Archives for posts with tag: thoughts on music

Gimme Shelter has had a seriously profound effect on me – to the extent that I have the lyrics from the first verse tattooed on my thigh. What makes it such a big deal to me is the fact that it can be relevant and applicable to anything you want. Now, I know that it was originally written about the tumultuous, war-stricken world everyone was living in in 1969, but I really do believe that the indirect nature of the lyrics allow it to become far more personal to each individual listener than it may first seem.

The reasons towards my great love of this song are two-fold, firstly I adore the backing vocals of Merry Clayton – the moment her voice cracks due to the strain and emotion she is putting into each note always gives me chills and her voice compliments Mick Jagger’s perfectly too. The strength of her emotions when singing the line “rape, murder, it’s just a shot away” is to this day, incredibly powerful. This line is one of many in Gimme Shelter that is sadly, just as relevant today as it was in ’69. It’s lines like that one, that force you to reflect on the world and what is going on in it – and to me that makes it one of the most intelligent and thoughtful songs ever made. Not only because of its longevity, but because no matter what generation you’re from, you can connect the lyrics to the uncertainties and fear of what’s happening in the world around you.

The first lines of the song “Oh, a storm is threat’ning, my very life today, If I don’t get some shelter, oh yeah, I’m gonna fade away,” exudes anxiety and gives the impression that the band and most likely a lot of people felt a great sense of foreboding when thinking of the future. To me it also represents the notion that you have to be able to get away from it all every now and again; otherwise you’ll just burn out. Therefore, on a more micro level, I identify with it because for as long as I can remember, not knowing how things will pan out has always majorly stressed me out, often to the point where I feel like I’m going to break. So Jagger’s plea for respite rings home in a big big way.

I remember the first time I heard Unfinished Sympathy because it was whilst watching a music channel on TV, also for the first time (I was hyped). The video for the song is gorgeous and that was not lost on me – I could watch that vid on loop for eternity and never get sick of it, but it was the haunting vocals of Shara Nelson accompanied by a hypnotic slow beat, strings and occasional chords that drew me in. I think it’s the simplicity of the track that got to me – the period in my life when I revisited the song after that first encounter was a difficult one. I was attempting to deal with a mess of feelings and emotions that were consuming me and I didn’t know why (in a few months all became clear as I would be diagnosed with quite severe depression and put on the required medication, thankfully). Everyday was a struggle and I felt filled up with rage, despondency, and apathy – I needed something that could calm me down and for a few precious minutes, transport me away from my life of turmoil – to my own private oasis, where everything was beautifully simple and tranquility was the order of the day. Unfinished Sympathy became that oasis – I spent a lot of time tuning in and then tuning out.

Even now, with my depression kept at bay I’m always drawn to the song when feeling a bit low, or when I need a little piece of time to reflect on things and collect myself. Yet I can also immerse myself in the song during happier times – it accompanies me on walks, doing university work, and when I’m writing. Unfinished Sympathy changed my life in a multitude of ways and I will forever be grateful.