I’ve always loved music. Who doesn’t, right? Way back in my childhood, I would rock out the air guitar to the new Bon Jovi tunes on the radio (back when Slippery When Wet was new…), Corey Hart (c’mon, I was 6, and it was the 80’s … ), that was when I’d stop playing my only Beatles tape. It may have been the 80’s, but my parents listened to “classic” rock most of the time, so I grew up also believing that Buddy Holly, Fats Domino, and The Beatles were new music. Well, it was new to me, at least (but I was 6, remember, everything was new!)
I grew-up being a music ‘snob’. My parents put me into guitar lessons when I was young probably because it was the only activity I showed any interest in that wasn’t reading or Legos. But they put me in classical guitar lessons. A far cry from the rock I liked to listen to, but I was happy just learning how to play at that point. I continued listening to The Beatles and latter John Lennon’s solo stuff, and I didn’t get what the big deal was about Nirvana, for instance. That got sorted out in high school, thanks to a good friend, but that’s a different story.
This story is about my love of music and how as I’ve grown older, I’ve learned to appreciate music outside of what I grew up with, what I found comfortable. I learned to appreciate music not only as art, like in classical music, but as a form of expression, of sharing emotion with others. I still dislike most pop (Ke$ha, for example) and rap that’s about “oooh, lookit me being a douche to these women with daddy-issues”. I mean, I get that in those instances it’s just about fun and the [i]idea[/i] of the party, but still, it gets old for me pretty quick. Except for 50 cent, most of his lyrics just make me smile.
What I’ve learned to appreciate about music over time is how the same song can bring a completely different meaning or emotion than what another artist conveyed. Sometimes it’s not just a different musician either; sometimes, it’s the same artist but later in life. Joni Mitchell, for example, sang [i]Both Sides Now[/i] beautifully way back in 1970 when she was 27. Not surprising that it’s a song about looking back, because that’s an age at which we tend to look back at our, admittedly short, life and realise for possibly the first time that we changed. We still remember the child we were, the awkwardness of adolescence and perhaps recognize that that person is now gone. Innocence, and perhaps even naivety, has been killed by experience, forever changing who we could have been and solidify the person we are likely to live out the remainder of our lives.
Here, take a listen, it’s not that long:
This is a song which has been covered a great deal. Many of Joni Mitchell’s songs have been and for great reason; she’s an amazing songwriter. But I think the best cover of [i]Both Sides Now[/i] has to be Joni Mitchell redoing the song in 2000. It was used in the movie Love, Actually at a point in the movie where one of the character’s own bit of innocence has been slain by experience. That the song isn’t just tacked-on randomly as the character’s love of Joni Mitchell’s music was already established by the plot, was used to great effect in that moment.
What separates the two renditions is not just the number of years, it’s the experience, the life lived. When a person at 27 sings of losing friends, you get the sense that it’s mourning the childhood friends and acquaintances that we naturally grow apart from. Looking at love from both sides is necessarily limited.
Listening to both renditions of the song, it’s more than just a greater vocal range (though Joni Mitchell certainly has increased her range considerably from her folk music days), it’s that singer-songwriter aspect bringing in emotion and experience and sharing that with the audience. And that, to me, is the mark of a great artist: sharing or evoking emotion in those with whom you’ve shared your art. Regardless of the medium of the art, that ability is what makes it great.
I hope to make this a somewhat regular exercise, sharing covers of songs that I find to offer a different interpretation of the song. Not just some American Idol quality cover, or someone mimicking what they’ve heard, though impressive it may be as it’s close to the original. Originally, I was going to start this series off with a different song and the cover, but it was a case in which I greatly prefer the cover to the original, due to my aforementioned bias to the late 1990’s and early 2000’s music. NIN will get its day though.