by Gene Howington
As I am wont to do, I was thinking about the nature of desire in a philosophical sense. Buddha teaches us that the desire is the root of all suffering, but does that make desire inherently evil or just uncomfortable? It seems to me that desire is a two-edged sword. It can create suffering but it can also lead to beauty and change. Also as I am wont to do, I was thinking about this while doing other things. I am a multi-tasker by nature. What I was doing while thinking these Jack Handy-esque thoughts was listening to music and trying to decide on a topic for Music Monday. It occurred to me that much of the world’s great music was inspired by a desire or longing. This is true yesterday, today and one would assume tomorrow for what is music but another language? A language suitable for conveying ideas and emotion as strong and as effectively as any written or spoken word. Presented below are a few selections of music squarely based in desire for your consideration to illustrate the point that beauty can come from suffering and that this notion applies to multiple forms of music.
First I’ll take an example from modern rock music. This is “You are the Wilderness” by Voxhaul Broadcast.
Like many pieces of music in this vein it is about desire for another and all that entails. This song to me represents a very raw form of desire. While the desire in question can be raw or refined, this theme is as old as music itself.
For a classical example, let us consider Beethoven’s “Für Elise”. Although there is some speculation about who the titular “Elise” was – some saying she was Therese Malfatti (a student of Beethoven who rejected his marriage proposal), others that she was either Elisabeth Röckel (a long time friend and later the wife of Beethoven’s friend Johann Nepomuk Hummel) or Juliane Katharine Elisabet Barensfeld (a young prodigy and possibly a piano student of Therese Malfatti, dedicated at a favor to Malfatti), it is not hard to hear that Ludwig was clearly thinking of someone he found pleasing if not outright desired.
Sometimes though the longing in question can be for an abstract like justice. Consider Johnny Cash’s version of the old traditional “Run On for a Long Time” better known today as “God’s Gonna Cut You Down”.
Or a desire for protection in an often harsh and uncertain world as in the Rolling Stones “Gimme Shelter”.
Or a meditation on desire both good and ill. Consider Pink Floyd’s “Money”:
Or simply missing an old friend circumstance has removed from you life as in Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here”.
Desire it seems is neither good nor evil. It simply is. What we do with it? Write a song, paint a picture, save a life, burn down a building, sabotage . . . is another matter entirely. We can either let it torment us and stoke our demons or we can use it with the angels of our better nature to build something of value. Can you think of a favorite piece of music – or indeed any piece of art – that is rooted in desire that resulted in a thing of beauty? If so, tell us in the comments below.