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Humanism and music

Watch humanist singer-songwriter Frank Turner describe the way music can enrich our lives and bring us together
I fell in love with rock and roll music when I was about ten years old and have never really seriously wanted to do anything else since then. Music is my whole life, it’s what I do professionally, it’s what I travel around most of the year for, and it’s what I think about to the exclusion of all else almost all the time. Nothing else has ever grabbed me in the same way.
I mean, speaking personally, creativity is a hugely important part of my life and it’s important for my mental health, and it’s important for my understanding of the world and the things that happen, and things that happen to me, and the decisions I’m making, and everything else, I can’t really overstate that.
There are times when it’s immensely frustrating because you know there’s a moment when the song doesn’t exist and then you get this feeling of what the finished song will feel like and sound like and getting from that moment to the actual finished thing, it can be a short and breezy and wonderful journey, and it can be an absolute nightmare that takes years - but that kind of frustration is also the most exciting part as well. And you know, there are moments when it’s like when you’re cutting wrapping paper and the scissors start to glide, there are moments when the songwriting starts to glide and that’s the best feeling in the world.
As a humanist, I think that, yeah, there’s no inherent meaning to the universe. I think that you know existence is a happenstance but that’s not the end of that statement or that conversation, I think the point is that we can create meaning and order and structure and beauty and art and everything else and indeed we can create negative things too but it’s up to us to do that, you know, it’s not owed to us by the universe or by supernatural beings or anything like that, you know, it’s entirely, that’s one of those things I feel most strongly about is that it’s a declaration of autonomy, in a way, you know, if we want to have beauty and structure and meaning in our lives then we have to provide it.
We have to think about it and we can do that to a very large degree, and lots of people do, and I think that’s one of the best things humans do.
Music is on a lot levels about community and communing, I mean partly that’s just that moment when you hear a song and you feel like you’ve connected with the person who wrote it and the feelings they were having, and that makes me feel connected to another person but, more specifically in terms of what I do rock and roll shows are my church and I use the word advisedly, you know, it’s a moment of social and communal gathering.
With the greatest respect, Alain de Botton wrote a book in which he was suggesting the idea of kind of atheist gathering halls or something like this and I read it and thought this is a man who has not been to a good gig or a football match. More broadly I think that art is primarily about empathy, personally, in the sense that I believe that we live in a universe that doesn’t owe us an explanation and therefore there are elements of human existence which can be confusing and isolating and everything else, and art is a way in which we make sense of that.
The most powerful moment in art for me is that moment when just you get a glimmer of the feeling that you’re not alone. Somebody somewhere said, and I can’t remember who off the top of my head, that, you know, were an alien species to descend on our planet, they would regard music as the single most unbelievable thing that human beings do. You know, it’s a non- verbal form of sonic communication, and I think one of the ways that I find to talk about this most powerfully is to talk about instrumental music - music that doesn’t have lyrics.
Whenever I listen to the Aphex Twin track ‘Flim’ or indeed any Aphex Twin but particularly the song ‘Flim’, I’m filled with a sense of like intangible sadness and it’s the sound of two synthesizers and a drum machine and I have no idea why that is the case but I found myself once upon a time in Wuhan in China, hanging out with a bunch of Nepalese punk kids who were sort of refugees there, and we talked about that record and that song and it had the same effect on them and that’s just stunning to me.
I’m not necessarily interested in things like legacy and in building statues and having memorial libraries and all that kind of nonsense but it’s more just like, I’m going to die, there is one life to lead, why on Earth would anyone waste time, you know, there is so much to do, so what we must do in my opinion therefore is do as much as we can with the time allotted to us. And you know that drives me every single day, just the notion that time is running out.

Frank Turner is a punk and folk singer-songwriter. In 2018 he released his seventh studio album, Be More Kind. He is a Patron of Humanists UK.

Question: How can the human capacity for creativity elevate our lives?

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