I recently saw Wilco play at the Hollywood Bowl. It’s fascinating to hear the way other people respond to music that has become meaningful to me over the years. I typically listen to Wilco through headphones, so my experience with their music has been fairly individualized.
I’m not sure what type of response I was expecting, but when the band played “Sunken Treasure” and front man Jeff Tweedy sang the line “music is my savior,” I was surprised when crowd went nuts. A lyric that I had always taken with a grain of salt apparently meant a lot to this crowd of 15,000.
For years now Wilco has been my second favorite band. I love Jeff Tweedy’s approach to songwriting. He strikes me as a deep thinker, someone who is in touch with his emotions, but not in an angry, unsettled type of way (or not typically anyway). I often find a metaphor or turn of phrase in a Wilco song that expresses something profound about the human experience. This makes them quietly compelling.
And I am constantly impressed with their musical creativity. Wilco has a solid grounding in classic rock and straightforward folk music, but this has never suppressed their creativity. The band has said that they first write basic songs, then they dismantle them and explore creative ways to reassemble them. This gives their songs a feeling of stability, yet there is always an intriguing sense of depth even in the music itself.
Add to this the reality that Wilco has been making great music for nearly two decades. Not many bands can claim that type of prolonged creativity.
I shouldn’t have been surprised to hear cheers when Tweedy sang “music is my savior.” I’ve always taken that line to mean that music was an important outlet during some rough times in his life. But I have made two significant realizations on the basis of the lyric itself and the response it received at that concert.
First, I think this shows the power of music. Wilco knows well the effect that music can have, and their expression of this truth resonates with a lot of people. Something about music reaches deeper within us than words or logic can go.
“The duty of singing praises to God, seems to be appointed wholly to excite and express religious affections. No other reason can be assigned, why we should express ourselves to God in verse, rather than in prose, and do it with music, but only, that such is our nature and frame, that these things have a tendency to move our affections.”
That music has a unique power is something we recognize intuitively when we are moved by a song. Thousands of people cheering to Wilco’s lyric affirms that this is something we all know to be true.
But this experience also confirms that music can easily become an idol. This is something we must constantly be guarding ourselves against. God’s good gifts are easily distorted and misused. We gladly accept these gifts and then use them as replacements for the God who gave them to us.
Music is indeed powerful, but when we are willing to go so far as to say that music is our savior, then we are allowing God’s good gift to take on an idolatrous role in our lives. And the fact that thousands of people were ready to scream their affirmation of this lyric shows that we are asking our music to do more than it is capable of doing. Music is good, but it is not God. It is helpful, and it may well be a part of the healing process, but it is not the Healer.
Ultimately, music’s power comes from the God who gifted it to us. At its best, music will point us toward the Savior. But when music itself becomes our savior, then our idolatry is exposed, and we must turn from a god that cannot save to the only true Savior.
 Jonathan Edwards, A Treatise Concerning the Religious Affections in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Vol. 1 (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2005) 242.