Saturday, September 22, 2007

Sad songs, they say...

If you know me well, you also know this:

I love sad songs.

Armchair Freuds will say I'm depressed, attracted to the melancholy lyrics in search of a catharsis. I've had my struggles with the Black Dog, yes. But no, that's not it.

The truth of the matter is the darn things just feel so vividly alive, as if in the midst of all that romantic angst, actual feelings were felt, life was experienced, the senses totally engaged.

Incidentally, I think I responded so deeply, if a bit ambiguously, to Robert Altman's "Nashville," which I screened during my illness, for similar reasons. To quote critic Roger Ebert, "after I saw it, I felt more alive."

I got into a spirited debate with my friend and former Shopper contributor Amanda Mohney once about our divergent reactions to music. Amanda says she reacts to something with her head.

"You on the other hand," she said, "react with your heart."

For any Miles Davis fans out there, Amanda is a "Bitches Brew" kind of gal; I'm a "Kind of Blue" kind of guy.

The ugly little truth is that life is full of more disappointment than success, more pain than happiness, much more losing than winning. The songs I love most tend to reflect such honesty.

You know all about "Teardrops." I have nothing further to say about it. (RobinElla does have new song, "These Dreams of Mine," that's nearly as good. I hope it makes it on the next album.)

Take Otis Redding's "These Arms of Mine." First time I heard that song, I played it 13 times in a row and still couldn't get enough.

That song is full of yearning, made worse by Redding's talent for singing heartache. God, it's beautiful. Anyone who has ever ached for another can relate.

Alison Krauss worked magic a few years ago on a country song, "Ghost in This House," to which I'd never previously given much attention. But in her hands, the tune becomes something more, an ethereal lament to a lost love, the singer forever bound by the chains of loss.

Elvis Presley's mid-70s gem "Loving Arms" contains one line that is forever stamped across my soul. It isn't so much the lyric; rather, it's the way Elvis sings it, full of longing, full of misery.

If you could hear me now, singing somewhere in the lonely night, dreaming of the arms that held me tight...

It's a moment, and it works.

Barry Manilow's "Mandy." Sinatra's treatment of Sondheim's "Send in the Clowns." Johnny Mathis' "Yellow Roses on Her Gown."

But the granddaddy of them all, the sad song, is George Jones' "He Stopped Loving Her Today." Without question, really. Nothing else comes close.

I can't even put that masterpiece into words. It's brilliant, it's suicidal, and it's the finest country recording ever made. My favorite line?

And it kept running through my mind/This time he's over her for good...

A loyal blog reader made the mistake of claiming I'm clinically depressed. No, no, no. Folks, those emotions in these tearjerkers are simply more real to me. They hurt more, the tear into your very essence, pluck at your heartstrings.

But the very best movies, the greatest books we've ever read, the prettiest art to pass before our eyes, and most certainly the prettiest songs we've ever heard all also break our hearts.

Would "Casablanca" be the classic it is if Ilsa stays behind with Rick? If Ingrid Bergman lets Paul Henried get on that plane alone, that movie dies at the box office in 1942-43 and is never seen again. As it is, it's often ranked as one of the best American films of all time.

Same with those blinking green lights that Jay Gatsby stared at across the water and the tragic beauty of Van Gogh's "Starry Night" (not to even mention Don McLean's "Vincent (Starry, Starry Night).")

The darn things just make you feel something --- something tragic, yes, but something deeply honest.

Maybe words spouted once on an old television show say it best:

"I never knew until that moment how badly it hurt to lose something you never really had."


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jake, you know our thoughts are always in alignment when it comes to sad songs. I'm not a sad person, but sad songs make me FEEL something. Maybe it's sorrow, maybe it's longing, or maybe - just maybe, it's familiarity. When Dolly Parton sings about blue grass and green skies, I KNOW THAT FEELING (actually, I prefer the Norah Jones version, but it makes no difference)! I know what it feels like to have to pretend that things are different. When Allison Krauss HAUNTS me with his ghost, I'm back at my kitchen table and sleeping in a newly empty bed. When Bob Carlisle sings about Butterfly Kisses - I was that little girl who only kissed her Daddy on the cheek when I should have given him that butterfly kiss.

Sad songs have a way of touching your heart, making you ache a little bit for something you had, grieve for something you lost, and cry for something or someone you miss.

As I numbly walk through my daily life, I welcome any opportunity to stop for a moment and feel something again...even if it does make me a little sad.


10:35 AM  

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