MOMENTOUS MONDAYS: INFLUENTIAL ARTISTS OF ALL TIME – WEEK 62: SARAH MCLACHLAN

What are some of the fondest memories of your childhood? The moments in time, when you were younger, where all the things that mattered in that moment, was enjoying what was in front of you, where you didn’t care about anything except for the enjoyable moment that you were in? Everyone has times in their life, where they look back and think ‘yes, this was a time in my life where things were simpler. Where I didn’t worry or care about the responsibilities that I have now, or when I just enjoyed life and the simpler moments, just because’. I know there have been moments in my own life where that has happened. In a nutshell, it was when I was watching movies…Disney in particular. And while right now Disney has become a massive conglomerate- with its own television channel (Disney +), once upon a time, Disney and its movies shaped a generation of people growing up, like no other. For me I was born the late 1980s; and grew up in the 1990s. I can remember my parents saying that for every day during my formative years (let’s say I was around 3 – 4), I’d want to watch Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, every day. Maybe that did happen like I may have wanted it back then, maybe my mum didn’t cave, and I only watched the movie once every few days. Nevertheless, Disney was a big part of my childhood growing up. Movies like The Lion King, The Jungle Book, Oliver and Company, The Fox and the Hound, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Mulan, Hercules, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Dumbo, Robin Hood, Tarzan, A Goofy Movie and The Sword in the Stone, have all been watched by myself and my family at various points during my primary school years, some movies maybe more than once. I am reminded even now much of a positive impact Disney and its movies has had on myself as I was growing up, but I guess through all of those aforementioned movies above, I guess the one category of Disney movies that have been my favourite, and will still be my favourite as the years continue to progress, would be movies under the umbrella of Disney/Pixar. A partnership between the Walt Disney Company and Pixar Animation Studios, movies started to flourish from 1995 onward. Starting off its catalogue with the highly successful (and now highly nostalgic) Toy Story (starring heavyweight actors like Tom Hanks and Tim Allen), the Disney-Pixar brand has continued to be a reckoning force even now in 2020. One such movie that stood out to me during the 1990s from Disney Pixar was in fact the 1999 movie Toy Story 2- a sequel to the 1995 classic movie Toy Story. Not that the storyline to the 1999 movie was memorable at all- in fact, in 2020, I can’t really recall what happened in the 1999 film, only the basic plot that Woody was stolen from a yard sale by a greedy toy collector, learning about his own origins as being a main character in a fictitious 1950s TV show, all the while, the other toys (Buzz, Rex, Hamm, Slinky etc.) try to rescue Woody from being sold to a Japanese museum. While the plot itself is a little convoluted for kids to even follow, what stood out for me, years later even in 2020, was the original song written for the movie.

‘When She Loved Me’ was written specifically for the movie, and was sung during a moment where one of the toy characters, Jessie the cowgirl, relays her backstory to Woody, about how she was a toy loved by her owner, until she was forgotten, discarded and replaced with a new a shinier object. The song stood out for me then, as hauntingly emotive as it was at that moment in time, and years upon years later as well, when I realised that such a song, though initially about a bond between a human and a toy, can be interpreted in a variety of different ways. The song itself was recorded by none other than Canadian singer-songwriter Sarah McLachlan, and while it was only a few years ago did I actually do my research on her to realise that she was such a big deal- in the 1980s, 1990s and even up till now, when the song was recorded, I just enjoyed the music for its poignancy and female vocal that sung the words with meaning and passion, something that at the time of hearing it in 1999, wasn’t something I knew to be possible- for the only emotion and passion I heard in my life at that point in time, was from CCM (more specifically, Carman, Delirious?, even children’s Christian music like the Donut Man, Psalty the Singing Songbook and Quigley’s Village). And so, when I heard ‘When She Loved Me’ by Sarah McLachlan, it threw me, in a good way. Now I know that it was Toy Story 2, more specifically ‘When She Loved Me’, that really, and I mean really, opened my eyes to the wonder and the emotion that comes with mainstream music, and that if God chooses to use a song like ‘When She Loved Me’ to remind us of the bond that humans have with God (or the bond they should have), then so be it, I guess. Now fast-forward to 2020…August 2020 to be precise, and I’m about to embark on blog #62…you guessed it, Sarah McLachlan! Yes, this is an artist that in society’s eyes, has been unassuming and maybe even at times underappreciated throughout her 30+ year career thus far. Born in the late 1960s and having a prolific career from the 1990s onward, Sarah’s music is somewhat akin to artists like Sheryl Crow, Diana Krall, Cindi Lauper, Jewel, Annie Lennox, Dido and The Cranberries…so in a nutshell, piano, and lots of it. Trained in classical piano, guitars and being a good vocalist, so as to be discovered by Nettwerk Records in 1985; Sarah’s music has been very reflective and poignant as each album release has been given to us. While I myself have only listened to Sarah’s music for around a week or so, even in this moment I can still say that Sarah’s music, though at times lullaby-ish, is nevertheless heartfelt, important and impactful for anyone who hears it, myself included.

Being a Canadian through and through, Sarah has managed to forge a career of creating songs of encouragement over the years. And even though it can be hard for hard-working Canadians in the music industry, to find high-charting success in the U.S., artists like Sarah have continued to rise above expectations and provide a career to us all that has been one of enjoyment as well as heartfelt emotional songs as well. Other Canadian artists like Bryan Adams, Avril Lavigne, Celine Dion, Justin Bieber, Michael Buble, Shania Twain, Alessia Cara, Matt Maher, Manafest, Downhere, Marc Martel, Relient K and Hawk Nelson; have all had varying degrees of success, both in their home countries of Canada, as well as globally too. For Sarah and her music, I’ve been able to partake in the emotion that comes not only from ‘When She Loved Me’, but also from a variety of songs throughout her career, and as I’ve enjoyed a lot of her music over the week, I’ve been thankful, that ‘When She Loved Me’ long ago, opened up a door that I’ve come to love and respect. Mainstream music wasn’t as ‘bad’ as it was led to have been, and songs throughout the years, ‘When She Loved Me’ inclusive, have reminded myself of my own journey of faith over the years. Sarah’s piano-driven melodies have also been great- with less guitar and less instrumental noise, I’ve come to appreciate the lyrics as they have been presented to me over this last week, for it is when the instruments aren’t as busy, that the lyrics tend to shine through. Sarah’s songs have challenged my own interpretation of what mainstream music should sound like, and a timely reminder that even artists outside of the U S of A can still create music with heart, feeling, emotion and encouragement.

