I’ve used this blog up until now to talk about some really heavy-hitting topics. I think talking about hardships we’ve gone through in life, how we’ve learned from them, how the things that hurt us shaped us and so forth is extremely important. This is why I choose to share these stories from my life and why I created this blog in the first place. But this is also a blog about my life, and I wanted to share about something that is extremely close to my heart.
For those who know me you know that I am what I would describe as a nerdy guy. Some people might view this as a negative descriptor, but to me its a badge of honour. A quote from the author John Green describes it perfectly:
“…because nerds like us are allowed to be unironically enthusiastic about stuff… Nerds are allowed to love stuff, like jump-up-and-down-in-the-chair-can’t-control-yourself love it. Hank, when people call people nerds, mostly what they’re saying is ‘you like stuff.’ Which is just not a good insult at all. Like, ‘you are too enthusiastic about the miracle of human consciousness’.”
That quote deeply resonates with me. That is what being a nerd means to me. I am full of passion about creations other humans make, stories that help me understand other human experiences, other worldviews and paradigms that I do not have. It helps me develop my own relationships with others and the world around me. This passion drives me everyday. I spend my waking hours often contemplating the books I read, the albums I love, the video game characters and their story arcs and how from those stories I can draw direct parallels to my life, and the people who create these things. It makes my world a vibrant place to live. When I crack open the spine of a book, and get transported to a fantasy world full of political conflict, magic systems, romance, friendships, oppression, heroism and the stories this world holds, I take away something new every time. I learn a fresh way to look at something I might never have looked at that way before, because I got to live it through the eyes of a character who was once just a piece of someone’s consciousness. When I invest hundreds of hours into a video game where I get to make complicated moral decisions, decide right and wrong about racial groups, my friendships between the character I play and the others that are written into the story, when I get to save people, love people, and shape the world in that virtual reality, it helps me ponder morally ambiguous dilemmas we face every day. It helps me deepen my own convictions and shape my own heart and mind towards compassion, and teaches me how to face another day, even when those days get hard. Playing a video game isn’t just about mindless button mashing. You’re investing your time and heart into a world someone else poured their blood, sweat, and tears in to create, hoping those who encounter it would walk away better for having played this game. That is what nerds do for each other.
But today I wanted to talk about a very specific passion of mine that many have probably seen me mention or speak about, but not know exactly what that was about. And that, is a band called Nightwish. Nightwish is a symphonic metal band from Kitee, Finland. I know to many readers that probably sounds exotic and intimidating. In reality, Nightwish fuses elements of opera, choral music, rock, and celtic folk into one diverse offering that has come to be something that fuels my soul.
I first discovered Nightwish back in late 2008. I was barely fourteen, and was developing my music taste as I went along. I loved bands like Evanescence, Skillet and so forth. It was my first experiences of the mixing of orchestras with hard rock, and it really stirred something in my heart. I first encountered the song “Wish I Had an Angel” from their 2004 album Once and was intrigued. I downloaded the album onto my Ipod and it was then that I heard the song that really shaped my musical tastes from then on. “Planet Hell” was the song. This song opened with a choir, and fused elements of power metal and a symphony to create an experience bigger than anything my young self had ever encountered before. The band felt otherworldly. With the atmosphere they were able to create with this music it was something I had never felt before. Of course, those around me were all very skeptical of this type of music. There aren’t a lot of 14 year olds in the rural maritimes listening to symphonic metal, that is for sure. But for me, this unlocked a whole new realm of possibilities.
As I grew up, and went through life music always remained a constant fixture in my heart and integral to my wellbeing. But it wasn’t until my second year of University at age 20 when my love affair with Nightwish really got taken to the next level. I was at the beginning phases of my transition from female to male, and in the middle of a very unhealthy relationship. During this time, I started to revisit Nightwish. The band has this cover they did of a Gary Moore song called “Over the Hills and Far Away”. This song tells the story of a man wrongly accused and found guilty for theft, but he couldn’t dispute the claims, because on the night he was accused of stealing he was with the wife of his best friend. They were deeply in love, and the song is all about how the lovers’ are dedicated to enduring his prison sentence and getting back to each other. This level of masterful storytelling, melded with celtic influences, their lead singer, Tarja Turunen’s unique operatic vocals on the foundation of hard rock/metal completely woke my senses up. Listening to the stories the band crafted and conveyed propelled my sinking ship through the rocky seas of my transition.
