- Andre Lamartin
Music is only one of the many battlefields of the human heart where the spiritual war over our souls has been fought since the fall of man. As a fallen world actively conspires against our hearts, lies are sold to consumers always willing to embrace alienation while traveling down the road leading only towards self-destruction. When our spiritual quest for the truth bears more lancinating pain than most are willing or able to accept, finding meaning and beauty in life is what most people sorely need, but not necessarily want. All of this leads me to a sobering realization: always be careful about what your heart desires; what you may need and want are not necessarily one and the same.
Music should always be the harmonious marriage of beauty and meaning, never a fractious divorce of the two. Not all that pleases the ear also enamors the heart and mind, as music unlocks a subliminal, spiritual world populated by forces having agendas not entirely our own. Melodies, harmonies, lyrics, and rhythms seared deep into our souls can evoke reverberant memories of a life once lived, conjuring inscrutable spiritual forces well beyond our conscious understanding. Thinking that music is simply mindless entertainment ravenously consumed at a price is a mistake no one is well advised to make. As the most insidious evil is always the one unrevealed for what it is, while venturing forth to study darkness always be careful not to become the object of inquiry yourself. Those walking in darkness solely trying to understand evil rarely find their way back.
Evanescence first arrived in my life while combating impenetrable darkness never to be vanquished with impunity, one lingering in violent memories scarred for eternity. As the limelight attracts only those enticed by false appearances, my appreciation for the music was entirely divorced from any superficial imagery used to market the band itself. With the sole exception of the lead singer, songwriter and pianist Amy Lee Hartzler, none of the other band members ever piqued my interest. As my all-time favorite American female artist, Amy Lee set the bar for women in rock n roll. Despite being a classically trained pianist, an extremely talented composer, and a mezzo-soprano diva having a velvety, mellifluous, angelic voice, Amy Lee was never a love at first sight, but an acquired taste defying the inexorable passing of time and the vindictiveness of violent years.
That such a talented young woman should be the leader and centerpiece of a popular rock band in such a misogynistic world is a musical achievement not to be understated. In an age where predatory sexual violence is as ubiquitous as the false, despondent teenage rage always packaged and sold to consumers, Amy Lee certainly deserves plaudits for being an original, down to earth trailblazer in her own right. Having her distinctive piano accompanying her heavenly, translucent voice of unmistakable stentorian power and poignant vulnerability, she is a female rock artist like no other. Although her music is not meant to worship or glorify God, the same can be said of all the darkness captured and portrayed. Her music is almost confessionary in nature, indicative of great repressed sorrow accumulated throughout the years, having as one of its probable original sources the mysterious death of her young sister at an early, formative age. Just as her soft-spoken piano and her delicate but stentorian voice occasionally struggle not to be drowned out by the ravenous, raging sound of accompanying guitars and warpath drums, Amy Lee is an American rock queen still to be properly acknowledged and valued for the unique talent, approachable disposition, and enchanting personal charisma possessed.
As early as her first demo album "Origin", her songs spoke to me as free verse prayers from a damsel in distress, one who experienced considerable darkness in her life, albeit never glorifying her pain in any self-aggrandizing, purely commercial, manipulative way. One of her early songs "Field of Innocence" epitomizes a sincere longing to see the world once again through the eyes of a child, believing in life with an openly contrite heart still unscarred by the myriad disappointments of late adolescence and early adulthood. The commiseration of knowing that Amy pensively longed to revive the deceased purity of her heart was not lost on me. Suffice to say that Christ was certainly not the only one to value the iridescent field of innocence usually seen from the eyes of a child. As Jesus stated in Matthew in 18:3: "Truly I tell you, unless you become like one of these little ones you will never see the kingdom of Heaven." Without this requisite purity of heart one can hardly hope to contemplate anything celestial, the reason why Amy rues having made an uneven trade for the real world, hoping only to recede in time so she might once again believe in everything, while knowing nothing at all.
Perhaps the inability to restore this long-lost purity is what led to "Fallen", Evanescence's major label debut, and the first commercial breakthrough of Amy's promising career. Although some might contend that female disillusionment with interpersonal relationships inspired most of the songs in this album, the dark nature of the title itself certainly warrants a religious interpretation. Whether the album title refers to the fall of man or the fall of Satan, each and every song depicts some aspect of a fallen world where considerable darkness pervades one's hardened heart. While the song "Bring Me Back To Life" seemingly describes the emotional revival of someone literally destroyed by a dark, traumatizing, prior failed relationship, a seasoned Catholic might beg to differ. Paying close attention to the lyrics, this song can be understood as a desperate, demonic pleading for reincarnation. Frantically hoping to mitigate its past millennial sufferance in Hell, the demonic entity implores the conjurer for permission to possess a willing soul, coming back to life once again. The New Testament depicts at least one such instance where the demon Legion asks Christ to possess a heard of pigs, as described in Luke 8:26-39 and Mark 5:1-20, presumably to mollify its subsequent punishment in Hell.