The act of playing music, especially a song that has real meaning to me — there’s joy in it, even if the song is sad. There’s a release in it, too, because it’s something that I’ve found a way through. It’s an amazing gift, remembering and recognizing the journey. Here I am today, having gone through that, feeling so much better and stronger. I really love singing live, playing with other musicians. I love the energy that is shared — that’s the place where I feel like I’m part of something bigger than myself. You get to be with a group of other people, like-minded, who are all experiencing something together. It’s like church for me.
It’s important for me in my life [hope]. I’m a very optimistic, hopeful person. I believe in redemption. I believe in giving people the benefit of the doubt. I believe in our ability to change. I’m constantly disappointed, but I keep hoping. It’s important for me to infuse hope into my songs, too, especially because often the subject matter is a little bit dark. It’s hard to write when you’re happy because you just want to be in it. It’s fleeting, and when you start picking it apart, you’re going to lose the joy and effervescence of it…It’s easier to write about loss and sadness and suffering. That’s a meaty, juicy subject that we all have a lot of experience with, because life is hard. All these beautiful moments are juxtaposed with a lot of s*** that we all have to go through. The hard parts in our life define us more than the easy bits.

For me, I’ve always felt Sarah McLachlan rose to prominence because of the song she sung for Toy Story 2, ‘When She Loved Me’. While I know that Sarah herself had quite a career prior to that point in 1999, to me I understood that a lot of the people outside of America and Canada, actually took notice of who she was. Because, Toy Story 2, and singing a song for such a movie, was actually a big deal during that time. In fact, the only other movie rival with powerful emotive songs around that time was Disney’s Tarzan- with all of their songs written and sung by British pop music legend, Phil Collins. And so when ‘When She Loved Me’ was nominated for an Oscar- Best Song of 2000 (rivaling ‘You’ll Be In My Heart’ by Phil Collins, for Tarzan), I’m sure people were intrigued to say the least. I know I was back then, even though I didn’t know who Sarah was really. And that’s the beauty of an artist’s influence. It’s all well and good to impact and influence when people know who you are. But it’s an actual art to be an influence when people don’t know who you are. And in the 1990s, I didn’t know who Sarah was- just the song, which will forever be etched in my own childhood as a track that was heartfelt and emotional, one that reminded me that songs outside my norm of CCM can still remind us all of the human condition, and that God Himself can still use such songs as these, to remind us of His unconditional love for each of us. ‘When She Loved Me’ the song, was actually a big bolster for Sarah and her career. Many articles were written about the song- NewNowNext credited the song as being the second best out of Sarah’s whole career, while Entertainment Tonight showcased the song as being Pixar’s 4th tear-jerking moment in all of Pixar history. The Irish Times quoted the song as being the most devastating sad moment in any kids film, ever; while in 2015, Paste Magazine.com relayed that ‘When She Loved Me’ was the 27th Saddest Song ever to have been created in music history, and Sky TV stated that emotionally, the feels and heartfelt sadness felt during the song in Toy Story 2, may not have been felt to that extremity again, until 2009’s Up.

And it was in these articles that I realised how much of an impact this song has made on media, TV, movies and music all at once, and all recorded by Sarah McLachlan, who even now isn’t the most recognised name in all of music history. Nevertheless, such a song as this has risen above its ranks and has created a culture of vulnerability in cartoon movies that I may not have seen in quite some time. The only other movies that I remember as a kid, being emotional to, was The Lion King and Tarzan, and maybe, Toy Story 2 comes close, because of said song. And while I know that an artist’s career isn’t defined by any one song, good or bad; here in this case, it’s nice to know that a great starting point for anyone who is in fact interested in listening to Sarah and her music, can in fact be ‘When She Loved Me’. Listen to the track and move along from there, either moving backward to listen to the back catalogue of Sarah’s pre-‘When She Loved Me’, or moving forwards listening to her music post-‘When She Loved Me’. Regardless of how you’d choose to listen, let me just say that Sarah’s music is highly emotional and poignant- it’s not for the faint hearted as we see such a track as this 1999 chart-topper, become the embodiment of emotion and feeling, not just in Disney songs altogether, but throughout Sarah’s discography full stop. Sarah’s ability to capture emotion and heart, for an artist during the 1980s and 1990s, is something to be unparalleled, and on a similar musical and lyrical vein to that of artists like Shania Twain, Celine Dion and Martina McBride- all these artists around that time period, that in essence, showed us all how to write songs with heart, emotion, all the while telling us a story that hopefully allows us all to look at our own lives and change our own lives for the better, if possible.

I sort of view writing as a big part of my personal therapy. Like, it’s usually because I feel a need to sort through something that I have confusion around in my life – whether it’s loss or pain or discomfort or just trying to come to terms with things that I have a hard time coming to terms with. It’s always been my way of processing that. I’ve done a lot of that the past couple of years, and I think I’m sort of at this place, too, where I’m really happy right now; and it’s hard to write when I’m happy…
…being prepared is important [in music]. I warm up for about an hour-and-a-half. And because this is my skill, it’s something I’ve been doing for many, many years. I’ve put like 10,000 hours in, and I can sing very well. But for me, it’s about creating joy. I would say it’s kind of a selfish thing, because, when I sing, when I get onstage and sing, it’s like I’m living my purpose. And I get to tap into something that’s bigger than myself. And I think that’s because there’s people there. I steal that energy. I feel them, and I feel this – it kind of sounds “whoo whoo” – but really this kind of beautiful spiritual connection. And it just feels really like being completely full and completely empty at the same time. I don’t go out there with a perceived expectation of, you know, “I have to hit that note.” I kind of know I’m going to hit that note. But you know, quite frankly, if I don’t hit the note, it’s not about perfection. It’s just about being in the moment, and giving myself to it – giving myself over to it. And I love doing that. It’s not a hard thing. It’s really easy for me. It just feels like the most natural thing in the world to do. So, I just also feel this whole rush of gratitude for the fact that “I get to do this every night?!? And people like it – and they’re paying me for it?!?” That’s kind of amazing. It’s so amazing to me that this little thing that I’m creating – in a pretty selfish manner; like, I write for myself. I don’t write thinking about anybody else. I write because I need to. It’s my therapy. And the fact that I can then give that to the world – and make an impact, help people – I love that. I love the idea that something I created is helping other people. It’s f*cking amazing! I get that; I get a real, tangible sense of that when I perform.

