The Music or the Misery?

(Or: Why life seems so much better with sad songs in it)

sad music wallow

Are you one of those people who listens to upbeat, happy tunes whenever they feel down in the dumps? Or do you dive headfirst into a heart-rending ballad, wallowing in the sadness, letting the melancholy melody wash over you in a wave of blissful catharsis?

Well in case you haven’t guessed from the description above, I’m a fully paid-up, card-carrying member of the latter. I live for this shit. I need it – to quote Bon Jovi (yup, you read that right) – like a poet needs the pain. At the ripe oldage of 37, I’m still a moody, grungy overemotional teenager at heart. In some sick, twisted way, it makes me feel light years better to hear all those churning, dark, magnetic, gut-wrenching feelings from a position of ‘once removed’; like if Eddie Vedder can perfectly describe how I felt about a particular breakup or a jaunt down the one-way street of unrequited love, then it saves me the work.

Many an hour would be passed in secondary school by me simply writing out lyrics pertinent to my emotional situation. From a wide assortment of artists, I would fill page after page with the works of the great masters such as Hetfield, Di Franco, Morrison, Dylan, Amos et al. I was, and still am, a bit of a Rain Man when it comes to retaining song lyrics, so I could go on unchecked for tens of pages at a time, depending on how boring I found the lesson. Pity the auld Leaving Cert was never presented in song form; I’d have been a 600-pointer for sure.

I’m quoting Nick Hornby a lot while discussing this topic, but he’s got the best take on it in his book High Fidelity:

No contest for me, I was of the former. I was a clinically depressed, miserable, tormented, stereotypical teenage child of an ugly divorce, so much so that while my parents were in the middle of taking a verbal sledgehammer to the crumbling walls of their marriage, I stuck Pearl Jam’s Ten album on at full blast to drown out the anger outside my bedroom walls and give me a dose of the anger I felt within. To this day, I can’t listen to the song ‘Once’ without being transported back to the blood-red walls of my teenage bedroom and feeling the sky fall down around me.

My music gave me a lovely soft place to fall. I didn’t have to make sense of or verbalise what I felt, or try to ignore it – I just needed to (apologies to all the young folk out there) stick on the right cassette. It was like having your favourite musician as your own personal well-being advocate. Imagine Axl Rose sitting your feuding parental units down and roaring at them, telling them to get their shit together and stop fucking with your head or else he’ll fuck their telly out the window. How fun.

Some folk find it worrying that someone could be so immersed in sad melancholy music – to them, I say ‘CHILL’. Better that it’s out there rather than being buried deep down, only to resurface when you least expect it. Your brain is a dickhead for that sort of thing. Trust me.

I suppose it depends on how each of us uses music. Some use it to help transform their mood; others like me use it to express & enhance the mood I’m already in. To each his own.

You can buy this - click on the pic!

You can buy this apparently – click on the pic!

I wonder why it’s so much easier to become attracted to dark, depressing music and poetry? Along with those aforementioned musicians, all of the great classical poets that have etched their initials on the tough, bark-like exterior of my heart were all a bunch of miserable, Emo, navel-gazing bastards. And oh, how I loved them for it. Dickinson, Plath, Woolf, Shelley, Poe – I’d sit them all at my fantasy Dead or Alive Dinner Party any day. Hopkins and Wordsworth with their daffodils and fawning over nature’s glory can fuck off back to Disneyland. There’s no room at my dinner table for Shiny Happy bastards.

That’s not to say I don’t appreciate a rollicking good peppy-as-fuck tune on occasion. Show me ‘Footloose’ in the club, and I’ll show you dance moves that would make Kevin Bacon vomit with jealousy. Happy tunes have their place in the world, obviously. However, there’s something far more visceral, dark and delicious about a deep sad song that pulls you in for a slow, languid embrace, telling you it’ll all be okay. It tells you they’ve been there where you are, they feel it too, and they’re going to save you the trouble of having to put words on something, the description of which evades you. They have it worked out already through the medium of song – and it’s utterly perfect.

Go on, press play again. Let it wash over you once more.

Someone pass me a tissue…..



(click on the song title to give your ears a tearful hug)

1:  Bon Iver – re: Stacks 

2: Leonard Cohen – Famous Blue Raincoat

3: Pearl Jam – Black

4: Ben Howard – I Forget Where We Were

5: Tori Amos – Silent All These Years

6: Ani Di Franco – Both Hands

1996? All a bit of a Blur to me…

In the midst of my diary-keeping days, I went to my first ever open-air big concert. It was June 1996, and at the height of Blurmania. I was always on the side of Damon Albarn. I had no time for stupid Oasis and their big hairy faces and mad sneers. So, being almost eighteen, I was allowed to go to a Blur / Supergrass / Black Grape concert all by myself. To say I was excited was an understatement. It was such a big deal it got a two-page spread in my diary. Yup, THAT big. Here in its entirety is my documentation of the day (as written). Well, as much as I could write before I got distracted by something else just as awesome. The picture below is the first page, and I’ll transcribe the rest so you can actually read it. There’s so many cultural references in it your face will hurt by the time you’ve finished reading. Names of participants have been changed, naturally. Enjoy.

I was in a collage-type mood in the 90's. I regret nothing. Except the 'Doin' him tomorrow' phrase. Ugh.

