I have always connected life-changing experiences with music. Many of my favorite songs and artists correspond with specific memories of major events in my life. You may have noticed this if you’ve perused some of my other posts. I do this — and I’m sure you probably do to some degree as well — to more clearly capture and strengthen the memories of these experiences.
While I have other hodgepodge collections of music simply for listening pleasure, my playlists devoted to my specific travels and adventures often require much more distinct and careful creation. I did so with the playlists from my cross-country roadtrip in 2012, my semester in Costa Rica in 2014, and both my summers in Appalachia.
But my favorite playlist of all is the “Building Man’s Wilderness” playlist I created several years before. It contains mainly indie, folk, and bluegrass; many of the chosen artists and songs emphasize various themes of nature, travel, building, and introspection. Its name, I believe, very properly fits.
From its creation, one of my all-time favorite music groups, Lord Huron, has greatly influenced the personality of the Building Man’s Wilderness playlist. And if you haven’t yet familiarized yourself with the music of Lord Huron, I give you permission to pause from reading and encourage you to listen to both albums all the way through in their chronological order.
You see, what I most appreciate about Lord Huron — even more than their addicting blend of rich instrumentation, warm harmonies, and catchy tunes — are the narratives the establish throughout their albums. Through the entirety of both Lonesome Dreams and Strange Trails, their ballads string together the stories and personalities of distinct characters as they wander through unique landscapes and worlds.
They allow us to connect with these characters on a human level through imagery-heavy lyrics that focus on some of life’s most universal themes, such as love, loss, self-discovery, nature, and adventure. And just as I correlate music to my own experiences, so do they associate these themes with unique musical motifs that echo through their songs and albums.
I have trodden along in my own adventures to many of their tunes, which has enriched my experiences as I discovered many of these themes along the way. But one song in particular, “Ends of the Earth,” has accompanied me most closely and become debatably the focal point of the Building Man’s Wilderness playlist.
“Ends of the Earth,” the overture to Lonesome Dreams, opens with Ben Schneider’s hollow-body guitar and wolf-howl motif and instantly stokes the fire of my inner wanderlust. Its wilderness-themed sound resonates with my longing for adventure much like the distant whistle of a train or foghorn of a boat. From there, it takes that attention and pulls it immediately into the narrative of the song and the rest of the album.
A young man on the cusp of a grand adventure narrates his attempts to persuade a lover to run off with him and explore the ends of the earth together. Eventually, the one-sided conversation informs the listener that the hero’s uncompromising adventurous spirit will stop at nothing, not even love, to do so, as he runs off alone into the fading wind that begins the next song on the album, “Time to Run.”
For me — and many of my fellow LH enthusiasts — this song serves as an anthem of exploration, a reminder to push boundaries and make the most of the limited time we have on this beautiful earth. Both the narrator and I share that undying value echoed in the chorus: “To the ends of the earth would you follow me? There’s a world that was meant for our eyes to see.”
As I listen to “Ends of the Earth” on my own journeys it helps me better connect with life-changing experiences and capture their vivid memories along the way. But in the doldrums between adventures, when I spend my days at home with nothing but memories to relish and daydreams to look forward to, this song whispers dangerously to my subconscious, tempting me with its alluring verses:
“Oh there’s a river that winds on forever,
I’m gonna see where it leads.
Oh, there’s a mountain that no man has mounted,
I’m gonna stand on the peak.
Out there’s a land that time don’t command,
Wanna be the first to arrive.”
In those moments when I contemplate escape, wishing to follow that river, climb those mountains, and explore those distant lands, it’s easy to feel discouraged.
But those same promises of glory also keep me listening during the doldrums, rather than conveniently packaging the song until the next adventure. It reminds me that my choices and everything I’m working towards sets me closer to achieving those goals. And with this knowledge, I’m already “on the river that winds on forever, following ‘til I get where I’m going.”
I want to leave you with my favorite quote from this song. And while it is somewhat idealistic and romantic in nature, it reminds me to keep working for these goals:
“What good is livin’ the life you’ve been given if all you do is stand in one place?”
I believe our choices and values help us accomplish these goals in our own distinct ways. And while Lord Huron helps me discover the ends of the earth in my own way, I hope you may find your own tune to whistle as you explore whatever mountains you wish to climb, rivers you long to follow, and destinations you hope to one day discover.