Even though for me I’ve always felt (and still feel) that ‘When She Loved Me’ is perhaps one of the finest work of Sarah’s in her whole career thus far, it doesn’t mean that she doesn’t have radio hits before and after this 1999 song. Starting off in 1988 with her debut album Touch, ‘Vox’ was the first single of her whole career- and starting off a career with a song derived from the Latin word of ‘voice’, we see Sarah impart to us a song that is catchy with all the 1980s electronic keyboard sounds (a la ‘The Power of Love’!!), as well as it being heartfelt and emotive. ‘Vox’ is a song about being torn- between what you may feel inside for another, and what is in reality actually happening. The song depicts a persona all up in their head, dreaming about a special someone, but never quite making such a dream happen in reality because of fear of conversing with the other person, for one reason or another. She sings the song for herself, as a form of therapy and wrestling with her own doubts and demons, all the while continuing to have this dream about this other person- whether it is a healthy obsession, or an attraction to someone who is not right for them, is another story. But what ‘Vox’ is, is this- we can either listen to the voices inside our heads, stopping us from accomplishing this or that, or we can step into the unknown where we are met by the Lord where we are, as He helps us undertake things we find ourselves stuck inside and want to break free of. And even though Touch the album itself was popular and a hit in alternative rock circles during the 1980s, it was only until 1991 with Solace that Sarah herself received recognition within the realms of Canada, and in 1994 on a bigger worldwide scale with her chart-topping album Fumbling Through Ecstasy– thereby, songs on Touch haven’t been in live set-lists by Sarah for quite some time- with the exception of ‘Vox’, all other songs on Sarah’s debut haven’t been played in live settings since the unveiling of Fumbling Through Ecstasy, while ‘Vox’ itself hasn’t been played live since 2004. Which is a little bit of a shame because the album does have character. It’s raw, real, and songs like ‘Vox’, and other standouts like ‘Steaming’ and ‘Ben’s Song’ have stood out for me as I’ve heard this early, early album.

‘Steaming’ is about a persona who’s living in a fantasy of wishing the other person they are in ‘love’ with, loves them back, and a realisation that this love expressed is unrequited, and that ‘…life’s never what it seems, I’ve always tried to read your eyes, to get inside that scornful mind, hold on tight, hold on fast, this ain’t the kind that always lasts, if you want me to go just ask me to go I’d go…’, while ‘Ben’s Song’ is heartbreaking and emotional, a track written by an artist at the time, that was so wise and mature beyond her 20 years (born in 1968, Touch was released in 1988). ‘Ben’s Song’ itself tells the story and emotions that come with the aftermath of the death of a young friend. As Sarah herself expounds upon, we see the emotional toil that has taken its weight on Sarah, in an interview she undertook in 2005- ‘…once in a blue moon a song comes out quickly and sort of the universe opens itself up to me and offers me this gift. And ‘Ben’s Song’ was that time. I think it’s just because I was so emotionally raw at that time. Ben was a child that I knew. He was 11 years old when he passed away. He had an inoperable brain tumor. I had spent a number of months with him everyday in childcare, taking care of him and hanging out with him and playing games with him and just being his friend. So we became very close. And he was the first person who was ever close to me that I had lost. I mean I had grandparents die but I had met them once in my life so there was never real emotional connection. So it was definitely really a strong emotional response to that whole thing and that’s where it all came from…’ I guess because of the rawness and the emotion that has come a lot with Touch, it’s understandable why Sarah herself may not want to revisit such hauntingly depressing moments. Nevertheless, Touch the album is a far cry from her later material, and that is still ok. Artists have different ‘genres’ throughout their musical life, and Touch is one such genre where we can witness an artist musically craft something far different, but still equally profound, as with her other emotive melodies she has compiled, year after year after year!

Solace unveiled to the world in 1991, and with this album, and each other album thereafter, Sarah started to shed her alternative-rock musical persona, and place on more of a piano-driven ballad producer. This was first shown in her first single from the album, ‘The Path of Thorns (Terms)’. The song itself features more of an acoustic guitar/piano sound, and the song itself carries on from the love-lost theme most evident in Touch. ‘The Path of Thorns’ depicts a relationship that has recently been broken up- she still longs for him and admits that she still feels…something, for him, but he’s just moved on. She’s recounting her feelings about it all; and recognising that after such a long time with someone, feelings for said someone doesn’t just go away. There’s a mourning that comes with a divorce of people from a relationship, and Sarah knows this very well, in this song and many, many others on her debut album, and scattered throughout her own music career. ‘Into the Fire’ has a more upbeat atmosphere and has musical leanings a la 1980s Amy Grant, as Sarah herself imparts a message of going into the fire, for…what purpose? Refinement? Spiritual awakening? Traveling through difficulties where the fire represents some insurmountable task that has to be overcome? It’s a little unclear about what the song is actually about, but one thing’s for certain- Sarah’s ability to create songs that have multiple meanings is what makes this artist so appealing, both in music, voice, and lyrical content. ‘Into the Fire’ is catchy, but I’m sure as we look deeper, we can see that meanings that often spring to the surface can be different when comparing me and you. Nevertheless, ‘Into the Fire’ is a standout on Solace, and the second radio single from the album.

