If you saw The Perks of Being a Wallflower, you heard "It's Time" a year ago. You certainly heard this Imagine Dragons song on FM radio -- it was, reported Rolling Stone, "the biggest rock hit of the year." The band's first full CD, "Night Visions," sold 6 million copies, the biggest debut for a new rock band in six years. "It's Time" was the most streamed song of 2013 on Spotify.
Here's an acoustic version:
A foot-stomper, yes? And a statement of major affirmation. The singer is "packing my bags and giving the academy a rain check." He knows what's ahead isn't pretty: "The path to heaven runs through miles of clouded hell." But he won't look back. Which brings us to the chorus:
It's time to begin, isn't it?
I get a little bit bigger, but then,
I'll admit, I'm just the same as I was
Now don't you understand
That I'm never changing who I am.
I went to the message boards to read why this song is so important to the band's fans. I was blown away by the personal identification. Like this:
My father thinks that if I move out and move on with my life, it's going to change who I am but deep down inside, I'll always be same person. I just need to turn the page and start a new chapter of my life. I absolutely love this song, it tells the listeners a lesson that no matter where life takes you, you don't have to change...
It's about growing up and following your heart. Having to walk your own path and letting the people you love follow theirs without holding them back or letting them hold you back. Forgetting about school if it doesn't make sense. Forgetting about a crappy job. In the process of reaching for them we make the hero's journey, going out into the world, telling ourselves we haven't changed despite enormous growth. As time goes on though the relationships begin to break down slowly, each person has grown beyond the place they started.
Several put themselves in the head of Dan Reynolds, the band's lead singer and the song's writer. Reynolds, seventh of nine children, was raised as a Mormon in Nevada. At 19, he began a two-year Mormon mission in Nebraska. When he returned to Brigham Young University, he decided to drop out and start a band. "A lot of emotions probably go with that," a commenter wrote. "And some of those emotions are in this song. People might even call your decision-making ability into question. And you might wonder if they're right."
Playing a song over and over -- that's not me. But I was so pumped by the power of "It's Time" I wanted to know everything about Imagine Dragons. And that's how I met Tyler Robinson.
Tyler lived in Salt Lake City. He was a Mormon. He was looking forward to undertaking his mission. At 16, he was diagnosed with Rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare cancer that ravaged his bone marrow. He was Stage 4, but he began treatment. At 17, after a year and a half of chemo, he was declared cancer free.
He loved Imagine Dragons. He met the band. He bonded with them, and they bonded with him.
And then he sang "It's Time" with Dan Reynolds at a concert in a small club.
It's a homemade video. Blurry. Shaky. Really awful. If it weren't the best video I saw last year -- if it weren't the best video I've seen in a lot of years -- I'd never ask you to watch it. But I do insist. (If time is pressing for you, start at 2:00.)
What you'll see: Dan Reynolds calls Tyler on stage. They sing "It's Time" together, arms locked, heads touching. And Tyler, bald but cancer free, shouts out the chorus.
The cancer returned. Tyler Robinson died at 18. The band and his family started a foundation.
You can see this video and cry for the loss. That's valid. I see something else. Triumph. Fulfilment. Completion. Tyler Robinson loved a song that affirmed him, and he got to express everything he believed with the people who created it. He was one lucky kid.
What's my point?
Start with Dan Reynolds, talking about the origin of the song:
I wrote it during a very hard time in my life. I had dropped out of college, and I was just sitting down at my computer, and I came up with this rhythm. And the words just wrote themselves. I knew I had something special coming.
When a song is most honest and most raw, that's when you know you're doing something right. A lot of my favorite artists are able to be in touch with their problems and put it through melodies. It happens all the time with bands.
What this says to me: If you want to make a connection, you have to get real, you have to be real. Everything follows from that. Is it risky to be that exposed, that sincere? Not at all. Because all the safety is at the edge.
It happens all the time in bands. And elsewhere: in the notebooks and laptops of people who make something out of nothing. And, maybe, on web sites. So that's my goal for the year: to ignore the official culture, if necessary, and find the people who make me cry and hope and believe. And then beat the drums for them. And get a little bit bigger. And never/always changing who I am.
[Cross-posted from HeadButler.com]
Follow Jesse Kornbluth on Twitter: www.twitter.com/HeadButler