I wrote previously about stumbling (via this weird, meandering, coincidental, random method) into the band Thirty Seconds to Mars. And the thing that’s been particularly noteworthy about that for me is that my interest in them is completely wrapped up in my growing interest and absorption in photography – which blossomed in the same time period.
I’ve felt that for a while…felt that connection between that particular band and my photography. (It’s come out in posts like this.) I’ve acknowledged to myself that their music is one of the things that has actually fed the photography urge in me.
But how exactly? That’s where it’s always gotten fuzzy for me.
I decided to figure it out, once and for all.
So I’ve been thinking about this – and I think I understand now what it is that I take from Thirty Seconds to Mars. And I understand how that’s advanced me on this little path I’m tracing with this post series.
What I remain unclear on though is whether my perceptions – the way I connect to the music and to what Thirty Seconds to Mars is doing artistically – is in my head or not. Meaning, am I layering this music with something that they, the creators, didn’t intend at all?
It doesn’t really matter for my purposes here, I guess, if I’ve put my own meaning to that music. It meant/means what it does for me…and that’s served to advance me in directions I needed to go. Whether what I take from it is actually, ultimately, some kind of intended “gift” from the artists – or whether I created something I needed out of what was essentially raw materials I took from them, doesn’t perhaps take away validity from what I gained. Does art become less powerful when a viewer responds to some nuance the artist didn’t intend? I don’t think so. I think it’s the connection that’s most important.
Not that I’m not curious about the intent though. Very curious!
Of course, there’s no way that curiosity will ever be satisfied. There’s no way to get an answer really, outside of asking them – which obviously I can’t do. Which is a shame.
Interviewers never ask the questions I want to know!
So, I noted before that I kind of stumbled into this band – as a result of stumbling first into Jared Leto’s Twitter account. And I felt drawn to their music almost immediately.
But I couldn’t put my finger on why – which was kind of strange. From the beginning I was aware that I found them interesting – and that I found them more interesting than I thought I should find them looking at the bands I usually tend to bond with.
For example, normally I’m a big “lyrics person” – as in, lyrics are really important in most of my favorite music. Thirty Seconds to Mars isn’t really what I’d consider a particularly lyric-centric band. (Though, in fairness, I’m comparing to the likes of Conor Oberst and Leonard Cohen and Ben Gibbard, all of which I was heavily listening to immediately prior to stumbling on Thirty Seconds to Mars. Is anybody lyric-centric when compared to these guys?)
There are occasionally some really good lyric moments in Thirty Seconds to Mars songs. There are also some complete songs that I like particularly for the lyrics. (Like this one and this one. I love both of these.) But lyrics aren’t the primary draw for me to this band.
I can also say that their music is generally a little louder, a little more rock or something than I usually gravitate toward. Not that that’s a negative necessarily. (I like all different kinds of music. It’s pretty much completely mood-dependent!) But the overall sound is also not the draw.
I do like Jared Leto (the lead singer’s) voice a lot – so I particularly like the acoustic versions of their songs. He has one of those voices, for me, that just appeals to my ear – enough that, when it’s all said and done, I don’t ultimately care all that much what he’s singing. I just enjoy the sound of the voice. The tonal quality or something? I don’t know what it is exactly. (I can name just a few other singers I feel like that about.)
But that’s not really the reason I listen to them either. There’s another element at play.
As I said, it took me awhile to figure out what it was.
The answer lies in the visual quality of what they do. Things-visual are, for me, essential to my connection to their music. Essential as in, I can’t separate the two.
It’s like, the visual element has to be there for the work to be complete…like a song isn’t really whole without the visual component. That’s my perception, anyway.
Let me try to explain this better:
I’m not saying it’s just that they have interesting videos. I mean, they do, largely – but it’s more than that.
Good music videos can obviously amplify the emotion of a song – and that can add to the meaning of a song for you. But videos aren’t usually essential (in my experience) to comprehending the full nuance of a song. Most songs stand alone…right? They’re complete in and of themselves. The video is just…extra.
And I don’t feel like that about most Thirty Seconds to Mars songs.
But I don’t mean to imply that I think the songs are deficient in some way.
That’s actually what makes this strange for me. That’s what makes Thirty Seconds to Mars different, in my opinion. It’s not that they’re shitty musicians and good music-video-makers and so the videos save the shitty music; that’s not how I feel.
It’s rather that, for me, the actual music they make and lyrics they write, the actual song, is just one sliver of the artistic message being created. That’s how I absorb their stuff. And from within that, you have to see as well as listen if you want to experience the entire work.
It makes for almost a different category of expression. That’s what intrigues me about it. It’s like, you can’t strip what they’re doing down to “this is a melody” or “this is an image” or “these are lyrics.” It’s more that all of those parts make up a whole – and you can’t really comprehend the whole until you’ve experienced all of the elements.
It makes me think of a prism (that’s the mental image that just popped into my head when I was typing the last paragraph.) Like, you can look at a prism, sitting there on a table in front of you, and you can maybe see that it’s interesting. Maybe it’s well-cut…smooth. Not unattractive as an object. But it’s only when you pick it up and turn it around and look at it from multiple angles that it reveals what it really is – that its full complexity and beauty is revealed. When you hold it up and see the light bouncing off of it and refracting through it in rainbow colors – then you comprehend its real nature. You couldn’t do that when it was sitting on the table.
And that’s not to say it had no worth, no beauty, while it was sitting on the table. Certainly it’s not that it’s lesser in some way because you have to pick it and turn it around to see what it’s really all about. That doesn’t make it inferior. It’s actually a different entity. It has different, deeper angles that require a different method of study.
And that’s a really clumsy analogy. Maybe there’s just no way to elegantly express this.
At base, it comes down for me to the fact that I’ve never encountered a band for whom I’ve found a visual component to be so essential. Listening to one of their songs for the first time without any accompanying visual is almost like reading song lyrics from somebody else without music…or listening to the music without the lyrics. It’s not that there’s no worth to the component parts (I’m thinking of somebody like Leonard Cohen, who writes poetry as well as song lyrics; his words can most definitely stand alone.) But when you put the lyrics with their music, the experience is just so much richer.
That’s how I feel about this band without their visuals. It’s hard for me to think of them really as a band of musicians. They’re artists in a broader sense – because music seems to be just a portion of what they’re expressing.
And it’s this that’s drawn me to them and tangled me up in their stuff – this multi-dimensional quality I perceive, of which the visual is so strong.
Like I said above, I don’t know that I really think it matters all that much if I’m seeing things that aren’t actually there in their work. The fact is, I saw what I saw and connected the way I connected – and that’s helped me. And there’s value in that.
When I first started listening to them I was still deeply uncomfortable with the idea of myself actually contributing to the world of visual art – despite the fact that I felt such a strong pull in that direction. If those three books I noted a few posts ago threw open the door for me creativity-wise, this band, and my consciousness of the fact that I was connecting to them in a way that was unusual for me, served to push me over the threshold of the doorway. That’s really clear to me as I write this. I couldn’t think the kinds of things I was thinking as I got to know their music (and became conscious of the strong visual component), or ask the kinds of questions I was asking about their appeal to me, without feeling myself expanding in ways I needed to expand.
And this accelerated my steps away from “bystander” and toward “participant” in regard to visual art. And that’s a pretty big deal for me.