How Sleeping At Last’s “Two” has marked a year of personal growth in my life

Over the summer preceding my freshman year of high school, I had a YouTube channel (as a concerningly large amount of middle schoolers did) that I shared with an old friend. He uploaded reviews on equipment for airsofting, an activity which he was and probably is still particularly fond of, and I uploaded League of Legends montages and informational videos containing random facts.

It was incredibly bad. I’m happy that it’s been deleted.

Towards the end of that glorious 2016 summer, I got a bit excited about pursuing music, which was a new ground on account of the fact that in 8th grade I had been resistant to taking a music elective since I had no musical talent. The irony of that fact dawns on me as I’m writing this; it’ll make more sense as we keep going.

I started off by trying my best to “remix” League of Legends soundtracks (as much as inelegantly chopping up two songs and piecing the parts together in a grotesque melodic equivalent of Frankensteinian science is called “remixing”) but then progressed into attempting to write my own songs. That didn’t go well, but over the course of freshman year, I wrote out the lyrics to a few possible songs that to this day remain incomplete.

The primary issue was my singing voice. Having barely begun puberty and having no vocal training whatsoever, the sound of me belting out any tune was absolutely abhorrent. Of course, I belittle myself. It wouldn’t make your ears bleed, but it also wasn’t pleasant to hear. Luckily, this was able to change after sophomore year, the first semester of which me and a few friends spent receiving vocal lessons from our incredible biology teacher. Today my voice is bearable, to be generous, but it has significantly improved from what it once was.

(Shoutout to Mr. Wimer, the awesome bio teacher, leader of our Sustainability Club, and groovy meister of music. Check out his songs, he’s really groovy!)

A young man in a blue dress shirt smiles beside an older man with a blond mustache, beige hat, and pink dress shirt.
Me beside my beloved biology and music teacher, Mr. Wimer. Both of us have much longer hair now.

Unfortunately, after I acquired a decent enough singing voice to actually make songs, I was freed from that issue and realized the next problem that was ahead of me.

I didn’t (still don’t) understand anything about music theory. I had absolutely no comprehension of how to actually piece together a song on a musical level. Things that go into the instrumental, these different factors of rhythm and tempo and chord progressions and identifying and using notes and all these different things. I didn’t have the necessary skills to make music that flowed.

In the past year, I’ve completed four songs. One is horrible, two are just bad, and one is somewhat forgivable. The common thread between all of them, I realize, is that although I can throw in sounds and use different chords and sing to my best ability, I can’t get a genuine rhythm going. I don’t yet have the skill for it. Maybe as I continue to grow I can develop that ability, but for now, I don’t have it.

After writing the last three of those songs in a five month period — as well as attempting many more — I’ve finally been able to determine what exactly it is that’s holding me back.

A year ago, I hadn’t yet figured it out.

That’s where Two makes its two major appearances in my life. It’s quite apt.

My story with Two

A bit more than a year ago, although I can’t tell you exactly when, I was at a particular bout of disappointment after failing yet again to make something musically beautiful. There wasn’t any expectation that I would make any potential listeners experience a cathartic eargasm for the first time in their life and leave them begging for more, but at the very least I wanted to make something that sounded good. But, for reasons that I was too obstinate to admit at the time, I couldn’t do it.

It was a late night. I was tired and disappointed. Unsure of what to do, I browsed through YouTube, scrolling through my recommended page and skipping most of the random things that the algorithm threw at my face. A few songs showed up, at first by artists I listened to frequently, then getting more diverse the further I scrolled.

Somewhere along the line, I stumbled upon a song that caught my eye. The thumbnail looked kind of interesting, oh, a handwritten lyric video, so I clicked on it.

To put it simply . . . I was offended by how good of a song it was.

It had a sort of modern-classic vibe with stringed instruments, piano, and vocals that at the time wasn’t exactly my normal taste in music. But it sounded so good, and I was hooked. The artist’s voice was raw and emotional, and something about that and this message of love* to his partner was just wonderfully tantalizing. To top it off, the visuals of the lyric video were so intriguing, this pure, messy handwriting that flowed in this constant upward motion, continually scrolling down as the song progressed. All of it was so amazing.