I continued over the next few years to revisit the few favorite, but deeply influential songs I had grown to love of Nightwish. And over those years of growing, becoming more comfortable with myself, settling into a job I felt content at, and gaining new friends I began to get more serious about the band. The band formed in 1996, so there was a huge catalog of songs and rich history to become acquainted with. Not everyone is interested in knowing about the musicians behind what their listening to, but I have always been taken by interesting people and their influences on culture, history and most of all, myself. So, I began listening to more and more of their music, all the while hungrily consuming hours upon hours of documentaries about the band, interviews with each and every member, past and present, throughout the two decade career the band had had. The more I listened and watched, the more connected I felt to the band.
The band’s mastermind, maestro as his nickname has come to be, is Tuomas Holopainen. Tuomas is a quiet and thoughtful man who grew up in Kitee, Finland. After some time as a session musician for other bands, he decided he wanted to start writing his own music. So he recruited members Jukka, Emppu, and lead vocalist Tarja to create a gothic rock project which eventually got the title Nightwish. Tuomas is the main songwriter, and while the band has gone through a highly publicized split from first their original lead singer Tarja, and then also her replacement, Anette Olzon, they have found a permanent vocalist in industry veteran Floor Jansen. Despite the band drama akin to Fleetwood Mac, and the troubles that plagued the band, what is indisputable is Tuomas’ songwriting ability, his love for life that seeps through the words and notes he writes.
What finally and totally cemented this spiritual connection I have with this band was the live performance of their 2004 10 minute epic “Ghost Love Score”. Originally sung by Tarja, their new singer, Floor’s take on this song is absolutely breathtaking. She sings with such power, emotions and charisma that I get chills every time I watch it, and tear up as she hits the final high notes in the epic song. Before this band, I had never been moved to tears just by being so deeply impacted by how beautiful a piece of music is. But Nightwish can do this, not only with “Ghost Love Score”, but again and again. I will be on my way to work at 4 in the morning, and have to sit for a minute and absorb the Nightwish song that came on shuffle because it feels so indescribably connected to my heart. The band writes about loss of innocence, grief, joy, wonder at the beauty of nature, fantastical worlds of new and old. And every time I’m taken to a place of extreme comfort and joy because this band just gets me in a way that I’ve never encountered from any other band, book, friend or lover.
So when I traveled by train in March of this year to Montreal to get to see the band, it was akin to a religious experience. Seeing this band live was a dream come true. One that I never thought would happen. But through the generosity of my family and friends it did. As I was squeezed next to other people, holding a giant vinyl boxset and waiting for the band to appear on stage, excitement was building. The lights all suddenly came on and the band started singing “The End of All Hope” which is a song about losing childhood innocence, but still hanging onto that into adulthood. There’s a lyric in the song
“This is the birth of all hope
To have what I once had”
So when I got home, I had to get this moment immortalized on my skin. And there are no words for how much it meant to me.
So, if you hear me gushing about Nightwish just understand how deeply connected this band is to every fibre of who I’ve come to be. And, if you feel this way about a band, book, movie, or anything in your life, never be ashamed of that passion. Loving something even if its unconventional or unpopular is a wonderful faucet of being alive. Unfiltered passion is defining part of the human experience. And I am so blessed to be able to have found that in this band. And so are others around me with the things that set their souls on fire. I don’t wake up everyday driven with career aspirations or big plans to change the world. I wake up thankful for a band from a small town in Finland, and how they could bring a heart once so deeply troubled so much happiness. Every single day.