So much of the power of music comes from what we make of it inside ourselves, and few works of art inspire this inner pride better than these 10 rock songs about individuality. Each of these heart-rending ballads lyrically delve into the issue of the self.
- "Silver Lining" by Rilo Kiley (Jenny Lewis) tells the story of a love that provided all the silver linings in life, but had to be forgotten in order to discover the golden layer lying within. Jenny Lewis' performances are almost always minor miracles in that she seems able to effortlessly shift from mournful to jubilant, angsty to enamored. And such are the juxtapositions which power this tender elegy.
- "I am a Rock" by Simon and Garfunkel harmonically declares an artist's self-confidence. Though scorned and scarred by the world, he has his books and poetry to protect him. The lyrics themselves reference-and challenge-old English bard John Donne's infamous claim that "No man is an isle unto himself."
- "Look at Miss Ohio" by Gillian Welch evokes a young girl's loss of innocence as she makes the melancholic progression from girl to woman, freedom to consequences. This bluesy, almost alt-country, haunting Americana composition reflects upon the age-old truth that all beautiful things must be broken in order to be truly appreciated.
- "Maggie's Farm" by Bob Dylan is the classic self-empowerment story. Enslaved by a woman, a job, a place-it hardly matters exactly which metaphor you substitute Maggie with-the singer has made a decisive choice to seek freedom at all costs. This is the theme song to your life at any moment in which you respect the fire within you.
- "I Will Possess Your Heart" by Death Cab for Cutie is a powerful evocation of the comfort a person in great duress can take in their own mind. Although popular interpretations believe the song is strictly about an unrequited love, it is hard not to feel that he believes the strength of his conviction, his emotion, is so powerful, that she will inevitably eventually love him back. And even if she doesn't, that doesn't change his love. That belongs to him, and to him only.
- "Take it Easy" by The Eagles encourages us to calmly rediscover a sense of our own selves, before allowing personal emotion and the passion of the moment to overwhelm us. The narrator is dogged by the ghosts of seven women and the associated collage of feelings and trouble they conjure within him. Ultimately, he must try to take it easy in the meantime, and take a stand for what he believes in when it really counts.
- "I Wasn't Born to Follow" by The Byrds is a poetic melody of nature and art, inspiring a love for all the simple things in life that promote freedom while joyfully proclaiming what should be a universal maxim: "I wasn't born to follow."
- "The Weight" – The Band is one of history's greatest traveler's ballads. Seeking the good, simple life of the road, the narrator of the song must overcome the weight placed upon him by various forces in his life, from women to religion and everything in between. The folk ethic which emerges is that ultimately, every one needs a load taken for them.
- "Wagon Wheel" by Old Crow Medicine Show, written from half-completed Bob Dylan lyrics, is another timeless wanderer's tale about a man on an odyssey through the country, beaten down by his rough existence, wanting nothing more than to humble himself before the girl that he loves more than anything else. The song is about the beauty won by a life well-lived, and how a journey is but a test to gauge the award you deserve upon reaching your destination.
- "Society" by Eddie Vedder was written for the film about Emersonian prophet Chris McCandless, "Into the Wild." Its haunting refrains tell of a society gone too cold to bear for a man who has so much fire within him, trying ceaselessly to burst free. Only in the wild, in untrammeled nature, away from all expectations of other people and institutions, can this most divine incarnation of individuality flourish.
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