Swim for the music that saves you

There are a handful of people in the world who will understand where I’m coming from with this and far more who can never fully understand because they will never experience it. But the truth is of all the artistic mediums available to us, music is the one with the most power. It is a select few who are overcome by emotion at the sight of a painting or sculpture. A few more have a similar reaction to poetry or fiction. But music… how many people have you met in your life who admit to crying over a sad love song? My guess is that even if you haven’t kept count, the number would be quite high. Somewhere around 70ish, maybe 80% of everyone you’ve met has had some kind of emotional reaction to a song at some point in their life. Most of the remaining few are passive listeners who consider music to be trivial or “background noise” and have never formed the attachment.

Several years ago, I was in a relationship. It was an intense hurricane of a relationship so the only way it could have possibly ended was in an intense hurricane of a break up. The Reader’s Digest version is that I was numb. For a long time. Friends have admitted to worrying that I would go to sleep one night and not wake up, that the heartbreak would put so much stress on my body that it would simply shut down. Because the thing about being numb is that you know there should be pain but you don’t feel it. When you don’t feel it, you don’t express it. When you don’t express it, it eats away at you without you even knowing it.

But the thing that pulled me out of it, what made me start to feel again, was music. Because so much of that intense hurricane of a relationship was centered around music, I had to start over from scratch, finding new bands, new music. Some of what had been mine before remained mine without memories of what I had lost and I clung to those songs with everything I had. I also took on a quest to build a completely new library.

Most integral in my healing process were Kill Hannah, Dashboard Confessional, AFI and Something Corporate. The music, the lyrics, the way they made me feel…that they made me feel… became, and still is, so much more important to me than I could ever completely explain. This is where the handful of people who understand come in. If you’ve been there, if you’ve seen the power of music to heal, then you know what I’m talking about. Until you go through it, you can process the stories of people like me as we talk passionately about our saving grace and you won’t judge us for being melodramatic and you can nod your head and say you understand but I think it really is something that is better understood with the heart, not the mind. And the best way to understand with your heart is to FEEL something is true, not just know it.

While there were four main bands I feel were responsible for repairing my broken heart, today I got the words “Swim for the music that saves you” tattooed on my chest. Something Corporate broke up shortly after everything I went through. Their leader, Andrew McMahon, was diagnosed with lymphoblastic leukemia (which he has since conquered) and through that started the Dear Jack Foundation and the band Jack’s Mannequin. Jack’s Mannequin’s second album, the Glass Passenger, featured a song called Swim, which is all about not letting life get the best of you. “Just keep your head above.” Keep swimming, don’t drown in your struggles, in you pain, in life. It all rang so true to me. All too often I have said I feel like I am drowning in whatever crap I’m experiencing at the moment. Sometimes real problems like bills, other times my own invented problems like lack of creativity. So the message of just keep your head above and swim has become something I go to whenever I need comfort or inspiration or just want to hear something beautiful. And because it is always music that I turn to, because it was music that pulled me from the darkness, “Swim for the music that saves you,” seemed like the best bet for a tattoo to pay tribute to Andrew McMahon who has been so important and so inspirational throughout the past 11 years.

I toyed with the line, “Just keep your head above, swim” but then I finally had the chance to see Andrew play live (I’ve had dozens of opportunities between Something Corporate and Jack’s Mannequin but sometimes life gets in the way) over this past weekend (March 29, 2013) and the tidal wave of emotion that I went through, sobbing my way through some of the more important songs, I knew it couldn’t be anything except what I finally ended up with. I waited outside the venue after the show with a couple dozen other fans for nearly an hour. Just as I was giving up a line formed for autographs. I got my ticket signed and asked if he would please write swim on the other side so that I could use it for a tattoo. Now it’s on my skin and I will always have that message with me. “Swim for the music that saves you, when you’re not so sure you’ll survive.”

My ticket stub with Andrew McMahon’s writing on the back.

The resulting tattoo. Simple, no frills, just the perfect message.

And…. the song:


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