When You Know That I Was Always On Your Side

“Always On Your Side” is, to date, the most recent Top 40 hit for both of its duet participants, Sheryl Crow and Sting. A lovely and beautiful example of the “late” period of pop songs for both musicians, it is a song with reflective lyrics, melancholy strings and other instrumentation, and the sort of late autumn or early winter mood that is often far more popular on adult contemporary stations than mainstream radio, especially when it is performed by middle aged musicians singing age appropriate songs of longing and regret. Although it is a surpassingly lovely song, it is a bit of a surprise that the song became so popular because it is so honestly reflective, a mood that is rare in contemporary music, which is more concerned about celebrity feuds and a danceable beat, neither of which is in evidence in this song about people coming to terms with a complicated past marred by poor communication. The song appears with many similar numbers on Sheryl Crow’s “Wildflower” album, and along with the album’s other standout tracks like “Good Is Good” and “I Know Why,” I can find a lot to relate to. So did many other people, as the album itself has so far gone platinum.

“Always On Your Side” is the sort of song that an artist releases in late career, once the hits do not come quite as automatically as they used to come, when one is no longer caught up in the ride of fame, and has settled down a bit. It is the song that comes from growing a bit more older and taking the time to reflect upon life and relationships. When I lived in Thailand, I became familiar with another such song that had been released in the same vein, called “Somebody Loves You” by Nik Kershaw [1], who is commonly thought to be a one-hit wonder in the United States with his song “Wouldn’t It Be Good.” That song, too, has all of the earmarks of a late period song, a reflection of the sort of ersatz love one feels from the adoration of fans who appreciate one’s music and one’s public life but have no part of the private life of an artist that produces the art that is appreciated by its fans. It feels like someone loves you when you are on stage and people are clapping and cheering for you, but they don’t really know you and they don’t really love you, and when the concert is over and the fans have gone home, one goes to the van or bus and sits alone writing in quiet hours of often gloomy reflection while one travels from town to town.

These are problems not only known to musicians, but to creative and performing people in general. Creativity involves two qualities, among many others, that sit very uneasily together. Creation involves the art of bringing what is not into existence into existence, whether it happens to be a novel, a sculpture, an invention, a website, a song, or a painting. Even modeling the creation of others that has come before allows one to add one’s own personal flourishes and touches, whether on purpose or by accident, since different hands and different conditions, even when one is trying to do the same thing, leads to differences. This bringing into existence what previously only existed as wishes or thoughts or imaginations is often a public act, since people who are creative often wish for some sort of credit or recognition or profit from such creations. We protect these creations with copyrights and patents and licensing agreements, so that the people who create can profit from their God-given creativity. Yet at the same time as all of this public effort is going on, artists and creative types are often extremely sensitive sort of people as well, their sensitivity often being what drives them to create in the first place, because what other people pass by without noticing is present and there for people who simply must deal with it in some sort of fashion, which spurs the creation of art, sometimes on a massive and prolific scale.

This, however, presents a problem. When people become acquainted with a creation, they want to know its creator. We listen to a beautiful song on the radio, and we wonder what it was that inspired the people to write and perform that song. We know that there is a story behind it and are curious to find out what it is. We may be familiar with quite a few books by an author, appreciate them, and think that because we are so fond of and familiar with an author’s work that we in some fashion know the creator of those works, or want to know them. The dilemma exists because those who bring great art into existence do not always want to be known—many are deeply private people about what matters most to them, creating out of personal compulsions but horrified at the sort of conclusions and insights people draw from what they create, whether accurate or not. The artist wanting to be unbothered to create in peace and the desire of the fans of that art wanting to know the artist create an often difficult dynamic, because the communication is indirect, mediated by the ambiguous art that is created and the often inchoate longings and fears by people on all sides. The fact that much great art comes from personal torment and immense suffering does not make things any easier for the audience that wishes to know and the artist that wishes not to be known.

And so we are left where we begin. Both creator and audience are, in the final analysis, on the same side. When an artist gives voice and reality to what is in his or her heart and mind, there is a desire for that creation to be known by someone, someone who appreciates what is created, and can give honor to the creator because of the value of the creation. Works of creation are appreciated by an audience because they speak to hopes and fears, longings and experiences known by those who did not feel able to express such matters themselves. Each provides something to the other that is needed deeply—those who are creative meet the needs of the larger population that lacks the skill to bring something into real existence from needs and thoughts and hopes and dreams, and those who appreciate what is created make that creative work pay in what is needful for life in terms of money and honor and words and expressions of support and appreciation. Yet despite this mutually beneficial role, one does not always feel that others are on one’s side. It is easy to be divided from those who should always be on our side, who are all working on the same projects with different perspectives and different but mutually beneficial interests, and it is hard to feel that others are on our side even when others feel that they are on our side. It is little surprise that art should deal with this struggle and difficulty as it deals with others, but it is hard for us to see what is in the hearts of others when we are so terrified about what is in our own, even as it spills out continually and beautifully for others to see despite ourselves.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/01/30/wouldnt-it-be-good/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/02/12/somebody-loves-you/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/04/26/a-telltale-heart/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/02/06/book-review-the-new-art-of-writing-plays/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/08/27/start-again/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/01/17/the-art-of-catching-flies/

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in History, Music History, Musings and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to When You Know That I Was Always On Your Side

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