I can’t help but think that much of today’s mainstream music lacks a certain “real life” value that was present before the age of Insta fame, Youtube stars and of course the current state of the music industry where so many “artists” don’t write any of their own music.
For the longest time, music was largely birthed out of a person’s circumstance or experience and that is part of what made a song so impactful. I don’t hate songs that are solely meant to be fun but amidst all the “Whipping and nae nae -ing” I can’t help but think that we’ve lost some of purity that makes music so moving and inspiring to begin with.
Case in point, I’ve been thinking about a number of different songs lately that have interesting, inspiring or even painful stories behind them and thought it’d be interesting to share a few that I’ve found to be thought provoking.
The first one is Ben Rector’s “Men that Drive me Places.”
My wife and I attended a concert earlier this year and towards the end of his set, Ben shared a song from his new album. Before he played it though he told us the story, or a few stories that inspired the lyrics.
The premise of the song is that we are all born into a place in time with a given skill set (which we can’t control) and that is essentially what we have to work with. Sure you can learn a new skill or change your geographic area, but when we’re talking about aptitudes and strengths, it's hard to change who we are. He illustrated this by the fact that he was born with an aptitude for singing and writing music in a place and time that celebrates that skill. So much so that we as an audience paid money to come and enjoy it. In contrast, he mentioned that he could have been born with the same skill set 400 years ago and if someone asked him to help them build a thatched roof he would say “No I can’t do that, but let me sing you this song about my feelings.”
He wouldn’t have lasted long. Yet today, in our present society, his skill and ability is praised as remarkable and he is what we would consider “successful.”
He went on to share that as a musician, he travels a lot and thus spends a great deal of time in cabs. Driving a cab is a lot of things but not what most people would consider to be a vocation for which to aspire. What Ben has noticed over the years is that a number of the men he’s met driving cabs for him are in fact using the cards they’ve been dealt, the circumstances that they find themselves in, to pursue a better life and situation for them and their families. And that involves driving a cab. That is what they have to do, or at least a part of what they do, in order to work towards the goal that they hope to accomplish.
In recognizing this, Ben very honestly and humbly admits that sometimes he feels like he’s the product of the right circumstances that have enabled him to get paid and even celebrated, to sing and write songs where these men, born into different circumstances, are possibly harder workers and more committed than he.
Sure you can argue about a level playing field and everyone having all the same opportunities if they’re willing to work. But the reality is, there are no self made millionaires. Sooner or later you need a break. You need a record producer to discover you, an investor to back you or a chain of stores that comes along and picks up your product. And while the playing field may be level, every one of us steps onto the court with a different background, set of skills and different experiences that are going to shape how we play the game. And that greatly affects every aspect of our lives.
I love the honesty and the truth the Ben sings about in the song and I think it gives some good perspective about realistic expectations. The message on repeat in our society is “You can have it all and you deserve it all.” “Just work hard enough and you can accomplish anything.” And a good many people do, but a lot of people also spend their lives in pursuit of something only to achieve it and find out it doesn’t fill the void. So they keep working for more.
That's a conversation on hope and I’ll save that for later but as I’ve listened to the song on repeat, it’s a good reminder to me to play the game well. Hone my skills, learn as much as I can and glean information from those who have gone before me, but I can’t MAKE success happen.
For me personally, I trust that God is ultimately in control and that it is His will that determines my success in any area of my life. My call is to steward well the gifts, talents and abilities that He has given me, and trust Him for the outcome.
Thats not a call to laziness but an invitation to grace. For the Christian, understanding that for those who are in Christ, the ending has already been written. So what I do with my time here has less to do with my “success” and more to do with my impact. And we should all, Christian or not, seek to make an impact in areas that matter.
Because whether you believe it or not, you were born in a place and time, with specific skills that come more naturally to you than they do to others or that are more valuable in the present than they would have been in the past. So use the cards your dealt to make an impact and leave a legacy that involves lives changed for the better and not a fat bank account. After all, isn’t that a truer measure of success?
If you’ve never heard the song, take a listen.