4th July 1996

Omigod. The Concert was Fantastic! It’s 4th July at 11.45am before I get ready for Summer Camp. Let me take you through the day of Saturday 22nd June 1996 from start to finish.

11am – left house wearing white v-neck t-shirt, ‘short’ shorts, Levi’s hoody and Doc Marten boots. I brought a pair of knickers with me to throw at Alex. (Bass player from Blur – I didn’t get to thrown them. To this day he doesn’t know what a lucky escape he had.)

11.30am -In town chillin’ with Jo, Sharon. Laura + friends went their own way. We followed this Jonny Depp lookalike around Arthur’s Quay, buying drinks n’ stuff along the way.

1.30pm – The ticket said ‘Coach departs 1.30pm Sharp – LIAR!

2.15pm – Finally left Spaights. Bored already. Sharon dying for ‘drink!’ Good craic on the bus all the same. I sang along to every song played on Atlantic 252. I swear if I don’t hear ‘Mysterious Girl’ by Peter Andre ever again, it’ll be too soon! Good all the same, though. Stopped in Portlaoise at Supermac’s, and we just got worse –> maxi-hyper would be an understatement!!

5.30pm – Saw queues outside RDS, plus a multitude of empty beer bottles –> Sharon is muttering about what a waste it is, just because she didn’t get any….

10.00pm – Unbefuckinglievable! This is what I want! Screaming crowds, singing along, mass hysteria – YES! I WILL do this….I will be there soon…! On the way back, Peter Collins played ‘The Universal’ on the radio for all the Blur fans at the concert!

So there you have it folks. That was my first concert. Knickers and all. Thanks, Blur…



If A Young J-Ro Made Greeting Cards…

I knew there was a reason I hated all those stupid Facebook slogan pages that people ‘liked’. You know the ones; face-melting cringey slogans like “If you love someone, let them go..” and other such wishy-washy bullshit that people latch on to in order to make their existence more palatable. The reason I hated them so much was because I used to write that very same shit myself in my diaries as a young ‘un. At least I made them up myself. Maybe I should go into business. I’d make a fortune selling them in Easons.

This one that I found recently nearly made me turn inside out with the mortification. Naturally I’m showing it to all of you. Don’t worry. I have many volumes of diary-related gold just waiting to be unleashed. You lucky things. Enjoy…

Date unknown, probably in my late teens / early twenties...note the symbolic illustration of the disembodied hand, and the irony of the 'Don't let Go' slogan next to it.


A Teenage Manifesto

It’s 1994, you’re 16, and all you want in life is a brand new tattoo of Sylvester the Cat holding a red rose. It holds the answer to all life’s problems, and will sum up everything you are as a person to anyone who sees it. You will be a badass. A person to be reckoned with, someone who is far too cool to be concerned with the likes of bullies, grades and stupid homogenous girls in a rural secondary school who all look the same. Not you though. Oh, no. You’re an individual. You loudly proclaim that you prefer ‘Bleach’ by Nirvana, as opposed to their more obvious ‘commercial’ release ‘Nevermind’ like the rest of Transition Year.

So you gather up your courage, turn down your Soundgarden CD and casually stroll up to the sitting room to put your case forward for getting this life-altering skin picture to a woman who can’t understand why you would willingly put needles on your skin for fun, and thinks tattoos are for soldiers and prisoners. And so far, you are neither. She says no. You’re devastated. This is an affront to your civil rights. You are being oppressed. You can no longer express who you are as a person. How is Alan in Sixth Year going to know you’re cool and not like all the ‘normal’ girls if you don’t have a Sylvester the Cat tattoo?? Life is as good as over.

So you storm off down to your room in a rage, full of righteous indignation and an ever-expanding martyr complex. Then you decide to do what many afflicted artistic souls have done before in the face of adversity and suffocation on behalf of a corrupt authority. Something which will shake the system to its very core, and lead to your mother throwing herself on your mercy and begging for forgiveness and even paying for your tattoo which will change your life for the better.

You write a poem. In your diary. That’ll show ’em. An unpublished tour de force that that nobody will ever see.

Until now. God bless the internet.

I regret nothing.

Viva La Revolution!

When Kildimo became South Central…

Sunday Mass started to look a bit different in the village...

The peaceful rural idyll has been shattered. Children are being dragged back indoors by frantic mothers. Urban life has descended upon Kildimo. The reason?

A car alarm is going off.

This is MOST irregular. Next there’ll be gunshots, police sirens and crack whores peddling their wares outside the local GAA pitch. Ross Kemp will be filming a hard-hitting documentary from the corner of Slattery’s pub about the deadly rivalry between the U14 and U16 hurling teams. Rappers and gritty hip-hop artists will film music videos here just to prove how hard they are. HBO will commission an extra season of The Wire to be filmed almost entirely outside Kildimo Post Office and the local garage. Brothers and sons will be divided in bitter gang wars while constantly living in fear that their tractor might get ‘jacked for its hubcaps, while bloodied bodies litter the streets, victims cut down in the prime of life simply for wearing the wrong colour overalls in the wrong side of the village. Nothing but crime, catastrophe and carnage awaits us now.

Still, it’ll be nice to have a bit of life in the place…