Earlier today I tweeted a couple of lines from a song I was listening to and enjoying a lot. This is something I do quite often.
o/’ And if a double-decker bus crashes into us, To die by your side is such a heavenly way to die o/’
This is, of course, taken from The Smiths’ “There is a light that never goes out”.
I broadcast those lines because I was thrilled by the song and it was natural for me to express this feeling in this particular way, but then a strange thing happened: people reacted as if I was having dark and dangerous thoughts and while I must admit that my previous tweets, from the day before, taken together with this portion of the lyrics, could have given them that impression, I was actually in a pretty good mood at the time. I was just listening to, and thoroughly enjoying the pain, drama and misery that is the hallmark of The Smiths and it was great! So I responded with another tweet to try and restore the “truth of the matter”.
Lol, I’m not having dark thoughts, “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out” is not a sad song, m’kay?
And yet, people still thought I was troubled somehow. Which was something that gave me a bit of pause, I must admit.
When I realized that they were actually (in the joking/scoffing way that is appropriate to this channel) convinced something was up I just had to reply with:
If I were as susceptible to pop music-induced depression as people apparently think I am I would have been dead by age 14. Get a grip, people. ;-)
But then my own reply gave me even more pause. Yes, I pause a lot.
Nick Hornby wrote in his great novel “High Fidelity” (which most people will have gotten to know by the excellent film that came later by the same name and which constitutes probably the sole best adaptation of a novel to the cinema that I am aware of, but I digress…) the following paragraph:
What came first, the music or the misery? People worry about kids playing with guns, or watching violent videos, that some sort of culture of violence will take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands, literally thousands of songs about heartbreak, rejection, pain, misery and loss. Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?
Just to set the record straight, this quote is taken from the opening line of the film, the book version is a little more elaborate, but that is beside the point now. Go read the book. I mean it. Do it. Go! Oh and the soundtrack for the film? Go get it! :-)
Getting back on track here, I think the previous quote, besides being an astonishing tirade as a film opener, has in it the kernel of something really, really serious.
Pop music (most music really, but I’ll mostly stick to this one genre for this discussion) is mainly about feelings –romantic or otherwise– and the most prevalent feeling found in it would seem to be romantic love.
Now love, as we all know, is a bitch. And so while many songs are about the heights you achieve when you’re in love, inevitably there are far more songs about the loss of love and all the pain and misery those situations always bring with them.
Hence the “thousands, literally thousands of songs about heartbreak, rejection, pain, misery and loss.” Well yeah, that’s part of life, isn’t it? And if you believe pop music and cinema (Hollywood may be disqualified for obvious reasons –they usually try to sell happiness to counter-act the seemingly natural state of unhappiness people tend to live in) it is indeed a big part of it.
But the fact that most of pop music is about pain and heartbreak doesn’t necessarily mean that people must be miserable to enjoy it. People empathize with feelings they know (and even with those have only experienced second-hand) even without being in the process of having those feelings right now. I enjoy Morrissey’s dramatic flare and thoroughly despondent renditions of all those sad and miserable Smiths songs even when I’m happy as can be.
But the question that Nick asks is very relevant and I do believe there is a definite answer to it.
Something happened today, after the tweet exchange that prompted this post, that really brought me down, something that’s been brewing for a while and that was rather inevitable (and which may have come across a bit too strongly in the last few days, thus prompting the aforementioned response to my tweets today), so now, as I’m writing this, I really am sad and of course I, as always, turned to music –_pop music_– to help me out a bit.
Right now Abbey Road is spinning on my record player and it brings about, as always, the best of feelings.
The Beatles. They’re always there for me.
As is Bowie, as is Iron Maiden and Róisín Murphy and Chico Buarque and Jeff Buckley and Keith Jarret and Coltrane and the Pet Shop Boys and Bach and… And hundreds of others (and yes, I know I failed to restrict this list to pop music).
But they do not control my moods, they don’t bring me down or pick me up, unless I explicitly want them to (and for that purpose I have the appropriate playlists to help bring about those particular mood-swings).
I listen to pop music because I am depressed. I listen to pop music because I’m happy. I listen to music –any genre– because it fits my mood, because of the feelings it evoques or because it helps me to get to whatever state of mind I wish to attain.
Maybe not everybody is like that and I am indeed quite fortunate to have this relationship with music. But I do. And I love it.
So there! :-)