6 minute read

If the music makes you cry

You have to buy a shirt. The story of how I came to know my favorite song. Ocean by John Butler.

The Dark Week

When I was in college, I went through a really dark week in my junior year. I had 4 exams over 3 days and a project due that Friday. It was an intensely stressful week that burned me out to my core.

I was so exhausted that the next week I stayed in my bed. I did not leave my bed because I couldn't muster the will to exist. I didn't think I could handle another intense week like that ever again. Was I really cut out for this?

After this week of darkened slumber, I mustered the will to at least browse the internet for a little while, mostly feeling empty and ashamed. As I mindlessly consumed videos, one caught my attention.


I started the video like all the others, expecting nothing noteworthy. The past week flew by, and I didn't even care. Why did I even get out of bed again?

But this guy played this song with so much feeling that it demanded my attention.

The music hurt me. I fell apart.

I finally felt hopeful after a week of letting the world pass me by. I cried because I felt so alone and hopeless. I cried because I felt the stress of wanting to succeed. I cried because I was in bed for a week, and seemingly nobody had even noticed.

The Promise

In the music, I heard a promise.

I will feel happy and joyful again.

Everything will be okay.

I can do it.

This song single-handedly pulled me out of the darkness that I felt trapped inside of. I am not exaggerating when I say that I listened to only this song on repeat for at least the next month.

I will never ever get tired of hearing this song. When I hear this guy play it, I can feel how hard he plays and how much of himself he puts into playing it. I feel alive and hopeful and joyful and at peace. It’s like someone out there in this big beautiful world wrote a song just for me. I still usually cry when I hear it.

After my constant binge of this song, I put it away. I didn’t touch it for several years.

Some Years Later

When the video was first posted on Wimp, it was initially entitled "One of the best instrumental guitar pieces ever." It didn't mention the name of the song or the musician, so I had no clue what this song was called or who was playing it. Several years later, I happen to find a video called "John Butler – Ocean (Live) – High Quality," which can be found here.

It was the same video! I finally knew who this guy is and what the song was called!

Live in Concert

This brings me to 2019. My best friend is a huge music fan, and he goes to concerts regularly. He asked me if I had ever heard of the John Butler Trio.

Man, have I ever!

I told him that Ocean was my favorite song ever. He invited me to go with him to see him live at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens. It had been years since I had listened to Ocean, and I had never dreamed of being able to hear it played in person.

I went into the concert with sky-high expectations, and the John Butler Trio still exceeded them. I have never been more anxious and excited for a single song to be played at a concert than I was that night.

They went through most of their discography, and Ocean still hadn't been played. I was worried that maybe he reserved Ocean for special concerts or events where he's solo. The entire band disappeared backstage, and the crowd went wild expecting an encore.

I looked at my friend, trying not to lose my mind, and asked if he thought the show was over. "Not a chance," he said.

John Butler strode back out onto the stage. This time, alone. With a 12-stringed guitar on his chest.

To be completely honest, I can’t possibly hope to describe how it felt to hear him play that song live, not more than 50 feet away from my face. He stretched it out to something like 15 minutes, and the first time he hit the middle section where he just strums his heart out, I just started sobbing. My friend grabbed my shoulder and looked at me. I wasn't the only one sobbing.

This time though, the tears were from joy. The tears flowed, and I felt more spiritual than I ever have in my entire life.

I was brought back to my dorm room, where I heard Ocean for the first time. I remembered the promise I heard in the music.

I felt happy and joyful.

Everything was okay.

I graduated. I did it!

I felt radiant. I felt a tremendous sense of closure and pride as I lost myself in the music. It was one of those unbelievable experiences that you know you’re only going to get to enjoy once.

After he played Ocean, there were further encores with the rest of his trio. But I had just experienced such euphoria I don't even remember what was played. After the band finished playing, I grabbed my friend, and we went to go buy t-shirts.

I made a rule that night that I intend to follow for all future music performances:

If the music makes you cry, you have to buy a shirt.

Ocean has made me cry many, many times, but for all the best reasons. Contained within a single song are hope, joy, and the essence of realized dreams. When I hear this song, it alters my perception of reality for a little while. Everything is okay, and the beauty of life is in crystal-clear focus. I wish I could help you hear this song as clearly and powerfully as I do.

If you'd like to try, take a moment and listen to him play it in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=66Jv6rTZjJ8

While you listen, I want you to hold in your heart the fears that are near the surface that you are holding back right now. I want you to think of some of the most challenging times of your life and remember how you felt.

Remember a time that you were lost and without hope. Remember a time that you wanted to succeed so badly that it hurt. Remember a time that you didn't know if everything was going to be okay.

Step into the music and leave your fears for a little while.

Think about how far you've come in your life. Being alive is hard sometimes, and you are killing it! Think about all the people that have loved you into being!

You will be happy and joyful again.

It's going to be okay.

You can do it.

Can you hear the promise too?

The Shirt

Picture of me wearing a shirt with the word Ocean on it