We live in a world where we tell people how we feel as soon as we start to feel it. If someone hurts our feelings, makes us mad, happy, or just drives us crazy, we want to let them know. The same can be said for when someone totally and utterly changes our lives. We want them to know how much they’ve impacted our lives, because the worst words are the ones that go left unsaid. The people who change our lives can be people we see everyday whether it be teachers, coaches, parents, or friends. But in a lot of cases, they’re people who we don’t see regularly, or even at all. One of the biggest things that provides people an escape from reality is music. Whether we feel low or high, music gets us through anything. The people behind the songs could mean the world to us, and the biggest injustice is never being able to tell them.
Artists like Taylor Swift has made her fans her friends. She talks to some on various social media platforms, hand picks them at her shows (and to go to her houses), sends them special gifts, and shows up for them. Even if they’re not (yet) someone Swift has met, someone could feel so connected to an artist like her from their bedroom floor, their voice blaring in the background. But as soon as they buy a ticket to a show of someone who saved their life, stadiums have a funny way of making that one person seem worlds away. There’s frustration and exhaustion connected to constantly tweeting/posting/blogging the same things hoping that artist will somehow see it, because all we want to do is tell them how we feel.
Nashville, Tennessee is known as the heart of country music. There’s bars owned by the biggest stars in the industry and sold out stadiums and arenas to fit their fans. But if someone dives into Nashville’s underground, they’ll find lesser known artists with the potential to change lives. That’s where I found the artists that changed mine. Kalie Shorr is an artist from Maine who moved to Nashville to pursue a career in music. She wrote songs by day, and sold cigarettes and hot dogs by night. She made it in Nashville, and she’s making it in the music industry as a whole. Shorr has yet to play sold out stadiums (she's touring with Leann Rimes currently), but she’s been playing sold out shows at the Listening Room Cafe on Monday nights whenever she can. There’s an immediate connection in a room of a 100 that a room of 100,000 could never establish. The atmosphere becomes personal. There’s no meet and greet for these shows, there’s no such thing as pit or nosebleed seats. No insane production or complex choreography. It’s the artists, the guitars, and you. After the show, I went and started up conversation with Shorr, the initial encounters with someone who has changed my life. We talked about school and Nashville, and how much her song “Big Houses” made my mom and I sob. There was so much more to say that I followed Shorr on social media. I’ve told her everything from a long, continuous struggle with mental health, to dropping my pre calc class, to debating going to homecoming because of people who made it to be less like a fun event and more of a social standard. She knows of my accomplishments and shortcomings as well as my most trusted teacher, and jokes with her fans like lifelong friends. It started with seeing her and her guitar. And instead of having an unreachable artist I admire, I have a friend.
From that first visit to Nashville, I’ve listened to everything but the charts (besides of course, TS). I’m waiting on one of my friends who I met in Nashville to release her new music, and in the meantime, she's been giving me artists to listen to. I met Gail at the hot dog stand she works at, and even with just having a conversation without music being played, I can tell she’s going to be one of the best artists. Every artist playing bars and coffee houses have the potential to change lives. These smaller artists are the ones who make the biggest difference. One of the things Kalie told me is that happiness isn’t a destination. How life is about living happy moment to happy moment, that crying on bathroom floors is inevitable. She knows how much she's changed my life. Whether it be from conversations or from her songs. While listening to bigger artists feels like a safe space, it’s the smaller artists who feel like coming home.
As we walk through life, we never want to look around and find ourselves alone, or in a place that has not been travelled. We feel a sense of reassurance when we know that someone older than us has walked this very path. We feel that we must be doing something right. We look up to these people, we call them our heroes. In the most common cases, we look up to our parents, a coach, or a teacher. They’ve done something for us, they’ve helped us in our time of need, and we’ve never seen a single thing they’ve done wrong. They couldn’t do wrong in our eyes. We tell ourselves that no one is perfect, but we always think of that perfect person in our life. We idolize humans, we idolize people just like us.
In 2011, The Wonder Years released a song called “Hoodie Weather” with the lyric “Growing up means watching my heroes turn human in front of me.” As we grow up, we have these figures in our lives who we put on pedestals. We take every aspect of their life and make it our own. We want to be looked at the way they are, to be seen the way they are. Sometimes people find themselves asking what their idols would do rather than what they would do. When we think of our role models we think of guides. Someone who’s done it all before and has left distinct footsteps to follow in. We see this paved path ahead of us, thinking these footprints go beyond our sight, beyond the curve. But when we do this we forget to look down at our own feet. We find ourselves in sand instead of cement, and everything written in sand is bound to be blown away. So what do we do when they vanish? We’re lost. We forgot to bring our compass or our maps because we were so set on where we were going, that the path almost didn’t seem real. But maybe it was never ours to follow. It’s in these moments where we gain perspective. Where everyone is back to human. Where our heroes turn human in front of us. The truth is, they’re just as lost as we are. It’s easy to see someone’s highlights and compare it to our behind the scenes. We know our struggles, what we would change when we look into the mirror. We know our imperfections, where we fall short in certain aspects. We look at the people we’re idolizing and we list their accomplishments. We see everything they did right, and we hold ourselves to that same standard. With life comes failure, and when we see the people we hold to such a high standard fail we don’t know what to do. The footprints disappear. Not only do we gain perspective in these situations, but we also gain perspective when we take them out of their perfect environment. Your hero can run a four minute mile on a blacktop, but if you put them in a baseball game are you still going to see the same person? We see them as another one of the members of the team because in this light, they’re missing their cape. So as we grow up, we gain more kryptonite and we’re less likely to see Superman saving the day. We see him as Clark Kent. Everyone, in that aspect, is human. As John Green once wrote, “What a treacherous thing to believe a person is more than a person.”
