What makes the perfect pop song? Music has three vital ingredients, melody, harmony and rhythm. For a track to become a hit it needs a hook, something to draw the listener in, so that the number becomes an incessant earworm, to which Kylie’s 2001 No 1 ‘Can’t Get You Outta My Head’ hypnotically attests. Songs that draw my attention have a further component. They tell a story. Succinctly capturing vignettes of life in 3 minutes. Not only observing something about the human condition but resonating deeply with it.
The concept behind each entry in this regular blog is to take the narrative from a popular song as a jumping off point to explore aspects of mental health. Hence, the title, ‘Pop Psychology’. While my blog will visit many musical genres, I confess a leaning towards country music in which I experience storytelling at its peak. I make no excuse for starting there.
First up then Matt Kennon’s ‘The Call’.
The initial scene is of a man about to pull the trigger to end his life, when his space is invaded by the ring of his mobile. The song does not directly address the question of what brought this man to such a point of despair that he concluded life, as he was experiencing it, wasn’t worth living. Or, to put it another way, his existential fear of the possibility of not being overriding his desire to live. What brings us, as humans, to the end of our resources varies on how we see ourselves in relation to the world and others in it and our ability to adapt to the uncertain, unpredictable nature of life.
By coming alongside another in the moment, sharing space with them, entering their experience of being, by bearing witness to their suffering through empathic compassion, honouring them by being realistic about their desire to cease being, a registered counsellor can help them grow a stronger sense of self, develop resilience, validate their autonomy and restore a sense of hope.
As a Christian, I believe that God affords us occasions where we are confronted with our limitations so that we might acknowledge our weaknesses and turn to depend on His infiniteness. The extent to which we choose to, largely depends upon whether we see God as all-powerful and all-loving. While Kennon is not overt about what brought his character to want to commit suicide he hints at it. The incoming call is from his best friend inviting him away for the weekend with an admirer. As humans, we appear to share a deep-seated need for acceptance; a sense of being valued simply for who we are, rather than what we do. Much of what drives us to despair is isolation from relationship with others from which we derive meaning. As he takes the call, acceptance is what is communicated. The central character is reminded he belongs to the human race and relents from taking his own life.
The next stanza shifts to two 18-year olds whose attraction to each other leads to an unintended pregnancy. Responsibilities are weighed and the boy convinces the girl that abortion is the only option. There are at least three parties to this decision, the prospective parents and the unborn child, not to mention the wider families. The embryo has no voice. However, the boy appears to overrule the girl’s voice, as his will prevails. Equally the girl’s preference could predominate with the boy’s wishes being denied. Issues around the sanctity of life, when life begins, who has rights and responsibilities are complex ethical issues.
Again, a registered counsellor can offer space to one or both prospective parents to reflect on these important matters, as well as the grief, and possible guilt, associated with loss in a non-judgemental environment. As the girl awaits the termination, frightened and alone, her mobile rings. The boy appears to have had a change of heart as he proposes marriage and raising the child together. Perhaps he has come around to her way of thinking, as the refrain kicks in, indicating she is glad he called. This is not to suggest that shotgun weddings are always appropriate or that life for them will be happy ever after. Rather, their commitment to each other is likely to be the beginning of many challenges, as well as joys.
The song culminates with issuing a challenge to listeners to make the call to someone they know who may be in need and be glad they called. Similar, perhaps, to Jesus’ challenge to “Love your neighbour” as demonstrated by the Good Samaritan.
David Sinclair is a registered accredited psychotherapist, counsellor and supervisor.
He is the Pastoral Care Director of the Association of Christian Counsellors (ACC), a faith based soul care agency.
David is also the Service Manager of Wessex Psychotherapy and Counselling CIO (WPC), a registered charity dedicated to relieving psychological and emotional distress.