So, naturally, I hated it.

I was far too stubborn to accept my failure and recognize that someone else could very much be so successful in their artistic endeavors. I felt insecure about my own capabilities, and as a result, I rejected a work of art that genuinely could’ve interested me had I not been so opposed to the prospect of even enjoying it.

What right did this guy or band or whatever — I didn’t care — have to be so beautifully romantic and write such a beautiful love* song? What right did he have to make such en engaging piece of music, to complement it with his incredible voice, to create such an incredible lyric video? This song contained so much emotion and passion, and I was envious of it.

I left YouTube and went to bed for the night. I wouldn’t hear that song again for more than a year.

A screenshot of a YouTube video featuring two stills of a man solemnly playing a cello.
ThatCelloGuy’s cover of Sleeping At Last’s Saturn

This year, during the winter break, I started listening to various covers made by an artist known as ThatCelloGuy. A few months prior I had watched his cover of Time by Hans Zimmer, and for the most part I had forgotten about him until he resurfaced in my recommended page. I got hooked with his covers and the classical vibe they provided, made a playlist featuring his work, and included a slightly new genre in the typical indie and pop of my music tastes.

A few weeks after revamping my enthusiasm for ThatCelloGuy, I listened to one of his other covers. It was of a song named Saturn by an artist known as Sleeping At Last, a name that did not register enough in my head to ring the bells of memory. The cover was interesting, especially since I hadn’t yet seen any where ThatCelloGuy actually sang. He has a beautiful voice.

Eventually, curiosity led me to pursue the original song. And wow.

The music video for Saturn is profoundly beautiful, a wondrous complement to the deep and moving message of the song; reversed slow motion footage shows sparks flying from spun steel wool, and it’s a stunning contrast of golden color upon darkness. But, most importantly, the song itself is simply elegant in instrumental and vocals and message alike. I don’t even know how to begin to describe it. I would tell you to search it up and listen to it, but I’d want you to keep in mind that it isn’t just another song. When you find it naturally in the course of your life, it plucks the strings of your heart in a way that it couldn’t if, say, a friend had awkwardly played it in front of you hoping for that same reaction.

But of course, Saturn isn’t even the song that I’m talking about today.

For about a while, the only song by Sleeping At Last that I listened to was Saturn. In fact, one day before leaving to walk to school, I decided to stay just so I could finish listening to the song. I was just so entranced by it, but because of my own weird tendencies, I never actually got around to checking out his other work for about two weeks.

I saw the thumbnail I had seen a year ago and still didn’t remember it. It wasn’t even the first other song that I checked out; his most recent upload was the lyric video for Five, which had a style that was just fractionally different enough to not make me remember.

I’m not sure exactly when in this process of delving into SAL’s work that I listened to Two again, but when I did, it was a surprise.

My internal monologue was just like: “OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!”

“THIS song!”

I remembered the time some year ago when I had listened to it once and hated it. And now, as I listened to it and absolutely loved it and was able to appreciate the work of art for what it was, I cringed at my past self’s behavior.

It was stunning to me that I’d had the audacity to hate this masterpiece.

Two is one of nine songs dedicated to the nine Enneagram personality types. The Enneagram of Personality is a model of psychology that basically divides the human psyche into nine main personality types that typically exist in varying degrees in every person. Two covers the second personality trait of Helper, the kind of person that’s generous, people-pleasing, and whose key desire is to be loved. The Enneagram Institute highlights the strengths and weaknesses of a Type 2, and Sleeping At Last’s song conveys them in a beautifully woeful and passionate piece that, as evident from its comment section, speaks true to many Type 2’s in the world.

Two isn’t necessarily a love song. It’s about the struggle of a Helper to feel the same love that they give to others. It’s all that pain wrapped up into something that, at first glance, can seem like a love song. But it’s so much more than that.

The second time I listened to Two, all of these things dawned on me. It took more than a year, but I finally came around in my perspective.

