Music Monday: Shenzou

Space Station over Sedona, by Adam Baker

The Art of Not Giving Up

(*disclaimer*: This post contains minor, possibly major spoilers for the movie Gravity. If you haven’t seen it, I recommend you do so. Or, if you don’t care about minor spoilers and you haven’t seen it, carry on.)

I’m writing a novel. It’s arguably one of the most difficult things I’ve done in my life, and I consider myself from time to time “a writer,” much like I considered myself “a yogi” once.

I was riding my bicycle in Indiana when I had a revelation; I was going up a hill and fretting on how easily I tired. It occurred to me that the moment a person commits to a path, the world will lay out the hills before them. It will beat them up, it will show them their failures and shortcomings. Life will take its mighty thumb and shove those who commit to the path into the dust. Because of this, it’s incredibly hard to hold on to commitments. It’s much easier, and sometimes right, to give up—to try something else. There are absolutely times where it’s not worth the pain when you don’t get it on your first try.

But when we find that thing worth committing to, if we haven’t failed a hundred times at it before, how will we ever know what success feels like? Maybe there isn’t really a feeling the way that pain hits us. Oh, there’s joy, there’s exultation and exuberance. Anyone who’s heard Beethoven’s 9th Symphony live has probably experienced that feeling. I have not yet had that experience, but I’ve read about it from those who have.

I have, however, seen the movie Gravity.

Gravity is a movie with its share of scientific flaws. However, from a storytelling perspective, once the rising action begins, it does not end, constantly grinding into its main character. What I took from the movie was not, “Oh god, could we really lose our Facebook just like that?” but “Oh god, Ryan just flat out refuses to give up.” And when the climactic re-entry scene occurs (sorry, spoilers: there’s a re-entry scene in a movie about people in Earth’s near orbit), Ryan talks to the audience (“Houston in the Blind”) and says very simply:

“The way I see it, there’s only two possible outcomes: either I make it down there in one piece, and I have one hell of a story to tell, or I burn up in the next ten minutes. Either way, whichever way—no harm, no foul.”

And then she does something strange: she laughs. And to the people who criticize Bullock’s acting in this movie: so far as I’m concerned, she deserved an Oscar for that laugh alone.

“Because either way, it’ll be one hell of a ride.”

It oddly reminds me of a short video I posted on my Facebook about some barnacle goslings (the clip for which is sadly not available in the US on Youtube), and I’ll bet that if it’s edited right, one could take out the music the BBC put in and replace it with this track, and achieve a similar effect.

The track “Shenzou” opens with a rather generic blockbuster bass pounding tension track, but its real majesty unfolds when the bass pulls way back for a haunting strings and chorus section which immediately invokes a feeling of floating or drifting. The beeps and blips in the background are effective sci-fi scene setters, and it brings in a sense of calm purpose. Like in movies and life, that, I feel, is the highest purpose: to be able to acknowledge the chaos of our immediate surroundings and not reject it, but rather to move through it with a sense of calmness and trust. If I was to say in a sentence what we practiced yoga for, that would be it, and—surprise!—it’s the same reason we tell stories. For those hard times in life; the times we have to make tough decisions, the times we know that the path ahead will be difficult—even painful. It’s easier to not walk that path, but sometimes, the grass really is greener on the other side, but whether we kill the bridge troll or convince it cunningly to stay away or suffer the bruising and beating it gives us, that simple journey is the important parts of life, summed up.

While it’s no “Ode to Joy,” “Shenzou” is a triumph in sonic storytelling; it captures that exultation of the struggle when we are at our lowest but still carrying on. It’s a pivotal moment of life captured in music form, and for that, I felt it necessary to share here.


Photo: Adam Baker/Flickr