Monday, February 6, 2017

The Album I Can't Stop Listening To


Since I started buying albums when I was a teenager, there have been those that I couldn't stop listening to for a while. I would just play them over and over, and never get tired of them. There was always lots of other music I liked while I was in this state, but while in it, there was only one album I wanted to listen to. When I was in high school and college, the simple reason was that I didn't have the money to own that many albums, and I'd worn out the ones I already owned. So I'd binge-listen to any new album I got.

But there have always been those that stood out. As I got older, and my music library grew, it became rarer for an album to make such an impression on me that I couldn't stop listening to it for a long period of time. But it still happened from time to time. And now, it's happened again, and at just the right time for me.

This is not an album review. It's just a testimony of one more thing that has been an encouragement to me at the exact time I needed it. If you've read my blog over the last few weeks, you know that I went through a difficult time, emotionally, not too long ago. But then, a couple of things happened that were just what I needed. My last post was all about one of those things; a long awaited and much overdue visit with my Godly family. But before that, a new album by my favorite band, The Neal Morse Band, came out.

For the uninitiated, Neal Morse is a progressive rock artist who is also a Christian. Please don't ask me to define progressive rock. Fans call it Prog for short. Bands like Yes, early Genesis, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Jethro Tull, Rush and Pink Floyd are considered progressive rock. They are the founders of the genre, along with King Crimson and a few others. There are bands that carry on that style of music today, and The Neal Morse Band is one of them.

But the style of music is not the point. I've had albums in many styles of music become ones that I couldn't stop listening to for a while. Albums that changed my life. One of those was Nilsson Schmilsson by Harry Nillson in the early 70's, when I was in high school. Hardly a progressive rock album, but it was the one that made me believe I could be a songwriter. And I did become a songwriter. A professional one. That album still holds up for me today. Great songs never lose their power. And a great album can change a person's life, if you're as passionate about music as I am.

Neal Morse has been my favorite artist since I discovered his music about ten years ago. His combination of compelling progressive rock and uplifting, strong Christian themes in his lyrics speaks to me in a very personal way. But as much as I loved his music for the first eight years or so that I got familiar with it, I was not prepared for the way it would impact me when I was diagnosed with cancer.

In case you're new to this blog, I'm a Stage 4 prostate cancer patient. I have metastasis to spine and ribs, and my cancer is very aggressive. My prognosis is not the best. I've been on hormone treatment for it, which strips away filters and lays emotions bare. It, along with the sheer weight of having a terminal illness, has been the cause of many emotional ups and downs. There are days I really need something to lift my spirits. Neal's music never fails to do that for me.

Here's the simple truth. When I'm having a bad day, I put on one of Neal Morse's albums, and I immediately start to feel better. I start to feel inspired. I feel God's presence with me and in me stronger than before. Isn't that what music is for?

A number of Neal's albums have fallen into The Album I Can't Stop Listening To category over the last several years, but this one is special for many reasons. One is the fact that it's a true collaboration with the other members of the band, like their previous album, The Grand Experiment. But this one is a double concept album based on the classic Christian allegory novel, Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan. The title is The Similitude Of A Dream, which is a quote from the original cover of the book. It's the story of a man on a journey, and one I can relate to very well.

It's also special for the mere fact that it's one of the best progressive rock albums ever made, in my opinion. And my favorite artist and band made it. The reviews for it are overwhelmingly positive, and deservedly so.

It also happens to be the first album that my favorite artist and band has put out since I got cancer. For the past year and a half, when I was having a bad day, their back catalog encouraged me. And then they went and put out their best work ever, just when I needed it. I know they didn't do it just for me, but it feels to me like they did.

I ordered the album soon after it was released. I bought the Special Edition, which I always do, because I love the "Making Of" documentaries they include in those. I had a couple of months before their tour came through Denver to get familiar with it, and get familiar with it I did. As the concert drew closer, I listened to it more and more. I like to get to know an album well when I'm going to see it performed live soon.

Lots of times when I do that before a concert, once the concert is over, I don't want to listen to the album again for a while. But not always. Sometimes, I only want to listen to it more after the concert. That's been the case with this album. I'm sure that's because the concert was so amazing, and I got to meet the guys in the band. As is the case with all of their music, it's better live than on the recording. So the concert only made me want to listen to the album more.

It's not easy to listen to a two hour album. It takes time commitment. I wanted to listen to it on the plane to Chicago last Wednesday, but the flight was only 90 minutes going that direction! That's Prog for ya. Hey Guys, I wanted to listen to your new album on the plane, but it was only a 90 minute flight! But the return flight was over two hours, so I listened to it on the way home. I can't tell you how it ministered to me after the blessed visit I had with my family.

I still can't stop listening to it. I listened to it while I ran errands today, and finally watched drummer Mike Portnoy's listen-through and commentary on YouTube tonight. That only made me want to keep listening to it.

For many of you, this whole concept will be foreign. You may never have had an album you can't stop listening to. Or at least, not for a long time. But I live for those times. There are long stretches when there's no album like that for me. For it to happen now, with this album by this band, is an incalculable blessing to me.

If you're going through a valley in your life, I hope you find an album you can't stop listening to. It can be a balm to your soul. No matter what kind of music you like, those albums are out there.

This album has a funeral song for me. I've often heard people say they want this or that song sung at their funeral, but I've never thought that way until recently, for obvious reasons. The song is called Breath Of Angels. The second chorus goes like this:

With the breath of angels
Charging up the atmosphere
And all around me
Is the love that casts out all fear
O God, my Father
In your mercy you brought me here
Where the breath of angels dries away every tear

Expect to hear that at my memorial. But not anytime soon.

I need this kind of album in my life. I hadn't had one for a few years, and never had one since I was diagnosed. Until now, when my favorite artist and band put out the best album they've ever made, and one of the best albums in this genre anyone's ever made. It carries a message that speaks to where I am, and lifts my spirits every time I listen to it. That's why it's The Album I Can't Stop Listening To. #waroncancer

2 comments:

  1. Hi Mark,

    Found my way through here via the link on Facebook on the Neal Morse Forum. Great Post for 2 reasons: God and the music of Neal. I am now a christian for 8 years (47 now) and always loved the music of Neal. Was not very happy that he went christian a couple of years ago as he made my favorite band at the time split up. And that, just when they brought that great album Snow.

    As I was in the search of the existence of God, Neal's music was always there. Especially the first Testimony album. The nice thing is that at first I only loved the first album, but by becoming a christian I love part 2 as well now.

    His last album has also been around a lot on my streaming devices. On the one hand it's a lot of repetition of other albums that he made before but on the other hand it's music that I never hear somewhere else. Your post makes me play it again. I will start with your favorite song.

    I hope that you're able to hear this music much longer and I wish you all the best and god blessings in your fight against cancer.

    Greetings from Alwin from the Netherlands

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  2. Hi Mark, great read and happy you can find such comfort in this great band!

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