Other standouts continue to unveil to us on Solace, ‘Drawn To the Rhythm’, ‘I Will Not Forget You’ and ‘Home’ are just some of them on Solace, the former discussing about the drawing power and the comfort that comes from oceans and the river. A metaphorical moment of rivers in all its facets, rivers bring with it a healing moment of realisation and realignment, as often the things that we realise about ourselves, others and God Himself, come through to us when unsuspecting things, like a river, washes us and reminds us that rivers come in our lives in many different forms- a word spoken from a friend, a cataclysmic moment from a movie or a TV show, or a simple song on the radio that makes all the difference. ‘I Will Not Forget You’ is a song of lament, a persona realising that the person they love loves them back, but also is torn, either to their work, duty, service, anything that isn’t them (but isn’t someone else too!)- the song tells of how often in these unfortunate circumstances, you can’t necessarily change the person if they don’t want to be, rather, you pray about it, you ask advice and council, and be there for them in case they do return from whatever it is they’re putting their heart and passion in. ‘Home’, the lightly acoustic/piano driven track, speaks of a longing and a desperation that maybe each of us feels they can relate to- wanting someone and somewhere to belong to, to understand that wherever they are and whatever they have done, they can find people and places that love them as they are, not as they believe they think they should be. ‘Home’ is a reminder for each of us to take care of the people that often feel marginalised and discounted, for whatever reason, and in the ways that we know how, we show love and grace, care and concern, showing Jesus to people that we know need to hear about Him, the most. This is what we have been called to do- to show people the love and grace that we’ve been given to us unexpectedly and unconditionally. And thus a lot of Sarah’s discography presents these themes, and as I’ve heard these melodies and songs throughout the week, I can’t help but smile and remind myself that even through these songs, God still works, even when the artist doesn’t even know it. As I’ve come to understand that the Lord can use any music that has emotion, heart and passion to bring people closer to Himself, and closer to each other; I am amazed at how much relevance and influence artists like Sarah have been having on people around the world over the years. And though much of her earlier 2 albums aren’t as circulating around youtube and online as much anymore, the fact of the matter remains- these earlier two albums are some of the most underrated songs I’ve heard in all of Sarah’s career, and a great way to see how 1980s and 1990s albums have been crafted, a window in time to admire how art is truly cultivated in a time where life, God and everything else in between was simpler than now!

If ‘When She Loved Me’ was the song in the 1990s that stood out for me from Sarah, then ‘I Will Remember You’, a song also from the 1990s, was the song that I heard in the 2000s, that also stood out for me, even though the song ‘I Will Remember You’ was written and recorded prior to the 1999 hit. ‘I Will Remember You’ was written and recorded in 1995, with its instrumentals based upon a Seamus Egan Instrumental track ‘Weep Not For the Memories’- Sarah and her team wrote the lyrics and tweaked some of the instrumental underlay to create this hauntingly compelling song. The song itself? About remembering and remembrance, and the art of remembering something or someone, even if that particular relationship isn’t what it’s like now, compared to what it was before. While the song indeed is talking explicitly about remembering a moment in time when a relationship was intact; and never forgetting the person, even if you’re not with them anymore; the song can nevertheless be interpreted in a myriad of different ways, which is the beauty of universally interpreted music. ‘I Will Remember You’ is a reminder to always remember people in your life, even if they’re not in them now. Your friends, people who made an impact, your teachers that instilled values of perseverance and hard-working skills, and just people who have inspired you in your life. For to not remember them, is to become so concerned with right now, and believe that where you are right now is more of your own doing, than the help and assistance you may have had from others in your life. ‘I Will Remember You’ is an art to do- to remember someone fondly and to give grace and love to someone who may have done you wrong can often be seen as folly, but as such a song as this suggests; to remember someone is in the first stages of forgiveness, to remind yourself that they themselves were maybe doing the best they could’ve in imparting wisdom to you. Or the song could be about Sarah’s own adoption, and this song is her singing to her birth mother. Whichever way you take this song, it is nevertheless a gem, one to be remembered as one of the classics, and a song that can hopefully bring healing and comfort to people’s lives, especially in 2020 in a time of COVID-19!

I write from an emotional point of view and I think that it struck a chord with so many people on so many different levels. I’m really grateful It’s wonderful to be able to create something that goes out there in the world and has a life beyond me and brings some kind of joy and awareness or comfort to people. Music, for me, is incredibly comforting. I go to music to soothe myself when I’m angry or frustrated and when I’m sad. Music helps me, amazingly.

Sarah’s songs have been sources of hope and comfort, of encouragement and compelling moments of realisation and revelation, as a lot of her songs from the 1990s to now, touch upon issues of the human condition and what it means to fumble through this life which is ours to live and to learn from. ‘Dear God’ is a cover that Sarah undertook- the song was originally by English rock band XTC, but upon hearing the song and its lyrics, I’m actually quite sad that people around the world do actually think and ponder these issues on religion, and maybe it’s because I’ve been brought up in a Christian home and I’ve believed in Jesus for around 25 years of my life, but I actually found ‘Dear God’ not really as offensive, but more along the lines of ‘these people who wrote the song are hurting, they have some questions they want answered, and for a song to be written about this, means that the church in all honesty hasn’t done it’s job in loving people and caring for their needs, as Jesus did’. Yes, this song is antireligious, but let us not jump to hasty conclusions when hearing this track- there’s a reason why this song exists, and why Sarah McLachlan of all people has covered it. The song feels like it’s the anthem for so many people who may be disillusioned with the church, with God and everything else, or they just simple can’t believe because of the injustices in this world right now. And that’s fair enough. It is not by our arguments that we can tell people about Christ- they need some kind of awakening spiritually themselves, and if ‘Dear God’ has told me anything, its that honesty needs to flourish in the church- if there is a song like this out somewhere, people are thinking it and feeling it. We need to meet people where they’re at, even if it means to hear a song like this, and recognise that these are legitimate concerns people have, not just about God (the Christian God), but of religion in general.

