Existentialism And Its Impact On Popular Music Essay

Existentialism And Its Impact On Popular Music Essay

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Existentialism is a difficult philosophy to define as many philosophers have rejected the term being applied to themselves. The main idea of existentialism, “existence precedes essence” (Sartre), is one of the accepted definitions for existentialism. Some of the other themes associated with existentialism are, “Dread, boredom, alienation, the absurd, freedom, commitment, nothingness, and so on” (Stanford). Existentialist themes are prevalent throughout film and literature, but the philosophy is not as common in popular music. Existentialism has made a significant impact upon popular music’s lyrics.
The theme of alienation is prominent throughout existentialism. In The Beatles song, “Eleanor Rigby”, the two characters are completely isolated and alienated from other people. The song begins with a haunting violin and cello with a depressed sounding Paul McCartney singing, “Ah, look at all the lonely people” (The Beatles, “Eleanor Rigby” 1). The absurd theme is presented in the song with the lyrics:
Eleanor Rigby, picks up the rice
In the church where a wedding has been
Lives in a dream
Waits at the window, wearing the face
That she keeps in a jar by the door
Who is it for (“Eleanor Rigby” 3-8).
Eleanor Rigby is isolated and imagines a world where she is the one getting married. She later goes home to put on makeup to impress someone that may or may not exist. Soon after the music turns more depressing and Paul McCartney sings, “All the lonely people / Where do they all come from?” (“Eleanor Rigby” 9-10). Father McKenzie, the second character in the song, is just as isolated as Eleanor Rigby. Father McKenzie realizes he is alone in this world:
Look at him working, darning his socks
In the night when there’s nobod...


... middle of paper ...


... just don’t know (“Heroin”, 44-50).
The narrator was brought face-to-face with his mortality and accepted his fate, but starts questioning his decisions immediately after. The narrator takes an existentialist (and nihilistic at times) view of his life and lives it. The song exhibits the main themes of existentialism, “existence precedes essence” (Sartre), freedom, dread, nothingness and alienation.
Beyond the existentialist themes of dread and alienation, it is difficult to find existentialist themes in popular music such as, nothingness, “existence precedes essence” (Sartre), freedom and the absurd. Existentialism has influenced artists like, The Beatles, The Velvet Underground, David Bowie, Nirvana, Radiohead, Pink Floyd, Iggy Pop and The Doors, to name a few. The philosophy has made a tremendous impact upon popular music’s lyrics over the past fifty years.

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