(Or: Why life seems so much better with sad songs in it)
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.
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…..
SIX SONGS SO SAD THEY’LL GIVE YOU AN EMO-BONER
(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