Music Is My Oxygen … Shinedown

Fifteen years ago today, Shinedown‘s album Us and Them was released. It was around the same time as I first heard the band, although it wasn’t a song from this album that served as my introduction. No, I first heard it on one of my few forays into music streaming. (Yahoo Music, I think it was.) I had it on the hard rock/metal station, mainly for background noise while I did some work around the house, not paying much attention – at least, not until 45 came on.

It didn’t take long for the song to penetrate my chore-induced fog. On first listen, Brent Smith’s voice and intensity blew me away. On second listen – because you’d better believe I ran to the computer to find out who was gracing my ears – it was the lyrics that got to me.

I guess that’s not surprising. Brent Smith has said that …

… the song is basically about the day that you wake up and you look at yourself in the mirror and you finally decide that you want to try to become comfortable in your own skin, and realize that you’re gonna have to make yourself happy before you’re going to make anyone else happy.

That was a place I’d come to only a few years earlier, and had been working very hard to make the reality of my life. And while I don’t remember having that nuanced an interpretation at the time, I do remember it being one of those incredible moments where it feels like the song coming over the airwaves is being sung directly to you. Clearly I got it on a subconscious level, at least.

Ron spent most of that year in another province, and we built up some truly epic long distance phone bills during that time. During our chat that evening, I told him about the amazing song I’d heard that day. It was the only downside of the experience for me, as if he’d been at home, I’d’ve run and grabbed him and said, “You’ve gotta listen to this.”

That disappointment was salved, however, come Christmas, when I found this under the tree.

Christmas morning, back when we still celebrated it, meant a house filled with music, as CDs were our favourite gifts for each other. Us and Them was the first disc in the player that day, and the volume went up to eleven. And it did not disappoint, especially not Beyond the Sun, another Shinedown song that feels to me like a personal communication.

I’ve heard lots of people who interpret it as a love song, but that’s not quite how it comes across to me. For me it’s about a more general, though still profound, type of human connection. Perhaps it’s the reference to communicating without words that does it. My friend Kerry and I have referred to having a Mind Meld since we were teenagers. Many people have said it’s fascinating to listen to us talk between ourselves, that it’s like listening to another language where 90% of the words are missing. We don’t even realize we’re doing it, and there’s nothing the slightest bit romantic about our relationship, but we have every intention of one day being the Crazy Cat Ladies who live together (even though I don’t much like cats.) Sometimes I think Beyond the Sun could be about us, because it doesn’t matter how far apart we might travel, we always meet up on the other side.

The other main interpretation I’ve heard of Beyond the Sun is that it’s about a suicide pact. I don’t hear that, myself, but I don’t criticize anybody who does. After all, not only is Shinedown well-known for encouraging fans to interpret the music through their own personal lens, they’re also outspoken on the subject of mental health. Attention Attention, their most recent album, addresses depression and addiction, and aims to remove the stigma around mental health issues.

On the day of its release, I stopped at the record store on the way home from work to buy it. I listened to it straight through, all by myself, the instant I got home.

And then I listened to it again.

Attention Attention is a concept album, following the journey of a person from a negative place to one of rebirth. I love every song on it, but without a doubt, my favourite is the final track, Brilliant.

There’s an incredible energy to the song, an almost manic verve about embracing life and being the best you can be, regardless of limitations and obstacles. Considering the journey I’d just begun, the first time I heard 45 fifteen years ago, and the destination I’d made my way to thirteen years later when I heard Brilliant, it feels like Shinedown has provided the soundtrack for a certain path in my life.

I’ve mentioned a couple of times how it’s felt like Shinedown is singing directly to me. Well, Brilliant is the third, and arguably most important, time that’s happened. I cannot express how much I appreciate their reassurance that I am, in fact, brilliant – exuberantly, unapologetically, absolutely fucking brilliant.

I hope that, in your journey through life, you reach the same conclusion about yourself.

To read more posts in the “Music Is My Oxygen” series, click here.

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