In Search of Meaning

Or how Patti Smith inspired a pilgrimage.

In Search of Meaning

For me, it’s the littlest grains. The tiniest details that swirl to a crescendo. The seeds that become towering trees.

Ever since I got into music, it’s always been like this, I wanted and still want to know why some pieces of music feel like they’re reaching out to me from some parallel universe. Why the opening chords of some songs or a small shift in the bass or a single lyric can give me ‘all the feels’.

When I hit rewind and listen to a track for a fifth or fiftieth time, it’s as if I’m trying to commune with something eternal about what it means to exist as a human as much as I’m trying to connect with the art and the artist.

I don’t know how ‘normal’ a quest this is, looking for the meaning of life in songs. As if a song is both the supernatural leylines of civilisation and the tea leaves that contain the mysteries of the human condition.

Then again, I’ve definitely met people who don’t listen to the lyrics and aren’t interested in the “why” of music, but they’re usually not people like us, the enthusiasts, the obsessives, the aficionados, the geeks and the nerds. I wear all of those words with pride and I hope you do too, because I think few things in this world are as important and as infectious as passion, especially for music.

(it’s why the term ‘fangirl’ isn’t just misogynistic but totally misses the joy of fandom and why ‘guilty pleasure’ is so grim a concept, but that’s a different topic, probably…)

I’m currently plotting a season of podcasts on the future of the music press. If I was to be reductive, I’d say the reason I started reading music magazines at the age of 12 was because I wanted to know the secret of why music meant so much to me. Why when I heard Sittin’ on the Dock of a Bay or Tears of A Clown, I had to go away and listen to them on my own, over and over. Why I felt like I had “connected” with the soul of the song, in what I assume felt like a moment of spiritual enlightenment when I first heard side two of Bowie’s Low at the age of 4 or Jeff Buckley’s Grace after my first teenage heartbreak or after getting into Bikini Kill hearing Le Tigre who let me step into a feminist & queer culture that as a dorky 17 year old I felt so distant from or the way I felt the power of the opening to Dead Prez’s Let’s Get Free after years of listening to whiny political punk-rock….

I could probably write a whole book listing all of the epiphanies I’ve had listening to music or reading about music or hearing about an artists purpose. There’s another book in that zing of discovering something special for the first time, often burrowed in the 30th listen to an album…

I couldn’t, however, write as much about my many pilgrimages to the places that were related to some of my favourite tracks. I mean, I’ve seen the Hacienda apartments where the club used to be, walked down LA streets that Elliott Smith wrote songs about and been in the room where some of NIN’s Downward Spiral and most of PJ Harvey’s albums were recorded with the man who made those records, but they each felt so everyday that they were disconnected from the music.

It should have been obvious to me why these places didn’t make it all make sense… because the music I love is often not something that seeps from the physical walls but the imagined worlds that the musician’s construct.

Like, I can’t imagine I’m going to understand why Sign ‘O’ The Times feels like a rally cry at Paisley Park, but I sort of felt that watching Janelle Monae in the brilliant film Hidden Figures. That’s not to say I don’t still wanna nose around Prince’s studio to see where these purple rockets were launched.

The real world is often just a conduit for these new landscapes to grow from. It’s probably pretty obvious but it’s taken me decades to realise that the thing I love about music is the journeys into a world of sound, to ride inside a kaleidoscope of ideas, and to step outside yourself into that semi-conscious realm where your brain is stirred by the words and music.

All that said, it was to my surprise earlier this year that I felt quite so moved following in ’s footsteps to visit Sylvia Plath’s grave, where she’s taken several Polaroids over the years. It helped make sense of not just the important of Plath’s work to Smith, but the importance of the rich soil from which the seeds of songs grow. It got me thinking of all the bands I’ve listened to because artists I love are into them, all the films they’ve led me to, all the books I’ve read because they’ve been referenced in songs, and how much all of this has enriched my life and our (perma)culture. It left me feeling inspired to plant seeds of my own, as much as clarifying the blurred hinterlands of some of Patti’s songs.

Anyway…. today’s newsletter was just meant to be a short introduction to a music video I commissioned for a reworking of single, recently released on the return of the Drowned in Sound Singles Club.

Faith had cited Plath as an inspiration for the track when I spoke to her on the Drowned in Sound podcast, which inspired the idea of us going on a pilgrimage….

The video was shot on Super-8 by Elise Wouters (here’s her substack: ) at the graveyard in Heptonstall in the Calder Valley in NW England, which due to various TV shows the Calderdale area is ‘having a moment’, and we also ventured out of the nearby moors that inspired Wuthering Heights. It was an absolutely glorious day at the start of this year, and I hope you can get a sense of the magic in the video.

🫡 Watch the video and read Elise’s spine-tingling essay she penned for Huck here.

🎧 Inspired by our trip, here’s a Spotify playlist I created inspired by Sylvia Plath featuring Antlers, SIA, Emmy the Great, Arlo Parks, and of course Patti Smith.

Faith Vern aka The Faux Faux by Elise Wouters
Faith Vern aka The Faux Faux by Elise Wouters