There’s so much music out in the world today, it gets a bit hard, even with Spotify, or other similar streaming services, to find music that really speaks to you. I’ve always believed in the notion that the music finds you, and sometimes when it finds you, it leaves a lasting impression that can stick with you for the rest of your life.
In September of 2013, a buddy from college posted this status update to his Facebook wall:
I’d never heard of the band, so I stared Googling a bit to see what got my buddy all excited to post something other than pictures of his beautiful family on Facebook. I found some videos on Youtube, and started streaming tracks, all while reading some articles and interviews that I found about the band.
The music was quite impressive. I loved the lush orchestral sound and the musicality of the players on the tracks, the complex arrangements, and dour lyrical content of each composition that I heard. Even when belting out the melody, I could hear a subtle vulnerability in the lead vocalist’s voice that gave the music way more personality than the pop dribble that you hear on terrestrial radio today.
I pulled up an article from Paste Magazine’s website, and I learned that Kyle Morton, the founder and lead singer of the band, suffered through multiple organ failures as a child caused by a serious case of Lyme. Apparently, he used those near-fatal, life experiences as a basis for the music written for Typhoon’s latest release, “White Lighter”. That’s not to say, however, that the music is dreary in any way. In fact, the music off of “White Lighter”, even with its heavy lyrics, is lively, boisterous and anthem-ic. An excellent, in-depth, review of “White Lighter” can be found on MuzikDizcovery’s website which, in my opinion, accurately states that the album has “two big dynamics at play […]: the first a reflection on death, typical for Typhoon; the second, a bit newer for the band, what 20th century philosopher Victor Frankl would have called a “tragic optimism” in the face of mortality,” and concludes that “White Lighter is that rarest of albums, an entire lifetime captured in music”.
Doing a little more research on what the MuzikDizcovery article mentioned, I looked up Viktor Frankl and his thoughts on “Tragic Optimism”. I found a quote from Mr. Frankl that seemed to succintly sum up his general thoughts on the topic:
“In brief it means that one is, and remains, optimistic in spite of the “tragic triad” […] which consists of those aspects of human existence which may be circumscribed by: (1) pain; (2) guilt; and (3) death. This chapter, in fact, raises the question, How is it possible to say yes to life in spite of all that? […] After all, “saying yes to life in spite of everything,” […] presupposes that life is potentially meaningful under any conditions, even those which are most miserable. And this in turn presupposes the human capacity to creatively turn life’s negative aspects into something positive or constructive. [W]hat matters is to make the best of any given situation. [T]ragic optimism […] is an optimism in the face of tragedy and in view of the human potential which at its best always allows for: (1) turning suffering into a human achievement and accomplishment; (2) deriving from guilt the opportunity to change oneself for the better; and (3) deriving from life’s transitoriness an incentive to take responsible action,”
I was drawn to Kyle’s music because the more I knew about what the music was about, the more it felt like I was being told a personal story through music. With kids today seemingly leaning more towards the EDM and dance scenes, we have to remind ourselves that lyrics matters. Understanding lyrics matter. Understanding why those lyrics were written matter. Once you have an idea of why, or what inspired, an artist to write a song, there’s so much more enjoyment that you can get out of it. After all, did you know that “Hey Jude” by the Beatles evolved from “Hey Jules”, a song McCartney wrote to comfort John Lennon’s son, Julian, during his parents’ divorce? Gives the song a bit more depth, doesn’t it?
I kept looking up video clips of the band, and discovered why their sound was so full: there can be anywhere between 10 – 14 band members onstage to performing at any time. From violins and guitars, to trumpets and horns … the size of the band was enough to get me excited to look up their tour schedule to see if they would be playing in the area. As fate would have it, they had scheduled a gig at the El Rey, and I immediately purchased a ticket.
Comfortably fitting 11 players on the El Rey stage, the band’s performance was everything that I anticipated. Like the band before them, you could feel the camaraderie between the players in the band, and like a well-oiled machine, they played the music from the recordings to a tee, if not better. The sound was lush and grand, the lyrics personal and longing; it was a musical contrast that exhibited the superb live musicianship that proved that the ticket was worth the price of admission.
Going back to knowing the meaning and lyrics of music, before the set, I got into a little conversation with a couple standing next to me. I brought up the meaning behind the band’s latest album. Half way through, they thanked me as I’m guessing that my little music tidbit may have actually enhanced the concert experience for them.
Personally speaking, I was particularly moved when Kyle sang the lyrics, “Cry, pining for the things that I could have been […] I could have been a gold digger, I could have been a fun slinger, I could have been a little bigger, I could have been an old ringer” from “Hunger and Thirst” and “Now I’m as old as you were when you had me, should I be afraid? Should I start a family” from “Young Fathers.” Something in the lyrics of those two moments made it difficult for me to breath.
A few lighthearted moments came towards the end of the set when the band covered “With a Little Help From My Friends” and right after the band came back on stage for the encore when Kyle told the audience that, “I had a little Spinal Tap moment back there. There are a lot of curtains here,” alluding to the scene in Spinal Tap where the band gets lost backstage.
After the band had finished their set, and the crowd had dispersed to head home, I hung out for a little bit to see if I could catch Kyle for a moment to ask him about music, and also to have him autograph the LPs I had tucked in my backpack. He was gracious enough to do so, and was very appreciative that I had purchased his vinyl records. I told him that I had been following a lot of good bands from Portland. He acknowledged knowing of a couple of the bands I listed, and he went on to suggest that I check out a couple others named Genders and Wild Ones (I think his girlfriend plays in this band).
As soon as I let Kyle go, and as I am walking away from the theatre to my car, I receive a call from my mother. Calls from your parents, past midnight? Never a good thing. As it turned out, my father had a minor heart attack and was en route to the hospital. My heart skipped a beat. I ran to my car, and drove at reckless speeds to be at my dad’s bedside in the ICU.
The whole drive down to the hospital, my mind was racing with thoughts of mortality. The lyrics that had moved me during the set, came back into my head during the silent drive south. New lyrics also started to penetrate, as I started to think about the line “When am I gonna feel better” from “Common Sentiments”.
As it turns out, the minor heart attack that my dad had was the sign we needed to reveal that my dad needed to have quadruple bypass surgery. The surgery was successful, and I’m currently aiding my father in the long road back to regaining his health. Since the operation, I’ve been playing the tragic optimist, doing what I can to make life better for both my father, and myself.
Upon retrospect, I feel like that my discovery of Typhoon’s music, and the act of going to see them live, was destined to be. It all happened when I needed something tell me that if you seek it out, you can find optimism in tragedy. Sometimes, the music finds you. Sometimes, the music becomes so intertwined with your life, it takes on new meanings and significance. These days, every other night, I’m drawn to pull the “White Lighter” disc out of its pristine sleeve, and I’ll let it play me to sleep, finding it again each time.
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