I was listening to Mumford and Sons for the billionth time in the car, and as the first plucked notes of Sigh No More came through the speakers, I was struck with this feeling. It’s hard to put into words, but I’m going to try.
It was a feeling of comfort, like something you know so well that it never fails to wrap its arms around you, hold you tight and close to its heart, and soothe you, whispering. Folds of melodies and harmonies slowly pull me in, wind their way around me, and settle me down in their familiar fabric.
Sigh No More is a favorite shirt that you got years ago and can’t stop wearing, no matter how faded the dyes on the T-shirt become and how thin the fabric wears between your fingers. You rub the corner of it, and it’s so comfortable and familiar that it makes you smile. You’ve worn it so long that it has more than become your shirt. Friends know it well and it reminds them of you easily.
Or it’s a figurine that someone carved for you out of wood. You know it so well now that you’ve almost forgotten the story behind it, but not quite. You trace its figure between your fingers and you know that every inch of it is wired into your tactile memory.
Or, most accurately, your favorite book that you’ve read so many times that the binding is starting to break, the pages are turning yellow, the ribbon bookmark has frayed at its edges, and the corners of the cover have bent and rounded. You know every word, trace them with your finger, find the places where you’ve annotated with pencil, the eraser marks.
I remember the joy of first hearing the CD, and the countless loops I subjected my family to. I remember first reveling in the voice and the passion behind it, listening to the CD again and again until I learned each line and strum. Catching the references to literature and history, grinning at the lines from Shakespeare, trying to unravel Mumford’s spiritual state and battles through the lyrics, frowning at times and being moved by his own struggle. Thinking it over and turning it around in my mind, deciding what I agreed with and what I definitely didn’t. Learning to love certain songs, like Dust Bowl Dance, that I’d hated upon first hearing them.
And still the songs never grow old. I never tire of hearing them. Your shirt will fade and thin, and the figurine will wear away under the pressure of your fingers, like the stone stairs of a well-trodden castle staircase or the constant beating of waves against a cliff. The songs do not physically change. They’re recorded forever in the same state, the same notes, the same lyrics, the same breaths.
But my perceptions change. As I grow, the songs change and touch my heart in different ways.
And today, as I was sitting at work with my headphones in, I finally recognized the few words that had been previously ambiguous in one of the songs, I Gave You All – “brass wires”. I didn’t know that I hadn’t known them. I found something new in the middle of something I knew so well – another whittled facet to the figurine, a tiny tag on the inside of the shirt that you hadn’t noticed before. And that’s the fun of getting to know something complex. It will always surprise you. Caravaggio’s masterpiece reveals something new even after years of drinking it in with your eyes. Your best friend of fifteen years pulls out a talent you never knew they had. A single Bible verse shows you something different when you need it the most. Even though you know every single line of your favorite movie, you finally see something in the background that foreshadows the end from the very beginning. Every time you read that novel, something new jumps out at you, arrests you, and draws your attention. A harmony finally clicks for you, you hear an instrument that had hidden from you in the depths of the song, and you find a reference that you didn’t understand before.
It changes as you do. That’s why it’s worthwhile to do things again, to re-read, re-view, re-listen, re-touch. That’s why the most beautiful and complex things can never be fully understood or known – while we’re stilll earth-bound, anyway. That’s why it pays to pay attention, and that’s what’s so lovely about loving something. So I’m going to get back into my car, turn up the volume, and sink down into the undulating waves of sound and word.
Re-read this: something you haven’t read in years that impressed upon you.
Hear this: Sigh No More ;
I Will Wait, the new single:
Hoo. I’m already moved to near-tears by the lyrics. Okay.