Thursday, February 13, 2014

sad songs say so much

some time ago a bloke asked me some questions about songs of sadness

1. What are your earliest memories of music?

The Beatles's "Yellow Submarine". The Hollies "The Air That I Breathe". The theme tune to Top of the Pops (Led Zep's "Whole Lotta Love", not that I knew that then). Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony. Musicals like High Society and West Side Story. T.Rex, Gary Glitter, Sparks, The Sweet.

2. When was the last time music made you cry?

I can't remember. There are certain songs that infallibly make my eyes brim over, like The Smiths's "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out".  Often though it's not the emotional content of a song so much as the sheer grandeur of it. I have teared up at certain Kraftwerk songs for that reason, just awe at the majesty,the glory of it. Not just the splendor of sound but the vision and spirit behind "Autobahn" and "Trans-Europe Express" in particular.  "Neon Lights" and "Computer Love" are more poignant songs, melodically and emotionally, but I don't think they've had the tear-jerking effect.

3. What connotates sadness in music to you? Is it particular instruments, particular chords, something about the circumstances around the music?

Hard to say.  Minor keys, a certain kind of tremulousness of texture. Not so much dolorousness of vocal tone, and not theatricalised grief, on the whole.  I'd be more affected, by and large, by the non-demonstrative voice. "Pink Frost" by The Chills is a good example. Rather than the blatantly sad or sorrowful, the most moving songs are often more ambivalent or shaded.  Is "Whispering Pines" by The Band a sad song, or just yearning?  Is "Solid Air" by John Martyn a sad song, or more pained empathy for a lost and suffering friend? 

4. If you really want to wallow in your own misfortune what records do you reach for?

I can't remember the last time I did this, which either indicates that I'm pretty happy, or that I've learned that it doesn't work (like trying to drown your sorrows with alcohol)..

I think if you are really emotionally devastated, you'd probably have a gut self-preservation instinct not to try to make it any worse by listening to depressing music. The truly bad times in my life don't have any soundtrack, at least as I recall those times. Music was irrelevant.

5. Is there any music you can think of that isn’t particularly sad but provokes sad feelings or memories for you? Why?

New Order's "Thieves Like Us" makes me wistful about a relationship that didn't work out, because it soundtracked the short period of intense happiness we had together.

There's probably other examples. Very joyous music like Nineties rave tunes, or certain early things by The Aphex Twin, make me feel wistful precisely because those were such exciting, euphoric times. Any good memory is going to have that poignant twinge as it recedes further into the past, so music that is entwined with good memories will cause you to ache a little bit. Eventually that will mean that most music you love will have a tinge of sadness about it, I suppose.  

6. Why is sad music so good?

It's that "parting is such sweet sorrow" thing isn't it. The rapture that's the same as grief. Feeling something intense, even if painful, is better than feeling numb or neutral. 

7. Have you ever considered what kind of music you would want played at your funeral?


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