‘Building a Mystery’, from the 1997 album Surfacing, speaks about this understanding of masks and masquerading as people that we’re not, for the fear of hiding all our insecurities and things in our lives we don’t want people to see because we’re ashamed about. We place up a wall, and a different persona, we act different and talk different, there’s an element of mystery about us because we want to keep our cards close to our chest, for fear of rejection, abandonment, call it what you like. And yet such a song as this is a reminder that even the well-intended of people that often keep secrets for a good reason, often end up becoming undone- that the person we can often harm if we do keep things hidden from others, is ourselves. ‘Building a Mystery’ is such a track that hopefully encourages us all to see within our own lives, of whether the things we hide are worth it or not. ‘Sweet Surrender’, also from Surfacing, alludes to the understanding that being fully transparent with people- be it friends, spouses, immediate family; is a good, good thing. As Sarah herself initially unveils to us, ‘…the initial inspiration came after seeing “Leaving Las Vegas” which I found to be this beautiful and tragic love story – these two people who were rather pathetic in their own rights but completely accepted each other for who they were, all the beautiful things and all the ugly things. That’s a lot to do with what this is about, accepting ugly things and being able to accept the fact that someone can love you for all those nasty things, especially when you think you are unlovable…’ Surrendering isn’t a sign of weakness, but rather, a fully letting-go of assumptions and preconceived ideas about performance and love, and just letting the other person love and accept us, with all our inconsistencies and faults.

‘Angel’, a song that I also heard when I was younger (together with ‘I Will Remember You’ and ‘When She Loved Me’), is also on Surfacing, and speaks of, at face value, someone wanting to escape the difficulties of this life, and asking an angel to bring them comfort and healing. While in reality, the song itself was written by Sarah about the Smashing Pumpkins touring keyboardist who overdosed on heroin in 1996 (and the angel described in said song is actually alluding to the drugs taken by him on a continual basis), ‘Angel’ nevertheless has been interpreted through many different lenses upon its release in the late 1990s. As Sarah herself has unveiled, she doesn’t mind the different interpretations of the song- ‘…I think once an artist puts a song out there, it becomes open to interpretation, and I purposefully leave a certain amount of ambiguity in songs so that people can relate the songs to themselves and to their stories. And it’s for me, it’s a great validation as an artist to know that something I’ve created has gone out there in the world and helped people to heal, or to feel something, in a profound way like that…’ Then there’s ‘Aida’, a song with tremendous emotional meaning attached behind it- quite possibly one of the most personal songs Sarah has given to us. The song itself has a sense of hurt and sorrow attached to it, and a reminder that sometimes, if a relationship of sorts splits for whatever reason (romantic, or between friends), maybe it can be your fault, instead of always blaming someone else. ‘Adia’ is about a personal experience by Sarah herself, about a friendship falling because of a relationship between Sarah herself and a guy, that has come between the friends. As Sarah imparts herself, ‘…I guess I could say I betrayed my best friend and it was a really difficult time because I ended up marrying her ex-boyfriend. I fell in love with her ex and it was one of those lines you don’t cross, but I did and as it turned out, it wasn’t a fling, we were married for thirteen years. But it was a really difficult time because I betrayed her trust and I lost her friendship for a while and because she was my very best friend and so it was the story of working through the anger and resentment on both sides and trying to find forgiveness…’ While right now the relationship between Sarah and her friend is mended, back then, the emotions were raw, and ‘Adia’ the song was a result of events that transpired at that time.

Sarah McLachlan doesn’t usually release albums in a typical timeframe. Aside from her earlier albums (Touch, Solace, Fumbling Through Ecstasy– more on that particular album later!) that released in 1989, 1991 and 1993 respectively; the rest of her music catalogue is more sparsely unveiled- Surfacing was brought to life in 1997, while the albums Afterglow, Wintersong, Laws of Illusion, Shine On and Wonderland all were released to the digital ether in 2003, 2006, 2010, 2014 and 2016, in that order. And with Wintersong and Wonderland being seasonal holiday/Christmas albums, then with all-new studio albums after Surfacing being that releasing in the years 2003, 2010 and 2014; Sarah’s music has nevertheless been to a stage where more time to marinate in the minds of listeners between releases, is a good thing. ‘Fallen’, from Afterglow, speaks of falling in a sense of acknowledging that the life we’ve been trying to prop up for quite some time, the fake perfect nature of our lives we so often try to portray, isn’t going to hold it anymore. It is about coming to realise that to live authentically, honestly, and in a way that acknowledges faults, is a far better way to live than to just be in a state of sanitisation and a ‘perfect’ atmosphere that is far from the truth at hand. ‘Push’, also on Afterglow, depicts love in its purest form, and is a great, great reminder of the love of God given to us. In fact, dare I say that this song can easily be us singing to the Lord, declaring that He is our ‘one true thing I know I can believe’? Because that in effect is what the Lord is- giving of Himself with the care and concern placed upon us- fighting our own battles when we can’t fight them for whatever reason. A good look at the lyrics of ‘Push’ below, can be a great thing as we see how the song can be interpreted as a love song between spouses and lovers, or even a song between God Almighty the creator, and us, the created!
Every time I look at you, the world just melts away, all my troubles, all my fears, dissolve in your affection
You’ve seen me at my weakest, but you take me as I am and when I fall, you offer me a softer place to land
You stay the course, you hold the line, you keep it all together, You’re the one true thing I know I can believe in
You’re all the things that I desire, you save me, you complete me, You’re the one true thing I know I can believe
I get mad so easy but you give me room to breathe, no matter what I say or do ’cause you’re too good to fight about it
Even when I have to push, just to see how far you’ll go, You won’t stoop down to battle but you never turn to go
You stay the course, you hold the line, you keep it all together, You’re the one true thing I know I can believe in
You’re all the things that I desire, you save me, you complete me, You’re the one true thing I know I can believe
Your love is just the antidote when nothing else can cure me, there are times I can’t decide when I can’t tell up from down
You make me feel less crazy when otherwise I’d drown, but you pick me up and brush me off and tell me I’m okay
Sometimes that’s just what we need to get us through the day