This is certainly not the only instance where the spirituality of music bears relevance to understanding its meaning. "My Immortal" is another "Fallen" song where Amy Lee pleads for a modicum of succor using only her piano and voice. Divesting her music of unnecessary additional ornamentation, her melodic message requires little harmonic accompaniment to deliver its melancholic payload, emphasizing the extent of her solitude. Suppressed by childish fears of abandonment, Amy commits the same romantic mistake once made by Beethoven, believing the illusory, self-professed immortality of her beloved sprung from her own mortal love itself, and not from an everlasting divine source. Only God's divine love gives rise to immortality, and no ersatz, worldly substitute fills the abyssal void left behind, especially not for those who have fallen from God's grace. As stated in John 3:16: "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life." Setting aside this verity, the song treats immortality as a melancholic burden borne by someone who still longs for the loving company of another, whose seemingly irreplaceable presence time has not erased. A self-destructive love that remains such a lingering source of pain only testifies against the relationship itself, hardly being the true source of immortality. A mortal love bound by time never elicits long-lasting melancholy so long divine love is revealed and experienced.
If a dying romantic affair cannot sustain an immortal love, the same can also be said of fame itself. "Everybody's Fool" is a song addressing the disillusionment with the many pitfalls of fame, precociously written by someone who most probably had not yet experienced it in real life. The song assumes the perspective of a disillusioned fan who realizes how the once idolized artist is a false icon of self-indulgence, one desperately lost in a world of lies where perennially wearing a mask and pretending is imperative to being falsely loved and commercially adored. The disenchanted fan deems himself to have been everybody's fool for once believing that the idolized artist was truly deserving of his love and admiration, almost to the point of being able to offer him spiritual salvation. While true that beauty also lies in the heart of those who appreciate it in others, every form of idolatry is based on the adoration of a false beauty existent only in our illusory perception. Appreciating the emptiness in another's life can never fill the void in our own. The extent to which this supposedly fictional plight currently describes Amy's life could be one of the many reasons why her latest album was entitled "The Bitter Truth".
Of the many tragic consequences disillusionment of this kind may have, suicide is most certainly one. The song "Tourniquet" describes the final moments of a suicide attempt. While irresolutely bleeding away, the person having slit his wrists desperately wonders whether Christ will forgive him for ending his life so prematurely. Suffice to say that the odds of being forgiven for a last-minute momentary regret bearing eternal consequences hardly favors the desperate, but if the tourniquet was well applied, perhaps there is cause for optimism that a reversal of fortune was made possible by divine or medical intervention. It should also be noted that this song was released for a heart broken generation that survived Kurt Cobain's untimely suicide. How this song can be performed to elicit joy during a rock concert is a question I must decline to answer. Most times when listening to Evanescence in years past I was on the receiving end of considerable hatred and unrelenting violence, none of which was self-inflicted in nature. When being attacked on all sides always remember: they only ambushed you because you never surrendered. As written in psalm 23:4: "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me."
Whether this all-surrounding darkness can imprison someone within the confines of his bedroom is not merely an imaginary proposition. As one of the many tragedies of dreaming is being asleep in the process, the song "Imaginary" tells the story of an introvert who seeks oneiric refuge from a menacing world by learning to value the seemingly deceptive, but equally comforting sense of protection provided by her own bedroom. How fortunate Amy must have been at such an early age to have felt protected from this world's overflowing torrents of violence by the apparent safety of her sleeping quarters. Those whose personal history of violence long ago invaded their homes know only so well how this comforting sense of protection is entirely imaginary, be it in the physical or spiritual realm. Those of us unprotected by fields of paper flowers or candy clouds of lullaby know there is absolutely no safety to be had all nightmare long, as James Hetfield might have said. In Luke 9:58, even Jesus himself commented: "Foxes have dens and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to rest his head."
When restless days lead to restless nights one should only wonder if the true enemy lives inside. "Whisper" is a less than cryptic rendition of a woman's demonic possession where an exorcism is attempted through willpower alone. There is absolutely no mention made of the Church, its members, guidance offered by the Gospel, protection guaranteed by prayer, or the irreplaceable importance of faith in Christ as the primary defensive weapon in spiritual warfare. Atheists who place their faith in psychiatry might also be inclined to interpret this song as a clear indication of mental illness, complete with hallucinatory visions, persecutory voices and overpowering delusions, not to mention absolute terror, boundless anxiety, and paralyzing, all-consuming fear. The Latin incantation towards the end reverberates as a desperate pleading for protection, although the ominous voices chosen portend the opposite to be true. If spiritual salvation is to be had by chanting "Servatis a periculum, servatis a maleficum" then the Gospel can be set aside because one is clearly rooting for the opposing team at the darkest, most ill-advised of hours. Only as a call to battle is this chant my favorite part of the song, for as Jesus once said in Mark 9:39, "Whoever is not against us is for us."
