Essay: Carnival by Natalie Merchant

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This is an essay on Carnival by Natalie Merchant. Whether they admit to it or not in later life, most people have a favorite song (or two or three) when they are young. The song may be linked to some romantic event in a person’s life – the well-known phenomenon of the “song they were playing during our first dance”.

Whether they admit to it or not in later life, most people have a favorite song (or two or three) when they are young. The song may be linked to some romantic event in a person’s life – the well-known phenomenon of the “song they were playing during our first dance”. Or it may be keyed to something entirely personal and not specifically romantic at all – the first song you heard when you woke up on your sixteenth birthday, or the day you found out you’d won a college scholarship or the day you saw your first eagle flying overhead. For many people, a favorite song becomes that favorite because it is connected for them to an external and important event. But it is unlikely that any song will become personally meaningful unless the listener can connect something in the lyrics to her or his own life.

This is the case with one of my own personal favorite songs, Natalie Merchant’s “Carnival”. Her lyrics for this song are relevant to the experiences of a lot of young people because she captures the sense that many of us have that the majority of people are cheating themselves out of the life that they could have. My own connection to the song didn’t come about in a single moment: The first time that I heard it I didn’t say to myself, “This is it, this is my song.” But from the first time that I heard it I began to think about the ideas that she raised in it. And her lyrics, combined with the way that the song prompted me to think about myself and the people that I know, helped me realize that many people do in fact spend a lot of their time being effectively blinded by the constraints of their lives. This is, of course, not something that Merchant is the first person to discover or to write about.

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