‘Stupid’ is a song that we can maybe all relate to at one point in our lives or another- while the song at face value is about an absentee person in a relationship, but the person still thinks about them and ‘loves’ them to a certain degree; we see such a song can also be applicable to absentee parents who show up as the wind blows in someone’s life, wanting to be part of the child’s life, or even wanting to be a part of the estranged partner’s life, period. This is a song that puts the saying into perspective ‘love is blind’. We love the person, and are still aware of the person’s inability to handle certain things, yet we still long for this person even still- Sarah’s track hopefully reminds us to see deep within ourselves and wonder which people in our lives are ‘drifters’- moving into our lives one second, but then gone the next. ‘World on Fire’, a song that was heavily in circulation on the radio during the 2000s, was a song that I only recognised via tune- not the name. Nevertheless, this track was written in response to the 9/11 attacks in 2001, and the aftermath of what was happening around the world at that time. ‘World on Fire’ depicts the persona feeling overwhelmed with the responsibilities of the world, and even now in 2020, such a song as this takes on a similar pathway. It is when we realise that we don’t always have to fix everything in the world, but just fix the world we are currently in, that pressure and performance comes right off of us, and we begin to give to projects we passionately believe in. ‘Drifting’ soberly places everything in perspective, as the track is for people who are rising fast into stardom; but leaving their friends and ‘normal’ people behind. The track asks the pertinent question, of whether the praise and accolades of fans is ever going to fill emptiness in hearts otherwise full via friendships and relationships; while ‘Answer’ is a song with a piano and acoustic guitar focus, as Sarah imparts to us a track that seemingly is a call-and-response technique- what I can see is a track that is a conversation between us mere humans, and God Himself. A song that reminds us all that He indeed is our answer in this life for whatever circumstance, such a track, written by someone who may not necessarily be a Christian, is something to be behold. God can use anything that He wants to bring people closer to Himself, and a song like ‘Answer’ is one such melody.

Sarah’s first Christmas album was birthed in 2006 (and another in 2016, ten years later), and while a lot of both albums were heavily laden with traditional carols, there were a few surprises in both these two releases. Joni Mitchell’s ‘River’, John Lennon’s ‘Happy Christmas (War is Over)’ and Gordon Lightfoot’s ‘Song for a Winter’s Night’ were covered by Sarah for the 2006 album, while also penning an original track herself for the 2006 album- ‘Wintersong’, a track written about her mother and her passing, and the grief and sadness that comes with losing a parent all too soon. While the song itself and the subject matter isn’t necessarily Christmas-friendly; Sarah nevertheless presents to us good renditions of already emotive and powerful Christmas carols/familiar original songs for Christmas, that we know. Laws of Illusion and Shine On followed Wintersong– releasing in 2010 and 2014 respectively, and while I myself didn’t connect as much to these albums as opposed to albums previously (considering that her 2010 album was inspired a lot by her divorce with her husband, and her 2014 album came to fruition because of her father’s death), the albums nevertheless gave to us songs that we can obviously ponder about and reflect upon. ‘Bring On the Wonder’, a song originally recorded by English singer-songwriter Susan Enan, the track itself is about rediscovering awe and wonder and the magic of the little things, that we may have forgotten as time wearied on and the years travelled along and we became less innocent and more cynical about life, while ‘U Want Me 2’ is a song (of many) about her split with her husband, how the song itself is a longing to want the other person to want the relationship as much as you do, and how the song is also ‘…about that really uncertain, confusing place at the end of a relationship when there’s no communication or closure, everything’s still up in the air and there’s a lot of anger and sadness. It’s sort of that working through ‘How do we move forward… with some dignity and grace…’ ‘Loving You is Easy’ is a pop song to the max, perhaps her first out-and-out pop song she’s ever recorded. The song itself is a looking forward to the future with expectation and anticipation, as the persona (quite possibly Sarah herself) opens up her heart to the possibility of love again in the future, as hope and ‘fire’ (enthusiasm and a zest for life) comes out from Sarah, out of this dark time of divorce. ‘Don’t Give Up on Us’ is a song that is very much self-explanatory- asking the other person in said crumbling relationship, to give it another chance; while ‘Forgiveness’, also about her split with her now ex-husband, speaks of the hurt and betrayal that often comes from the split of a marriage, and how forgiveness between both parties involved can only happen in time, after self-reflection and introspection.

2014’s Shine On has a much more reflective and contemplative mood compared to the 2010’s ‘bitterness’ and ‘hurt’ vibe going on. Lead single ‘In Your Shoes’ is a song about walking a mile in someone else’s perspective, a way of looking at things that you may not have seen if it had not been for the newfound appreciation through a new perspective. As Sarah herself imparts to us; the song initially ‘…started off being about bullying, but it needed to be something stronger than that. When the story of Malala Yousafzai being shot in the head by the Taliban came out, she easily became the heroine of that song. She was so profoundly strong — speaking up for herself in the face of grave danger. She’s such a great role model for the two young girls I have and for humans in general…’, while ‘Monsters’, a radio single from the album, speaks about this poignant theme about monsters in general, and how when we were younger, our fears were put into words as being the ‘monster under the bed’. Now as we’ve grown up, we still face our monsters and demons, but more often than not, they take the form of people in our lives that promise the world but deliver empty dreams, rather than the faceless unknown when we were kids. ‘Monsters’ is a reminder that people are out there to take advantage of us, as we travel this life, hopefully not naively, but nevertheless, maybe trusting too much? Regardless, ‘Monsters’ is a great reminder about life and the monsters in our own, while songs like ‘Surrender & Certainty’ and ‘Song for My Father’, speaks about her father’s death in 2010, and relays to us all, her relationship with him and what he means to her life from as a kid till now. As Sarah herself speaks very candidly about her 2014 album and the direction she has been taking with these melodies, we see vulnerability come front and centre, with this singer-songwriter reminding us all, that ‘…my dad was really impactful in my life and he was a great role model. I miss him every day. He passed a little over four years ago and it was around the same time that – no, it’s been longer than that now, I was separating from my husband, my dad was sick, I was changing my management and record label and all of my important male anchors were falling away at the same time. Losing my dad was like losing my anchor, my rock. I wanted to honor him in some small way. I love singing that song because I’m reminded of him and of how much he meant to me. It’s not typically sad. One time, somebody asked me about the song [Song For My Father] and I was talking about him and I just burst into tears. I was surprised by the reaction because I didn’t even know it was coming. I didn’t expect it at all, but when I’m singing the song, I’m feeling close to him. I feel a sweetness around the relationship that we had, more than the loss. I feel the loss at different times. When I’m singing the song, I feel this closeness to him…’ It is in the vulnerability of the album in general that I’ve come to admire Sarah and her music all the more, as we see an individual who’s not afraid to be honest and raw in her music, something that isn’t necessarily as much championed today as it was back then. ‘What’s It Gonna Take’, a song on the deluxe edition of the album (and a track written especially for the King Kong musical unveiled on Australia in 2013), was also a song that heavily rotated on Spotify as I was listening to Sarah and her music in preparation for this blog. The song itself speaks of vulnerability that I myself haven’t seen in a Sarah McLachlan song ever since ‘Adia’ in 1997. As we see the persona crippled with uncertainty, fear and an identity crisis far greater than ever before, ‘What’s it Gonna Take’ can often depict us as listeners in our most dire states of being- not feeling worthy enough, and not feeling loved enough to continue to live and give to our fellow man. For when we don’t know who we are as humans and who we are as people, we can’t be of service to people around us, and this song reminds us all that a) we all feel this way at certain points in life, and b) that it’s ok to not be ok. Sarah reminds us to feel honest things, even if they are uncomfortable. For it is only when we be honest with ourselves that other people can look up to us with respect and honour, being honest themselves as well.