Pedestals are a dangerous thing. They’re so high up, that no one could possibly fall. We as humans, radiate toward attachment. We are attached to objects we couldn’t live without, people we couldn’t live without. We attach to ideas, we attach to the idea of someone. We are attached to who we think they are, instead of who they actually are. In reality, it should be taken as a compliment to be thought of so highly in someone else’s mind. Some people are afraid of heights. So this is to you, who believes in fairytales and happy endings, and has dreamt about being Lois Lane. Your teacher and your coach are underpaid, under appreciated, and some days it’s hard to get out of bed. Your friend, she’s going to graduate. She has failed more times than she’d care to admit. She wants you to know that she isn’t perfect. Your parents want you to know the same along with every John Doe you have ever put on a pedestal. It doesn’t have to be lonely at the top. Humans aren’t anything less of wondrous. We’re all lost souls swimming in a fish bowl year after year as Pink Floyd would sing. We all have souls and needs. We need love, we have wants and desires and the overwhelming fear of letting someone down. They deserve to be loved, but they don’t deserve to be idolized. Your heroes are human.
Shortly after Taylor Swift’s 6th studio album “reputation” dropped, a foreword in the front of her Target exclusive magazines were printed. “Here’s something I’ve learned about people.” She says, “We think we know someone, but the truth is that we only know the version of them they have chosen to show us.” It’s been a year and a little over 3 months since the album was released and what Swift has said still sticks. When certain people think of Swift, they think of all their complex feelings being put into words. With others they think of music in general. But a true artist goes beyond their canvas, because what Taylor said isn’t a lyric in a song, it’s the truth we’ve known all along just printed in a magazine.
We often find ourselves surprised when someone close to us does something we think is out of their character. It can be as simple as your best friend complaining about a band, and then going to see their concert the next night with a different group of friends. Or it can be as complex as them leaving, and leaving behind no explanation. We see these things for what they are, and we endure the pain of these actions. But what we don’t realize is that when we come across a problem that we can simplify into one sentence, we are trying to simplify people. A person cannot be simplified because you don’t know them in their most complex form. This isn’t someone who has multiple personalities and the one they’re showing you is less true than others, it’s when perspective comes into play. My mother sees me in a different light than my friends do. My best friend sees things in me that my life long acquaintances would never. You could take 1 person and gather up the most important people in their lives and if you ask them all the same question you will never get the same answer. Someone sees passion where someone else sees ignorance. Someone sees love where someone else looks at it as overbearing. We will never be who we say we are, and that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Taylor Swift was right. That face you passed on the street today with her head down and a coffee in her hand was just another person who happened to be in the same place you were. But that girl is the muse of another. Her lover writes that her eyes hold the depths of oceans, and when she sips coffee her nose wrinkles, and her smile is the closest thing to heaven. But when you passed her on the street today you saw another girl drinking coffee on another Tuesday afternoon. Social media is a mask of all the things we would want strangers to see to make us more appealing and to make us stand out. But if we’re all doing it, who’s really standing out? Our profile picture of us under a light that bring out our greatest features doesn’t compare to the picture we have on our ID. Even then, we aren’t our appearances. We can’t speak of someone and only talk about the slight cracks or freckles we have on our face. I’ve heard that all writers are the sum of their experiences, but doesn’t it go for everyone? We are what we love, what we’ve seen. We are what we talk about over coffee with a close friend on a Sunday afternoon.We are the stories we tell over and over again, and the jokes we crack at inappropriate times. We are selfish and selfless and a fine mix of the good, the bad, and the ugly. We are the people we choose to spend our hour of free time with, and we’re the way we dance on the beach under a full moon. We’re every sunset and every sunrise. Every argument, every smile, every tear, every song we sing at the top of our lungs. It is that fact, that a person cannot be simplified because we don’t know them in their most complex form. Taylor says “we are mosaics of our worst selves and our best selves.” We are nothing short of complex, a kaleidoscope of colors that only shows one color at a time.
How frightening to think that the relative, the best friend, the lover, the stranger all have sides to them we have yet to know. How lovely it is to get to know them. As we think of those we know and those we don’t and who we are and who we are not, it’s nice to meet you.