The period in which a song enters our lives can be just as crucial as the the music itself. Maybe the song carries a message we needed to hear, or the lyrics so perfectly capture what we’re feeling at the instant, feelings we couldn’t previously put into words. The right song, at the right moment, can move us in ways no other power can. “Listener,” by Wooden Heart, moved me to tears the first time I heard it.
Talk music, a combination of rock, punk, and spoken poetry, isn’t typically a genre in which I indulge, but the fierce, raw power in Dan Smith’s voice is instantly gripping. The instrumental portion of the song, drums and an electric guitar, is simple musically, but further enhances the lyrics, giving them a cadence and rhythm. It’s not what one would consider conventionally beautiful, but as the band has said in interviews, they try not to pay attention to musical convention, but rather what’s in their hearts. Smith says “Wooden Heart” was born from a daydream about a coastline town that wanted to build a church. However, the town didn’t have any lumber, so they salvaged wood from wrecked ships to build it. While that dream may have been the inspiration for the song, the lyrics rarely reflect it, save for one line: ” because our church is made out of shipwrecks from every hull these rocks have claimed.” Yet even then, the line is more metaphorical than literal, as the lyrics continue with “but we pick ourselves up, and try and grow better through the change.”
Fear “but my fear is this prison… that I keep locked below the main deck / I keep a key under my pillow, it’s quiet and it’s hidden” quickly mingles with a nearly snuffed out glimmer of hope, “and my hopes are weapons that I’m still learning how to use right.” Destruction doubles as renewal “we all have the same holes in our hearts / everything falls apart at the exact same time that it all comes together perfectly for the next step.” Pain, anguish, joy, yearning, all burst forth from Smith’s coarse voice with a passion and soul that surprises, if not overwhelms, and never more so than when he barks “so come on let’s wash each other with tears of joy and tears of grief / and fold our lives like crashing waves and run up on this beach / come on and sew us together, tattered rags stained forever / we only have what we remember.” It’s pleading, demanding; anthemic of hope and change.
There’s a scene in Alan Bennett’s play “The History Boys” in which Hector, the teacher, is discussing Thomas Hardy’s “Drummer Hodge” with his student Posner. He says, “The best moments in reading are when you come across something – a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things – which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.” That power of movement, of defining precisely what we are feeling, also dwells within music, and it dwells within “Listener.”