Then there’s Fumbling Through Ecstasy, Sarah’s most popular album she has ever created, unveiled in 1993, and was the album that put her on the map for international stardom and an international fanbase. Loads of songs from this album became standout hits- ‘Possession’, the standout song on the album (and the album’s track #1), was inspired by a lot of crazy fan letters written to Sarah over the years, and in them these people would profess their ‘love’ for her. As Sarah imparts directly, ‘…it’s basically me having a bit of a problem dealing with fame and dealing with a lot of the things that come with that. I was getting a lot of letters from fans and 99% of them were incredible, wonderful but there was that small percentage that crossed the line, crossed that boundary of being sane. They were actually quite disturbing and I didn’t know how to deal with it. I still feel like a very ordinary person with a very extraordinary job. I am the same person I was 10 years ago although I think I’ve progressed in certain ways. It just felt very strange and it took me a while to realize that the whole celebrity thing has nothing to do with me, it has to do with other people’s perceptions of me. A couple of letters were stating that we should be together and nothing was going to stand between that happening which was a bit disturbing. I wrote this song “Possession” for me trying to get into their shoes, into their head, trying to understand where they were coming from…’ ‘Elsewhere’, is a five minute ballad that is very tranquil and reflective, as Sarah herself imparts this theme of being separate from your parents, becoming your own person, not being held back and stifled in growth, with your own responsibilities, and never relying on the demands and expectations of other people on you; while ‘Hold On’, a sad song inspired by a true story about a couple’s dedication to one another, even in the midst of his AIDS diagnosis and her commitment to the relationship until the very end, is a great reminder to us all about the value of unconditional love, given without expectation, and out of a sense of joy and peace that comes from living life in freedom with the ones you love. ‘Good Enough’ spans over 5 minutes, and depicts in the song, a relationship where the woman is second-guessing her own self-worth, and wondering if she will ever be good enough for people, considering the oppressive nature of the relationship she finds herself in; while songs like ‘Plenty’, ‘Wait’, ‘Ice Cream’, ‘Fear’ and the title track ‘Fumbling Through Ecstasy’ are all emotive, poignant, heartfelt and challenging in their own ways, musically and lyrically.

‘Plenty’ imagines the persona looking into their lovers eyes and seeing all the destructive nature that they can be, but still longing and wanting to stand by them, because of their twisted ‘love’ for this particular person; whilst ‘Wait’ showcases a frustration that happens to many people nowadays- wanting to have children, but never really happening for whatever reason. ‘Ice Cream’ showcases Sarah comparing the love she has for another, to be greater than she has for ice cream (and all the other tangible things that she lists in the song), while ‘Fear’ opens up the can of worms which is worry that comes from feeling inadequate and worthless in life, as if what you can contribute in situations and circumstances cannot measure up to expectations placed upon you. The title track ‘Fumbling Towards Ecstasy’ is a clever song placement after ‘Fear’, as the song immediately contrasts the song before, with Sarah stating from the outset, that not fearing something is when you move from a sense of crippling immobility, to one of freedom and a peace that comes from trying new things, and just stepping into the unknown, with less hesitancy compared to circumstances and situations previously.

In and amongst all of the album releases from Sarah over the years, she can also be known to create standout melodies that don’t necessarily fit on any full length album- rare songs, either songs originally written, or even covers of famous melodies of the past. ‘Time After Time’, a duet with original writer Cyndi Lauper, is present on a Rarities, B-Sides and Other Stuff compilation album, while other songs like ‘Blackbird’ (The Beatles), ‘The Rainbow Connection’ (The Muppets), ‘Prayer of St, Francis’ (Public Domain) and ‘Unchained Melody’ (The Righteous Brothers), are all given the Sarah McLachlan treatment and are all uniquely recorded throughout the 1990s and the 2000s, while the standout track out of all the rare moments throughout her career, has been the song ‘Ordinary Miracle’. With the song unveiling this notion of miracles and how a miracle is something beyond the scope of something humanly possible, ‘Ordinary Miracle’ is a great reminder, to cherish our days and to always see the positives in every situation we find ourselves in. Miracles happen to us everyday, we may not see it, but looking back on hindsight, I’m sure we can all agree that the miracles we may have been searching for, to be grandiose and humungous; can in fact be in the form of the littlest things we unsuspected.

