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  • Writer's pictureBenjamin Kassel

Confronting my past through "This Is Gospel"

*deep breath* This is a pretty personal piece, but that's because of what this song means and has meant to me.


Sundays are often a day in which I end up quite introspective. Between Saturdays often being extremely busy for me and Mondays being very light in terms of class and assignments due, I frequently give myself an academic reprieve on Sunday that I don't other days of the week... though I still sometimes end up heading to a library anyway, if nothing else than for a change of scenery.


Today, I thought a lot about how much I've personally changed since the start of college. In the process of becoming more of my own person, I've left a lot of my past behind me, both for better and for worse. After a bit of thinking this way, the "for worse" side caught up to me, and I got to thinking about (and realizing) just how many connections and friendships I've let go to waste. Add on other personal turmoil, past and present — which I'll discuss later on in this post — and Panic! at the Disco's "This Is Gospel" became a clear pick for my song of the day.

Before delving into the personal side of things, I'll speak to the song's musical qualities like I tend to do. Nearly everything about "This Is Gospel" caught my attention when I first heard it. The power in the song's chorus caught my attention before anything else — I remember hearing it on the radio for the first time and being blown away by it, even with my radio's subpar speakers and terrible low end. The rhythm guitar is dirty and propulsive, but it also isn't too emphasized in the mix. That's key, because Brendon Urie sings so clearly that his vocals really need to rise above the rest of the mix. Urie is one of my favorite vocalists of the 21st century, and I love the performance he gives on this track, switching between subdued verse vocals and cathartic choruses that call back to the emo heyday from which he and his band (now his solo project) emerged.


In more recent years when I've returned to the song, I've really come to appreciate the effects of the two different approaches to backing vocals. In the verses, all of Urie's lyrics are backed by vocoders, singing the tonic chord of D Major. This includes the background repetitions of "This is the beat of my heart." In the chorus, however, the lead vocals are supported by an upper harmony sung just as powerfully. This shift helps drive home the chorus' impact while also supporting the link between the two sections already present through the chord progression — something accented even further by two features at chorus' end: 1) the scalar piano line in the verse being evoked by the guitar and full backing vocals; and 2) the return of the vocoded "This is the beat of my heart" vocals at the end of the chorus.


That's the musical side to this selection. It's a song I've always enjoyed from a purely musical standpoint... but that's far from the full reason behind my choosing it for today. Here goes the other, more introspective part of this post...

 

"This Is Gospel" was released in 2013, and that was a pretty significant year for me for some less savory personal reasons. It and the rest of Panic's Too Weird to Live, Too Rare to Die! soundtracked the last quarter of the year, when multiple internal and external problems came to a head. Let's just say that, back then, I had a very different, darker impression of what its defining chorus-opening lyric "If you love me, let me go" meant. Combine that line with an early lyric on "permanent slumber," and you'll probably start to understand why I thought of the song that way given my mental state eight years ago.


(Of course, now I know that Urie wrote the track as his way of getting out his feelings about drummer Spencer Smith's battle with addiction — which ultimately ended his time with the band a couple years later — but back then I didn't use Genius as a lyrical resource, if I even knew it existed. I honestly wonder if Genius has led me to not have as deep a connection to newer music, because in presenting the songwriter and/or performer's vision it relegates the listener's connection to a lesser tier.)


The thing is, back then I must've not paid attention to the rest of the song's lyrics, because it very clearly speaks to the will to keep living: see both pre-choruses, which respectively end with "But they haven't seen the best of us yet" and "'Cause I won't give up without a fight," as well as the refrain of "This is the beat of my heart." "This Is Gospel" is in no means a song asking to be released from life; rather, through it Brendon Urie's narrator asks for the song's subject (Smith) to stop hurting him with his destructive behaviors. Looking back at the song while thinking about my mental state and behavior as a teenager, I realize I was hearing "This Is Gospel" from the other side of the conversation. I was more in Spencer Smith's place than I was in Brendon Urie's, and as my behaviors continued even with therapy and medication, I only grew more into that song subject character.


Thankfully, I've largely been in a better place mentally within the past few years... and I wonder how much a change of scenery from the Peninsula to Berkeley has helped in that regard. However, as I mentioned at the top of the article, I still long for many sorts of interactions and close friendships I had in my pre-Cal life. Even though I was depressed and anxious like never before (or, luckily, since), there was a comfort and (hopefully) genuine friendliness in the social circles I inhabited. When I left, though, I clearly took "If you love me, let me go" as Urie meant it to heart — in line with the Khalil Gibran quote, I set the people I love back home free, in hopes of them "returning." The reality is that a lot of them haven't, and most of them only did after I reached out. It's led me to question the genuineness of the relationships I thought I had back then, with varying degrees of self-acceptance.


As I'm writing this, I'm hoping that the difficulty I had in letting people go and hoping they'd return is not something I face alone, and that efforts I take to reach out now I've improved as a person may not go unnoticed. I'm past "the fear of falling apart," because that's already happened, so the only thing I can do is follow "the beat of my heart" and believe what I said at the end of the last paragraph. Hopefully I'm right, and I can reach out before it's too late to rekindle friendships and close ties from years ago.


This is the kind of reckoning hearing certain pieces of music from my formative years causes. "This Is Gospel" is the first of those pieces I've discussed here, and I hope expressing my feelings about the piece in this way allows me to relate to you, the readers, a little better, even if you don't relate to the song like I do — I'm sure other tracks do elicit this sort of response. The beauty of music is often the responses it generates from its listeners... and this was my response to "This Is Gospel." Thanks for taking the time to read and digest this post.

 

Postscript — piano version: I would be remiss to not mention Urie's piano-only adaptation of "This Is Gospel." It's a beautiful rendition, and it's the one many Panic! fans prefer. I relate more to the album version because it's the one I heard first, but maybe the tenderness of this recording will sway others toward it.


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