Songs for life

Songs for life

Written by Dylan Holmes

A culture hangs together not just because of shared values and outlook, but also because of its cultural artifacts—customs, rituals, artwork, stories, and music, among others.

The community of which I am part — nebulously defined by appreciation for the entitlement to life, commitment to exploring the moral possibilities that new technology enables, etc. — feels small and new. I don't know if it is, but often it feels small because it has such meager cultural artifacts.

I have had tremendous difficulty finding life-positive songs, for example. (Many songs that talk about life either enthusiastically deny the possibility of living forever, or enthusiastically embrace the bizzare metaphorical-romantic idea of "living forever for a day".) But if we, the members of this community, are to be nourished by our culture and share our values with the world, we must have art which reflects those values. So I have begun to collect and distill such works of art1. This is the list I have created.

P.S. Feel free to recommend songs for me to add to this list. Click my name at the top of the page to get my Contact info.

1 Songs

In no particular order:

  1. Ella Fitzgerald – Throw out the lifeline

  2. Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors – Live Forever

  3. TobyMac — Speak Life

  4. K'Jon — Vanity

    • ../K'Jon - Vanity-UvjKMKaBDes.ogg
    • An explicitly immortality-positive song. I especially like how it treats immortality not as a zero-sum game, but as a means of enlarging everyone's capacity for flourishing.
  5. Panda Eyes & Termite – Immortal Flame

  6. The Afters — Live On Forever

  7. Matthew West – Live Forever

  8. Michael Jackson - Heal the World

  9. Diana Ross — If We Hold On Together

    • ../Diana Ross - If We Hold On Together-uGVQJKgqgY8.ogg
    • Remember this poignant song from The Land Before Time? When I hear it, I think about the people whose precious lives depend on technology for preserving and reviving people. What a tremendous responsibility it is—but what an unprecedented social good.
  10. PSYKOSONIK — Silicon Jesus

  11. Vienna Tang — Level Up

    • ../Vienna Teng Aims 01 Level Up-8apP990klK0.ogg
    • A song which always makes me think of status quo bias and the various sociopsychological forces that keep us from doing something radically good and radically different from what our predecessors have done. I think about how, occasionally, we humans overcome those forces.
  12. Williams Riley — I'm Still Me

  13. Miracles of Modern Science — The Singularity

  14. The Black Eyed Peas — Imma Be

2 Poetry

2.1 Invictus

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find me, unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

2.2 Snake Oil, Snake Bite

They staunched the wound with a stone.
They drew blue venom from his blood
   until there was none.
When his veins ran true his face remained
lifeless and all the mothers of the village
wept and pounded their chests until the sky
had little choice
but to grant their supplications. God made
the boy breathe again.

God breathes life into us, it is said,
only once. But this case was an exception.
God drew back in a giant gust and blew life into the boy
and like a stranded fish, he shuddered, oceanless.

It was true: the boy lived.
He lived for a very long time. The toxins
were an oil slick: contaminated, cleaned.
But just as soon as the women
kissed redness back into his cheeks
the boy began to die again.
He continued to die for the rest of   his life.
The dying took place slowly, sweetly.
The dying took a very long time.

Dilruba Ahmed

2.3 Caminante

Caminante, son tus huellas
el camino, y nada más;
caminante, no hay camino,
se hace camino al andar.
Al andar se hace camino,
y al volver la vista atrás
se ve la senda que nunca
se ha de volver a pisar.
Caminante, no hay camino,
sino estelas en la mar.

English translation (by me).

Wayfarer, it is your footprints
which are the way, and nothing more.
Wayfarer, there is no way;
You make your own way by walking.
By walking, you make your own way,
and as you turn toward the view behind,
you will see the path on which
you will nevermore turn your step.
Wayfarer, there is no way;
Only a ship's wake in the sea.

A poem that speaks to me about self-identity being ecologically constituted, rather than based on some intrinsic origin-ality. To me, the camino is the idea that we have an identity simply because we have continuously been ourselves. But we are changeable and history is unobservable, uninteractive—a better view of selfhood is needed. No hay camino, sino estelas en la mar.

3 La muerta

Si de pronto no existes,
si de pronto no vives,
yo seguiré viviendo.

No me atrevo,
no me atrevo a escribirlo,
si te mueres.

Yo seguiré viviendo.

Porque donde no tiene voz un hombre
allí, mi voz.

Donde los negros sean apaleados,
yo no puedo estar muerto.
Cuando entren en la cárcel mis hermanos
entraré yo con ellos.

Cuando la victoria,
no mi victoria,
sino la gran Victoria llegue,
aunque esté mudo debo hablar:
yo la veré llegar aunque esté ciego.

No, perdóname.
Si tú no vives,
si tú, querida, amor mío, si tú
te has muerto,
todas las hojas caerán en mi pecho,
lloverá sobre mi alma noche y día,
la nieve quemará mi corazón,
andaré con frío y fuego
y muerte y nieve,
mis pies querrán marchar hacia donde tú duermes, pero seguiré
porque tú me quisiste sobre
todas las cosas indomable,
y, amor, porque tú sabes que soy no sólo un hombre,
sino todos los hombres

English translation (by me) :

If suddenly you did not exist,
If suddenly you did not live,
I would still live.

I do not dare,
I do not dare write it
If you were dead.

I would still live.

For when there is a man without a voice,
There—my voice.

When blacks are beaten
I cannot be dead.
When my brothers enter into prison,
I will enter with them.

When the victory,
Not my victory
But the great Victory arrives,
Even if I were mute, I should speak
And that sight I should see, even if I were blind.

No, forgive me,
If you were not alive,
If you, darling, my love, if you
If you should die,
All of the leaves will fall within my chest,
It will rain over my soul day and night,
The snow will burn my heart,
I will walk with cold and fire and death and snow,
My feet will want to go where you sleep, but I will still live.

Because you had loved me being,
Above all else, indomitable,
And, love, because you know I am not only a man,
But all men.



Presumably some of them were created expressly with these values in mind. Others—most of them—are simply subverted to these purposes.


Often the lyrics of such Christian songs express more fervid belief than I find palatable given my more cautious outlook. Still, I'm often surprised how much I enjoy the overblown zeal when I appreciate it as a kind of hyperbolic art form.

Author: Dylan Holmes

Created: 2016-05-01 Sun 21:56

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