Everyone Should Have a Few 'Sacred Songs.' Here's How Mine Have Gotten Me Through
I'm not sure exactly when it happened, but a while back I started skipping a few songs on my go-to playlist—intentionally and consistently. I still loved them, but I found I loved them so much I couldn’t play them anymore. They were songs I savored differently. The thought of listening to them was like accepting an invitation to a family wedding that involved travel; I knew there’d be some work involved and a whole rabble of cousins to deal with. I couldn’t play these songs casually; they had become too personal. They required space and submission to what they demanded of me, and what they demanded was communion. I realized I was saving them for when I needed them. I realized they were Sacred Songs.
A song can become a Sacred Song for a variety of reasons. There are the best tracks from your favorite bands and songs that mark memorable moments. And then some not only connect but linger and grow more meaningful over time and across experiences—they resonate more and more fully, like words of encouragement from a middle-school teacher that you appreciate to this day.
I queued up “Virginia” and let it wash over me. It worked. I felt better, less alone.
For me, it started with the Stones and “Sweet Virginia.” I remember waiting on a train one night feeling like life was kicking my ass (some combination of relationship failure and career implosion) when I queued up “Virginia” and let it wash over me. It worked. I felt better, less alone. It’s hard to top a pass-the-bottle hootenanny advising you to “scrape the shit right off your shoes.” Tough times come and tough times go, mate. “Sweet Virginia” became the friend I could call when it was too late to call. I imagine it being played at my funeral for reasons I don’t fully understand. So you can see why I hit the double forward arrows when it happens to come on as background while I’m plodding on an elliptical machine at the gym. I set it aside, out of respect for what it gave me.
Then there’s Zeppelin’s “Since I’ve Been Loving You.” It’s not the tune itself, really, it’s Robert Plant’s soaring, running-off-a-cliff voice, flying up from terra firma to the stars. This song is respite; it’s peeking around the edge of the curtain and seeing something there. This song is church.
“One” by U2 is another. It’s a beautifully crafted song on its own, but it’s also the soundtrack to a year when I fell in with a bunch of swilling English lads (and one Welshman). One night, at a party, damn if we didn’t find ourselves in a swaying rugby scrum in the middle of someone’s tiny Greenwich Village living room, singing along with Bono on the stereo. (We were fun, I thought, but dirty looks from the host on our way out revealed otherwise. Wanker.) “One” is a warm blanket of good cheer and friendship that sits me down and reminds me of life’s bittersweetness—because I don’t see those guys anymore, and I miss them all.
I bet you have at least one Sacred Song, too. Maybe it’s hip-hop, maybe it’s Broadway—it doesn’t matter. If you’ve ever suffered, or been in love, or looked up in wonder, you’ve got one. When you’re out, say, at a party or at a bar, is there a song that comes on and makes you feel as though you just saw an old lover wink at you from across the room? After a long, hard day at work, is there a song you look forward to as much as a pour of 12-year-old whiskey? Think about it. Hold it close, I say. Keep it in your pocket. Let your heart race a bit when you take it out. Let it be the worn first edition—the one with the inscription—rather than the screen file you can call up (and delete) anytime. It’s there, waiting to shake your hand.
This story originally appeared on Esquire.com. Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.