I just completed my first listen through Andrew McMahon’s Pop Underground EP, and I was immediately moved to do what I do these days when something excites me: I texted my Mom about it, then I took to the internet. My response wasn’t one that I could share in 140 characters, so I decide to allow myself to be painfully long-winded about it.
First, background on why I was so excited:
So much of who I am is because of Andrew McMahon. I fell in love for the first time to “Konstantine” and fell out of love to “Bruised.” “Swim” made me want to sing and the first song I learned on piano was “You Can Breathe.” I remember when a girlfriend brought me her ticket that he had signed for me, and it was one of the best gifts I’ve ever been given.
Most importantly, he’s a constant reminder to me that chasing what’s popular or what’s “working” is often a fruitless and disingenuous pursuit. His modus operandi is simple: write songs that mean something, and you will always find your place and your audience. Under constant pressure to write lyrics and music that are “dumbed down” (not my choice phrasing, but that’s always what it feels like) to have the most appeal to the masses, it’s nice to know that someone is still doing it for a love of the game, and the same loyal fans have been coming to see him for 10 years because of that.
I would imagine releasing music under your own name is pretty nerve-racking. It’s about as personal as a musician can be, as there’s no moniker to hide behind, or use to justify lyrical or stylistic decisions. There’s no one else that these songs could be about, and no one to take the fall if they’re not well-received.
Now, to the EP:
For me, great art makes you look inward. It forces reflection, as you listen to the lyric in the context of your own life and compare it to the artist’s experiences.
I don’t know why listening to “Pop Underground” became so personal for me, but it did. Probably because the notion that there might be something more important and personally fulfilling than this quest for glory and recognition that I’m on frequently gnaws at me. I find myself thinking about the fragility of life and the desperate desire to find purpose through creation just about every time my eyes have a chance to roll back in my head. Is this what I’m supposed to be doing? Do I care too much about it? Too little? In 30 years, will any of this matter? Does it matter what I’m going to be thinking about in 30 years? What happens when it’s over? Will I ever be this happy again? Will I ever be this sad again?
“Pop Underground” helped me start working toward answers. It does what great music has the ability to do: make you remember how much life you’ve lived, and how much is out there waiting.
I couldn’t help but feel like he was writing the songs to himself 10 years ago, when I like to think he was probably asking a lot of the same questions I’m asking now. Asked…and then answered, by the person I hope to be in 10 years.
First, an appreciation for all he’s done; maybe he never became an astronaut or sold 500,000 copies of an album, but he still “traveled around the world shooting fireworks and falling stars.”
Next, an understanding of what’s really important: love. The 2nd verse of Synesthesia, where he talks about his brother’s pride in his daughter and his love for his wife, makes everything else in life seem utterly unimportant.
Finally, noticing the beauty in the process. It’s hard, but it’s a “storm we’re meant to ride.” We may not know it all yet, but we’ll “learn to dance.”
I love what I get to do, I love the people I’ve met through it, and I love the life that it has created for me, but to think, at any time, that what I’m doing is the most important thing I will ever do is truly foolish. It’s nice to know, from someone who informs so much of who I am, that important as this may be, “there’s more to life than singing songs we wrote when we were in the shadow of the moon.”
“Pop Underground” paints a beautifully bright portrait of life, and the wisdom I derived is simple but meaningful: spend a little less time worrying about my lasting impact on life, and a little more time making it.