A spiritual experience. It wasn't quite what I was actively searching for, but it was a hidden desire, buried deep underneath layers of post-middle school dust and slowly being shaken awake by my recently kindled fascination with yoga. But I think I found it. Or I found one.
Religion is and always has been debatable, but spirituality? No, that's personal, you can't deny someone a supernal, holy moment. I think, perhaps, that's one of the things I love about Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros. The band -- quite literally a band of people -- offers the world a chunk of rawness dislodged from the core of each of them, and ultimately from the core of humanity. And what is more raw than one's spirituality? One could argue love, or sex, but in the end, spirituality encompasses both of those in a succinct, broader sense. Edward Sharpe was borne of deep loss, a natural root of pain, and thus began a route to combatting that inherent and inevitable pain of existence. Oftentimes when people are grieving, or in a bad mental place, they claim -- although "claim" alludes to disbelief; belief in the claim is subjective -- to see supernatural apparitions, voices of (a) God/god, angels, seraphs, holy choirs, etcetera. That's where Edward Sharpe's music comes from. That place of distress, and then the spiritual release, the saving grace.
I wasn't in desperate need of a cosmic intervention per se when I discovered the band's first CD, Up From Below. I was only 13, but the music spoke to me in a way that everyone else was afraid to. They sang of intense love, of sexual desire, of mind-altering substances, of things that 13-year-olds are taught, generally, to be wrong. But I was never deterred by the messages I was sent throughout my childhood. When I read Romeo and Juliet, I found myself even more attracted to the idea of I'll-die-for-you love; everyone else in my seventh grade class wrote their papers arguing free will, whereas I was the sole student that fervently argued the power of fate. Our "adolescent issues" class was aimed at teaching us the perils of teenage sexual encounters ("If you have sex you will get pregnant and die" -- Mean Girls) and the irreversible dangers of alcohol and illicit drugs (say no to everyone! Everyone is trying to get you addicted to everything! Say NO!), and I will admit that for a while, I religiously, for lack of a better word, believed in those rules. And then I heard the music.
Their voices crack(ed), they clap(ped) and stomp(ed), they were (are) loud and they didn't (don't) care, they love(d) the universe with no reserve. Me: a frightened quiet middle school graduate with too much to do. I wanted whatever it was that they had. I played the CD on repeat, all 16 songs, and I prayed for a gust of fairy-dust-wind to whisk me away and take me to the magical land in which I could find all these wonderful and foreign things of which they spoke.
CD number two came out a year later, entitled Here, a word that I just recently discovered the importance of. The songs were a little sadder, a little happier, a little more aware of what they wanted. I was a little sadder, a little happier, a little more/less aware of what I wanted.
Edward Sharpe songs are the kind of songs you must treat like classical music: you must either play them very softly or very loudly, never in between, or else the effect is lost. Perfect for falling asleep to, perfect for blasting from speakers while lying on the floor waiting to feel okay again, perfect for a jubilant dance party, perfect for sing-along car rides, perfect for putting on mixtapes, perfect for getting you through long subway rides... just all around perfect, but perfect in their imperfection. Like people. Humans. That's it, maybe; their music is irrevocably human. And that's really the only thing we can truly know about, as people: what it's like to be who we are. We can study a million other things, astrology, zoology, botany, but in the end we're not stars or tigers or flowers, we're human beings. And that's where Edward Sharpe writes and composes from, that impossible-to-ignore but often impossible-to-tap-into place of pure existence. Not human survival, no Darwinian theories or Freudian philosophies or academia at all, because none of that is truly relatable.
But these songs -- they hit on something, a rare and treasured thing that is nearly inexplicable, but may best be described as harmony, as finding the point of peace among discordance. If you look at the demographics of people that listen to their music, it will shock you. This much I can tell you from going to see them play at Governor's Ball in June. There were Long Island teenagers, doctors, middle-aged office workers, art students -- and this was only among the people I could see within a five-foot-radius of myself. Everyone was swaying and singing and chanting and maybe even crying together, complete strangers united by a common sound and feeling. I could attribute that to the universality of their music, but another theory comes to mind. The band's all-around vibe, emanating from their songs, their appearance, and their performance, exudes a feeling of "I DON'T CARE WHAT YOU THINK ABOUT ME," something that everyone needs more of. Especially in modern society, a time and place in which almost all we do is care what other people think about us, this is refreshing. I'm a guy and I have long hair and sometimes I don't wear shoes and cry? YEAH WHO CARES. I'm a girl and I have short hair and I don't shave my legs and I'm fragile? GO AWAY IF YOU THINK I CARE. I'm singing about things that aren't dancing in clubs and getting drunk out of my mind, and instead I'm talking about universal love and spirituality and peace? THERE'S NO WAY YOU'RE GOING TO MAKE ME THINK I'M WEIRD.
If Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes teaches us anything, it's that we shouldn't be afraid. (This is really drilled into us in their eponymous third album that came out last month.) Don't fear, the world loves you, we love you, the flowers and the sand and the asteroids love you, and as long as you love yourself, "everything will be alright forever and forever and forever" (The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac). Wear what you want, say what you want, do what you want, because the only thing that's holding you back from living without inhibition is what you think everyone else will think of you. Thus the only thing holding you back is you, because in the end, you are you and that's really all that's certain. They don't teach us to break the laws and go smash things and commit arson and murder, but more that we're not as trapped as we think we are. The shackles are invisible, all it takes is a little bit of power to break yourself free.