Make It Real

The story of this song and how it was recorded is not an unusual one, and there are many others like it.  The Jets were a sibling-based band, and were recording the songs for their second album (aside from a Christmas album), and were told by their label that they needed a ballad.  So the band’s manager and a couple of co-writers wrote a simple but catchy song and one of the band’s singers sang it solo somewhere in Texas, according to the group [1].  The song itself tells a familiar story too–a young woman loved someone; he didn’t love her back; she wants a change to (re)kindle a passionate relationship between them.  It is little surprise that the song was successful–it became the band’s fifth top 10 hit, and their last, on the Billboard Hot 100 charts and it became a #1 hit on the Adult Contemporary charts.  What is surprising, or at least requires some explanation, is that this forgotten song was one of my favorite songs of my childhood.

As it happens, I grew up in a single parent household (although my mother did live with her parents for quite a few years after my parents split up), and as a result of that, I grew up listening to the sort of music my mother was most fond of, and that happened to be Adult contemporary music.  In retrospect, this should not be surprising.  My mother is someone with a deep sentimental and romantic streak, and adult contemporary music is certainly very fitting for that particular target market.  The vast majority of my favorite songs from the first fifteen to twenty years of my life are melancholy or bittersweet sentimental ballads.  Whether we are looking at my first favorite song, “Somewhere Out There,” from An American Tail, or “Make It Real,” or Celine Dion’s “Where Does My Heart Beat Now?” or any number of songs by Peter Cetera or Elton John or Bryan Adams or George Michael and on and on, I grew up with my own considerable sentimental tendencies fed by music like this [2].

Somehow, though, it has taken my family an alarmingly long time to recognize the sentimental and emotional depths to my own character and personality.  To be sure, I am a very restrained person, and it is not easy for others to recognize how I feel given my general quiet obstinacy about life.  Yet it is not as if it is impossible to recognize that I am indeed a very passionate person.  Anyone who understands my fondness for Jane Austen novels, my own singing and playing of the viola, and the intensity of the way I carry on the various feuds and conflicts of my life, should understand that although I am in general a restrained person who soldiers on regardless of what is going on inside, I am clearly a person with a deep reservoir of feeling, even if that feeling is not expressed often or straightforwardly.  Yet somehow this restraint has often hindered my emotional life from being seen.  This is not necessarily a bad thing–I do not mind being thought less emotional than I am–but it can be inconvenient to be thought to be somewhat stiff and robotic and unfeeling by people with the emotional maturity of small children.

Yet in many ways this pattern of deep sentiment accompanied by high degrees of restraint is precisely a lesson I learned from years of listening to and internalizing the ethos of adult contemporary music.  Adult contemporary music exists as a genre because there are people (myself included) who deal best with emotion when it is put in a restrained and gentle package.  As a genre of music, it is often reviled because of the slow tempo and fairly narrow instrumentation of its songs–you can either have a piano/synth ballad or a guitar ballad or an a capella ballad, but you are generally going to get a low-key song with a mid-tempo or slower speed.  If people think AC music is boring, though, it is because so few people pay attention to the lyrics of the genre, which can be devastatingly on the nose.  Witness Peter Cetera’s anguished lament:  “If I was half a man, I wouldn’t sleep alone,” or Jet’s singer bluntly stating “I loved you.  You didn’t feel the same.”  The lyrics of adult contemporary music are not hiding from the points they are making at all, but they are telling a blunt message in such a highly restrained way that many people simply do not register the bluntness of the message at all.

And this is a great shame.  After all, adult contemporary songs are songs meant for adults.  If it was unwise that I should grow up wrestling with adult understandings of issues of heartbreak, broken families, concerns about aging and mortality, and wrestling with the wide gulf between our character and the way that others view us, these are concerns that have filled my life.  Listening to adult contemporary music is one of the first lessons of adulting that I had, and they are lessons I have taken to heart.  When we love people, they don’t always love us back.  Sometimes we feel like a failure because our personal life does not go as we wish, and we find ourselves forced to keep a brave face on and grit our teeth through the trials and tribulations of life.  It is well that I started learning these lessons as a child because they are lessons I have abundantly had to use as an adult.  They also seem to be lessons that many of today’s young adults are simply not learning–how to be honest about one’s feelings without being too demanding on others, how to wrestle with one’s own human frailty while maintaining the restraint necessary to cope in an adult world with a lot of people who do not think or feel the way that you do.  Perhaps it would be good to take a listen to adult contemporary music, and to learn the lessons it seeks to teach through its approach.

[1] (Sadly, although this post is sourced on Wikipedia and used to be linked on Twitter, it appears to be a dead link at present.)

[2] See, for example:

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.

3 Responses to Make It Real

  1. Catharine Martin says:

    I always appreciated the kind of music that stripped away all artifice and bared the soul. I did recognize, from very early on, that you were just like me, a deep reservoir of feeling behind a poker face. I was on top of it from the start. However, our lot in life is a personality nestled in solitude and quite often we could not realize that anyone else shared our space or understood our being. The Asperger’s foisted that upon us as our intense, egocentric reality. Our brains simply short-circuit when it comes to that. It’s not our fault, but it’s something to be aware of. Asperger’s thrivers share their journey, but each person feels alone in his walk, even when others of the same ilk try to connect. The wiring just doesn’t work without God.

  2. Pingback: The Mysterious Case Of @ChartData | Edge Induced Cohesion

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s