by Jeffrey Ian Ross, Ph.D.
Music resonates with people on a visceral level, and one of its most powerful components is undoubtedly the song.
Some of these compositions seem to get suck in our heads and effortlessly occupy our minds and mental space.
Occasionally, we acknowledge the presence of an entire song, it’s most prominent melody or some of the song’s catchy lyrics, which subtly linger or becomes integral to our inner thoughts.
Many of us have the same songs that continuously play in our heads for days, months, years, decades, or our entire lives.
For me one of these songs is The Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go”
Emerging from the vibrant British punk scene in 1976, The Clash had anarchist sensibilities, composing and playing music that was also danceable.
Yet, why does “Should I Stay or Should I Go” frequently repeat in my mind when other equally noteworthy songs and Clash tracks like “Rock The Casbah” or “London Calling” fail to gain traction?
Maybe it’s because I haven’t traveled to or vacationed in North Africa that the lyrics of “Rock The Casbah” failed to resonate. Similarly, although I’ve stayed in London several times, I never experienced or participated in the highly local anti-racist and anti-police protests and riots of the 1980s, that “London Calling” refers to.
“Should I Stay or Should I Go” accurately captured the zeitgeist of the day, but more importantly perfectly expressed the ambivalence I was experiencing in my life when I first listened to it, a feeling that frequently persists till this day regarding many important decisions surrounding many people, places, and things.
During moments of indecision, when clarity eludes me, I often experience confusion and a sense of immobilization.
It’s at these times, or more appropriately, whenever I feel a significant sense of uncertainty, that the song seems to return.
Seeking advice from individuals, without considering the finer nuances of the source tends to compound the issue, as the guidance I receive is frequently contradictory. Later in life, I determined that while most of the people I consulted had my best interests at heart, they lacked a comprehensive understanding or appreciation for all the contingencies I needed to consider. A crucial realization was that many of these individuals offering advice were not experts in the matter I was dealing with.
Over time, when I’m in a similar situation of indecision, I’ve gravitated to grabbing a piece of paper and writing down the pros and the cons of making a particular decision. Although this process is helpful, it doesn’t always offer a clear resolution.
Nevertheless, my journey with “Should I Stay or Should I Go” serves as a testament to the enduring power of music to mirror our experiences and emotions. It’s a reminder that sometimes, amid life’s complexities, a song can serve as a signifier, used to quickly clarify the exact emotion we are experiencing, thereby echoing our inner conflicts.
In short, we might have multiple theme songs (a playlist, if you want to call it that) which are specific to different situations. They form a background in our mind to enable or perhaps even frustrate us. These songs may even serve as mnemonic devices to help us remember particular scripts on how to deal with people, places, and things that we encounter.
In sum, it’s important to consider your musical companions and the unique ways they have shaped your journey. After all, the beauty of music lies not only in the notes but also in the stories it helps us tell.
Title: Joe Strummer, Mick Jones, and Paul Simonon in concert with the Clash in 1980
Photographer: Helge Øverås