and a great reminder for those of us who find ourselves on stages that life after the song is worth exploring if anything for the opportunity to see that what we may blithely mouth in song and proclamation may be more real than we had hoped for or even imagine…