Purpose, A Musicians Greatest Tool
Have you ever wondered what makes good music? Take a second and think about it. While it seems like a rather difficult question to answer, it boils down to one basic concept: purpose. The best music serves a purpose greater than itself whether it be conveying emotions, sharing a story, or challenging an idea. While it’s enjoyable to bump the top 40s, none of those songs will linger for more than a few weeks before essentially disappearing. The songs that truly ‘last’ serve a purpose beyond simple entertainment. Naturally, one wonders why some artists are better at singing with purpose than others, a question, that can be answered quite simply. Those that have something meaningful to sing about will do it accordingly. To elaborate, individuals that have experienced a tragic event, or those who struggle with personal or even interpersonal problems tend to be some of the best lyricists and musicians. They can embrace misfortune and channel it to create musical fusion. To elaborate on this idea, I chose to explore the lives of two singers: the lead singer of Bayside (Anthony Raneri), and the lead singer of Passion Pit (Michael Angelakos).
Anyone that’s listened to a Bayside song will probably recount the experience similarly: the songs resonate depression and resentment. This generalization particularly applies to Bayside’s fifth full-length album, Killing Time. Take a listen to one of the tracks featured on the album, “Sick, Sick, Sick”.
This song, and basically the entirety of Killing Time, was fueled by Raneri’s divorce from his first wife. Consequently, Raneri sings with a sense of frustration and resentment that can’t be forged or faked. The listener can feel the emotions marinating in Raneri’s mind when he sings lines like: “Your sexcapades deliver checks but can’t afford your self-respect/and it’s sick, sick, sick.” In an interview with PunkNews.org Raneri admits:
“You can’t help but write about that stuff when you go through anything important in your life, you know. But it definitely came through in the lyrics; I tried not to make it sad. I tried not to dwell on this but it kind of goes through my range of emotions of the record. There’s sad songs, there’s angry songs, and there’s songs where I’m questioning who’s fault everything is. I think there’s something everybody can relate to”.
The singer, by opening up and revealing his inner emotions, draws the listener in and forces them to truly feel for Raneri. Consequently, “Sick, Sick, Sick” has not only been referred to as one of the darkest songs released by Bayside but also one of the most popular songs.
On the other hand, after cancelling a string of shows, Michael Angelakos publically admitted that he had been struggling with bipolar disorder, has been on suicide watch, and even attempted suicide. As one would expect, Angelakos explains that his disorder drastically affects his writing process and even affects the band’s availability, as it’s something he can avoid. To gain some perspective, take a listen to “Where We Belong” off Passion Pit’s latest album, Gossamer.
During the song, Angelakos periodically touches upon his disorder and his suicidal tendencies. As mentioned by Pitchfork, the lyrics “And then I'm lifted up/ Out of the crimson tub/ The bath begins to drain/ And from the floor he prays away all my pain,” directly reference a suicide attempt while he was attending Emerson College. During an interview with Pitchfork, Angelakos provides some insight concerning the lyrics by explaining:
"I envisioned the archangel Gabriel lifting me up. It was a really gruesome scene. I walked myself to the hospital and waited for four hours-- my coat had blood seeping through it, and I was passing out on the floor. The hospital employees finally realized what was wrong with me and said, 'Why didn't you tell us what was happening?' I didn't tell them because I was embarrassed."
Overall, the raw emotion and complexity of Angelakos’s condition isn’t something that can be mimicked by any musician not suffering from the same disorder. His music and lyrics provide a glimpse inside his mind as he grapples with bipolar disorder and this internal struggle adds an interesting dimension to his music that not only intrigues but also entices listeners. Angelakos doesn’t just write for the sake of writing, he writes to convey his emotions and portray his continuous struggle of coping with bipolar disorder. With this comes a direct connection between the listeners as they attempt to sympathize and feel for Angelakos.
Overall, purpose should be the focal point of all music. Without a purpose behind writing and producing music, the song doesn’t last. Similar to a book without a plot, a song without a purpose just doesn’t come off as interesting and doesn’t provide an outlet for the listener to connect with the singer. By incorporating personal struggles and tragic events into music, music gains a whole new dimension that can’t be faked or mimicked.