First Song to Break My Heart

Ah, my friends…and I am back to writing about songs.

Aren’t songs the wellspring of poetry?

Or is poetry the origin of song?

In any case, the lyrical has always had the striking ability to create and sustain emotion by tonal shifts and dialogues. In particular lately, I’ve been thinking of Jack Johnson’s song “All At Once,” which is strikingly lovely, melancholy, openly afraid and hopeful all at the same time. As the lyrics are fairly straightforward, I won’t offer heavy commentary, but I will say that a song about climate change that is this generous and warm is what we need in our current politico-cultural climate, especially considering that the UN has just given us the world 12 years to collectively get our shit together.

It is this song about climate change, the first song/poem about climate change to create deep emotional resonance and human response in me. The words and tone of the song are so tender, so kind and gentle, so hopeful even through calamity that surrounds us. “All At Once” addresses love and relationships with families and friends — “If your waitin’ on the wind / don’t forget to breathe / Cause as the darkness gets deeper / We’ll be sinkin’ as we reach for love / At least somethin’ we could hold / But I’ll reach to you from where time just can’t go.” It’s easy to write songs and advertisements that break hearts about interpersonal relationships, about world hunger, world peace, especially during the approaching holiday season, when people’s minds are drawn to these issues. But it’s difficult to do what I think Jack Johnson has achieved in this song — he says “I wanna take the preconceived out from underneath your feet / we could shake it off and instead we’ll plant some seeds.” There is a hopefulness here within these chord changes, from slow and quiet, in the minor key, to hopeful and thrumming in the major, with the slightly twanging hammer-ons and pull-offs that accompany this sound.

Jack Johnson says “Sometimes it feels like the heart is no place to be singing from at all” but manages to seemingly speak from his heart and break mine in the same guitar stroke. Please let me know if you get the chance to listen to this generous song. Please let me know what you think. In a time like this it’s essential to take some sort of action, however small. 🙂

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