Although the concept of opening portals into the spiritual world is a little discussed, but well-established fact in the Christian world, Evanescence's second album was entitled the "Open Door". Christ himself seemed to believe that our eyes can open portals into the world, bringing in darkness or light into our souls. As he explained in Matthew 6:22-23: "The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light inside you is darkness, how great is that darkness." The extent to which our eyes are conduits channeling both surrounding light and darkness into our souls is a lesson not to be ignored with impunity, as we are constantly bombarded with visual stimuli surreptitiously aimed at enticing the heart, even if to the detriment of the body, mind and soul.
The importance of vision notwithstanding, sometimes it takes a blind man to remind us of the need to look well beyond what only eyes can never see. In a time when so many wish to address the spiritual darkness in their lives with medication alone, the truth should not be buried by lies that only repeat themselves, the importance awarded to psychiatry being only one. In the song "Lithium", Amy tells the story of a presumably bipolar woman who desires only to embrace her sorrow, foregoing the use of medication that supposedly addresses her condition while making her feel asphyxiated and imprisoned inside herself. Although she briefly supplicates God for assistance, the desire to abandon psychiatric treatment is never met with a spiritual explanation of her underlying malaise. This song is tragically revealing of a day and age where a progressively atheistic society has treated spiritual problems with mind numbing medication that in no way effectively heals what can only be described as an eternal patient facing implacable, progressive degeneration. That psychiatry has been presented as such a rational, healing, scientific alternative to the spiritual assistance historically offered by the Gospel only reveals the extent to which the Church has been in abysmal decline as of the last few centuries.
Those taking lithium might certainly enjoy listening to "Good enough", a song addressing a woman's complete emotional surrender and accompanying insecurity while involved in a deeply dysfunctional romantic relationship. That a vulnerable woman should fall so completely in love while questioning whether she is simply good enough for her beloved only seems to add another unfortunate page to the heavy tome of past negative experiences. Those feeling utterly insecure in an unstable relationship should think twice about making a long-term commitment. One should never live simply to satisfy the whims of another who makes them feel eternally underappreciated. Why so many women should search in boys what can only be found in men is a question that has baffled me throughout the years, and one this song does very little to answer. That dysfunctional relationships have had such a dire effect on the lives of both musicians and their fans only proves how emotional disillusionment has become a rite of passage in some circles. It's hard to recall a single ballad where Amy's piano and angelic voice shine by glorifying the love felt for another, as opposed to simply surrendering to past negative experiences.
Considering that the love for God, your neighbor, and yourself aptly summarizes the two most important commandments of the Christian faith, its conspicuous absence can only lead one to question whether the broken hearted are even good enough for this religion itself. The insidious cancer that begins as self-doubt stemming from a deeply dysfunctional relationship metastasizes only to compromise one's faith as a whole, as the videoclip accompanying this song so aptly seems to illustrate. As Amy rues for an apparently unrequited love rendering her eternally underappreciated, she seems oblivious to the encroaching all surrounding hell fire of no discernible cleansing romantic power. But the broken hearted need not despair. As Jesus stated in Matthew 11:28-30: "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." So long love is not a foreign language one dare not speak, there is no need to question whether one is good enough for Christianity itself. Having a heart implies knowing how to use it.
Having come this far, there are so many great additional songs that merit a deeper appreciation that time, space and emotional constraints dictate leaving the remainder of her illustrious career for another opportunity. For the time being, suffice to say that my two favorite albums are the self-titled "Evanescence" and "Synthesis", both of which reveal the current full range and diverse gamut of Amy's unique talent and versatility, be it in rock or in its awe-inspiring classical orchestration. Both albums became an inextricable part of my life at a very challenging time when exposed to unrelenting violence and unavoidable danger, amid incessant spiritual warfare. Music leaves a searing, indelible mark on our souls when listened to during life changing moments when a split-second decision means the difference between living or dying, embracing eternal bliss or everlasting damnation. To say that her music was an important weapon in my spiritual arsenal during those moments of extreme danger would not be an understatement. Those summoned to assist me during these past titanic battles will never be forgotten or cravenly left behind, be it in this world or in the next. Although the word "evanescence" means the act or quality of vanishing quickly, some experiences once shared can never from our hearts and minds truly disappear.