Saturday, March 31, 2012

Sad music is not depressing music

Radiohead fans worldwide are used to hearing it.

'That music is so depressing.'

'Music to cut your wrists to'

Dismissive, naive, flippant bullshit attitudes at least; maybe even ignorant, closed-minded, shallow and insulting - to the artist and appreciator.

Not everyone has to, can or should like Radiohead, or any particular band/song. Music (as a whole and individual songs) is a subjective experience, heard and enjoyed differently by different people. Maybe if less people liked Radiohead, less people would hate them. And I could see them at a decent, smaller music venue for a reasonable price.

Yes yes, I have been diagnosed with depression. In fact it was at its worst around the time I was getting into Radiohead. And I started on anti-depressants the day after I saw them live in 2004. That's a nice little irony. Be careful about the parallels you draw though; at the earliest onset of my anxiety my favourite singer was Johnny Farnham.

Sure music - like most artistic professions - attracts its fair share of tortured souls (at least those who open up about it). Well, I think it attracts them anyway, rather than making them so. But depression is tragically prevalent and maybe the proportion in sport, for example, isn't so different, just more suppressed.

Humans love to travel and explore places; but we're not so good at looking inward and exploring our own minds and emotions. I think music (art generally) help do that consciously and sub-consciously. Clearly I'm not talking about Justin Bieber or Nickelback here.

Radiohead's popping up on my radar around the time I was in the depths of depression may have been a coincidence; the vigour with which I explored the music was not. I don't know what half the songs are about - it doesn't matter - but their mood resonated. Some of it was angsty, some a little terrifying, some exhausted, some hopeful, some hopeless, some just beautiful. Actually, all beautiful. Things we all feel.

The sounds got into my head, my heart, my psyche, my soul and shook them all up. I connected to it because it reflected things going on in my head that I hadn't figured out yet, let alone been able to express and here it was on my stereo. So I sang along, learnt to play along, danced around my bedroom, exploring it all. It was fucking liberating. I still lose my shit dancing (flailing about) my room to 'I Might Be Wrong' when it gets into me and takes over - it's an amazing release.

I want to share these little gems when I stumble across them or someone is kind enough to share them with me. Not just for the shared listening experience, but also because it helped me feel understood. And I liked to fuck with my poptart-chart loving friends by making them endure 'Fitter Happier', a song I didn't initially like/appreciate myself but actually do now (I think that fairly qualifies me as music snob).

So when someone calls a sweet song like 'No Suprises' the most miserable song ever, it makes me sad. You don't have to like it, and I probably shouldn't need you to understand, but it'd be nice if you'd try.

It exudes a sweet sadness. The world - life - is fucked up sometimes. Ignoring the fact doesn't make you happier, and acknowledging it doesn't have to make you depressed - the opposite really. I'd rather find ways to acknowledge, explore, understand and accept the shit in the world and my head than repress it. It's the only way to move on; Thom Yorke himself talks about using "music to move on, to progress through life".

It's why we play sad music at funerals, right? Ironically, I'd like at least one or two fun songs played at mine. Why be self-indulgent once you're dead?

Sad songs can be amazingly beautiful, uplifting, sure even life-changing. Sadness is in inextricably tied to happiness. If you can't let yourself be sad, how can you fully appreciate happiness? It's okay to identify at times with Elliott Smith's desperate solitude (difficult as linked performance is, there's a fantastic moment when he sings "give me one good reason not to do it" and someone in the crowds responds "because I love you" - love is the greatest thing we have, yet it's bound up with so many of life's difficulties).

Is 'Good Woman' a pitiful anti-love song or one of the most powerful, beautiful love songs ever written? Obviously, it's probably somewhere in between and I'm just using polarisation for effect.

Lots of people find Dirty Three's instrumental music, or Sigur Ros' foreign language music inpenetrable and boring. Again, not to everyone's taste but putting in the time to feel the message from the music can reap massive rewards.

Music is a subjective experience. Everyone hears in with their own ears, in the context of their own life.
I like these artists and songs because there's no bullshit. It's real human expression of emotions I feel and want to explore at the right times, rather that let them fester at the back of my mind.

It's not for you, that's ok. I think you're missing out on something special. That said, there is plenty I'm missing out on as well. We shouldn't slam something just because we don't understand it.

And try not to judge us Radiohead fans too much, we can be fragile beings.


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  2. Hi Sam, I have the same experience with Radioheads music. It makes me feel completely emotionally raw, like no other music. It's a bit scary to put it on, for me. Still I want to because it is very real. Even all the "dark" music I liked to before (Nick Cave, Dirty Three, Sisters of Mercy) does not open me up as much. You put it nicely, thanks!