White, messy handwriting lay on a calm grey backdrop. The writing is song lyrics.
The last few lines of Two, taken from the lyric video.

Reflection Time!

Of course, this is just a single thing that I’m saying is emblematic of a larger character development. The sole progress of who I am is not merely defined by the fact that my opinion regarding literally one specific song has changed from what it once was. But this experience with Two made me think, and upon that reflection, I realized a lot of other ways that I have changed as a person.

I’ll first address the entire music scenario because that seems most directly relevant to the events described. Yes, I do like the idea of making music. No, I don’t intend on pursuing that path much right now. Acquiring the skills to really expand with music would take a lot of time, study, and practice that, personally, I don’t want to dedicate myself to right now. Call it laziness, but I consider it prioritization; as evident from this blog post that you’re reading, a lot of my creative and mental energies are being expended towards writing. I may also practice my skills in videomaking, but undoubtedly the main focus is and will continue to be writing.

But my musical progress over the past few years is still something I want to take note of. I started out being repulsed by the idea of taking a music class and ended up wishing I had taken music classes from a very early age. I was stubbornly determined to make something and am now humbly patient and comprehensive of my current limitations. I don’t want to give up, no; I just want to reorient myself to find success on a broader scale.

What that really branches into is just me having become more open minded. I know that that term generally finds usage with social scenarios and dynamics, but being open to new ideas is something that can be applied anywhere.

Just a few days ago I was telling one of my teachers, who I’ve been in touch with despite lockdowns, about how this year especially I have been breaking past that restrictive veil that so many creators have. It’s that urge to not share your work, to let it rot and die in your idle embrace because you’d rather stare at in until you hate it than let someone else give you genuine but still hurtful criticism. Part of breaking past that comes with accepting your own limitations, knowing what you can’t do, yet, and not seeing that as a complete roadblock to your journey.

You know when you’re playing a video game and there’s an area or something that you’re not allowed to enter until you come back at a higher level with more experience or skills or items? Yeah, it’s basically that.

Music, I’ll come back to you. For now, I’ll be writing, and I’ll be sharing my work, and I’ll get my heart crushed and beaten to a pulp, and from the pieces of that, I’ll stitch together some new, better work. And from there, I’ll keep going, and my limitations will stretch.

Probably one of the hardest things that you can do in life is admit that you aren’t as great as you think you are while also not giving into the doubts telling you that. No, brain, I’m not a worthless failure, but no, ego, I’m also not a prodigy.

It’s weird, I know. But accepting who you are is the best way to change who you are. And trust me, as someone whose upbringing instilled him with a horrendously fierce stubbornness that’s slowly unraveling as he grows, I know that it’s hard. But it’s worth doing, and I hope that at this point you can find a moment to look inward and try it.

White, messy handwriting lay on a grey backdrop. The writing is song lyrics, different from the previous image.
Taken from Sleeping At Last’s Nine Lyric Video

Anyway, thanks for reading. I know I missed a post last week, but the whole COVID-19 situation has been peculiar and I haven’t exactly been on top of things. I think I’m past the adjustment period, and I’ll be staying focused on this blog in the coming weeks. After all, my school’s closed until May 1st.

Thanks again! Now, please, for the love of whatever deity you may or may not believe in, go check out Sleeping At Last. I know I made that note specifically about experiencing Saturn, but I think that this blog post has been enough of an introduction to SAL to set your heart in the right place. So please, check him out. He’s so amazing.

And, if you’re curious, take the Enneagram Personality Test and see what type you are! I’m a Nine — a Peacemaker. The type description and SAL’s dedicated song have definitely given me a lot to think about; the lines pictured above (and succeeded by “for more than half my life”) hit me like a truck. From what I’ve heard, SAL’s also a Nine, so that’s pretty cool.

Anyway, let me finish this post before Two ends in my playlist. It feels like a proper note to end on.

A laptop screen with a tab containing a post-editor in front of a Spotify tab. The song “Two” is currently playing.
Just my laptop screen.

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