While Sarah herself has been famous and influential throughout her career as a musician and artist releasing countless albums and songs, there’s been a few things she has undertaken outside of music that has been monumental and instrumental in life and society over the years. Being a major instigator in the forward motion of bringing together more female artists in tours around the world, Sarah’s most famous contribution to anything outside of music, would have to be the Lilith Fair. A concert tour and travelling music festival, that ran from 1997 – 1999 (and then was further revived for a single year in 2010), the festival was run with solely female artists and female-fronted bands, raising money for charity and reminding people that it is ok to champion women as headlining artists in tours, as well as promoting them on the radio. Becoming frustrated with concert promoters and radio stations when they refused to feature two female musicians in a row (song after song on radio, artist after artist in terms of touring), Lilith Fair was born, to great success, and a sense of overwhelming pride that comes from gathering female artists together to promote a sense of fairness amongst the radio and concert promotional teams both during the 1990s and into the future from that point onward. While even though in 2020, the music industry is such a male-dominated society, Lilith Fair got the ball rolling in terms of female promotion on radio and on the road, something that can be credited to Sarah and her initiative all that time ago. Sarah McLachlan School of Music is the other major contribution that Sarah herself has undertaken. In a similar way to how Lilith Fair was started, Sarah’s love for giving back to the community is shown quite nicely with the school, as we see an artist’s desire for students to learn and know the importance of music- theory, practice, and various instruments like piano, guitar and percussion. It was in 2007 when the Sarah McLachlan Music Outreach was unveiled, and soon thereafter, it became the Sarah McLachlan School of Music, for it is both this powerful outreach, alongside Lilith Fair, that continues to make me respect Sarah more and more. Music is a great start to impact and influence the world, but if it’s only music (and your life doesn’t match up), then it can be very hard for people to hear the music and not be bummed that this artist isn’t doing their bit to impact the community in ways they know how. Sarah’s heart for giving back- be it Lilith Fair or the school, is evidence enough that this underrated Canadian has a heart for people to learn new things and to grow in their own way, musically. For it is these two quotation paragraphs below, the first about the school, and the second about Lilith Fair, that really inspires us all to find things in our own lives where we can impact others, just as how these artists, through their music or their philanthropy, has influenced us a long time ago!

ABOUT THE SARAH MCLACHLAN SCHOOL OF MUSIC: We use music as a guide. Music offers us the opportunity to explore our emotional world, to connect with ourselves and with each other and I think it’s so important for kids to be able to understand themselves a little better and to recognize their own value. I say that because that’s what it gave me. When I was young, I was pretty unpopular; I was picked on a lot. Music was this one piece that I could always go to, that I knew I had, that was always mine. I was good at it and it fed me. It gave me courage, strength and self-worth. That’s why I think it’s so imperative for kids to have that in their life. Whether they go on to become professional musicians – that’s not what we’re after. We’re not after sending kids to (US performance art colleges) Julliard or Berkeley, although it has become a beneficial thing that has been happening. Many of the kids have been graduating and going on to post-secondary school and becoming doctors and engineers, so it’s about giving kids the opportunity to discover who they are and to be able to find joy in that and connect with that. I think that that makes them better human beings. It allows them to be able to go out into the world and be more well-rounded, more understanding and to have more empathy for their fellow humans. It’s beneficial all around.
ABOUT LILITH FAIR: It would have to be someone else [to create the Lilith Fair nowadays], someone relevant now and powerful now. That being said, the cool thing is, if you look at the Top 40 and how female dominant it is, all those women are playing their own arena shows. When we did Lilith back in the ‘90s, there were a lot of great female artists having a lot of success, but all the summer festivals were completely male dominated and I thought, ‘Let’s just do something ourselves. Wouldn’t that be great?’ I think the strength in numbers is the fact that, being together, we got to bring in and share each other’s audiences and gain so many fans in that regard. It really helped a lot of our careers. Also, at the time, there was such a false competition set up. Perhaps it wasn’t false, but it was important in the record labels’ eyes and the radio stations’ eyes, where they said, ‘You can’t play two women back to back’ or ‘I’m playing Tori this week, I can’t play Sarah.’ It was insulting and it was limiting. It’s just music. We’re all different. We’re all unique. You would never say that about guys and it really put a fire under my butt to fight that and get it changed. That is one thing that we really did stuff down the throats of the old boys’ club. You actually can play two women back to back and you actually can put two women on the same bill. Promoters were saying, ‘People won’t come. That’s too much. There’s too many women.’ That is just ridiculous. I’m not good at hearing no. I think they will and we’re going to prove you wrong. I think it brought a lot of women together and definitely changed some attitudes. Culturally, and as far as society goes, it takes generations to really change peoples’ perspectives and I’m really glad we had a hand in it. I think things really have been changing and shifting. Maybe we’ll have a female president in America.

Sarah’s music has been inspirational for quite some time, and though I myself have only listened to her music recently, I’m still a fan. Albums like Surfacing, Fumbling Towards Ecstasy and Afterglow are some of her standout albums, and some that showcase some of the most underrated piano-pop music I’ve heard in years. Songs like ‘Adia’, ‘Angel’, ‘Possession’, ‘Vox’, ‘I Will Remember You’ and ‘When She Loved Me’ have become iconic tracks of the 1990s/2000s, and a reminder that such an artist who has had tremendous impact back then, can still create songs that have a stirring moment now- see songs like ‘Monsters’, ‘Song For My Father’ and ‘What’s It Gonna Take’, for example. A hauntingly refreshing and unique quality about Sarah’s music as a whole, we have been blessed to hear such a prolific and impactful artist, create music that feels like therapy, and that is perfectly ok. For as I’ve said before and will say again, belief in the song and belief in the artists for singing the song is paramount for me, and Sarah fits the bill for both. She is indeed influential, even if her music on a holistic level isn’t that popular. That is ok- for if people who hear her music are positively changed because of it, in whatever shape or form, then it’s a job well done, for this artist whose music is still affecting and impacting some 30 years later on since her 1989 debut album!

Does Sarah McLachlan make the list for you all when you write your own ‘Best Influential Artists of All Time’ list? Is there any song, like ‘When She Loved Me’ or ‘I Will Remember You’, that has impacted you on your journey through life thus far? Let us know in the comments. Till next time!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.