Play That Song Again: Notes on another sad song

Posted in Blogs, Music

BY ERIK CHRISTENSEN, July 26, 2013

  • Loss.  Sadness.  I’m obsessed with stories of sorrow, broken hearts, and busted relationships.
  • I wrote a song called “Lullaby” for my daughter after she was born and, somehow, a middle verse already had her growing up and moving away:

    You see, every year something dies
    Something’s born
    Like dreams all your own
    Like the leaves fall from the trees
  • You’re gonna have to walk alone. “Where does this stuff come from?  What does this say about my own life?”
  • “Melancholy people always write gaily, while the work of those who are cheerful is always depressing.”  ─ Anton Chekov
  • Dwelling on sad songs, stories, and poems seems to be cathartic—a way of letting those feelings out of the barn to run around for a while so they don’t bite you later on.
  • I don’t think I’m alone on this.
  • “…Your work is filled with longing and sorrow.”  ─ John Irving, “The World According to Garp.”
  • I mean, people love to cry at sad movies, read romance novels, and listen to blues records, right?  Maybe I write about loss because I haven’t dealt with it very often in my own life.
  • Perhaps it’s a daily dose; some minimum daily requirement—like vitamin C—that one needs to have.  Longing and sorrow.  If it’s not presented to you, you make it up; you create it in your own life.
  • In “Amadeus,” Salieri describes Mozart’s music as “filled with longing; such unfulfillable longing.”
  • The good times, feeling of contentment—I think we’re too busy living and enjoying those to realize how good they are.  But a change in the everyday—being left alone, losing a confidant—these are seared into our memories, and we take them out, turn them over in our hands and examine them.
  • Franz Kafka said that the world had had enough “nice” stories; stories that made us feel good.  He said a book should be like a blow to the head, like the death of a loved one; that a story should be like taking an ax to the frozen sea of our heart. Here’s the quote: “A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us.” 
  • In my own work?  Those are mostly about lost time—looking back on years gone by.  Which is probably the most poignant—you can always build other relationships, recover from heartbreak, but you’re never going to be 17 again.
  • So don’t tell me about your typical day running errands… instead, make me laugh, make me shake my head in wonder that you ever got through that tough situation. Please tell me that sad tale from your past.
  • In a song of mine called “Love Story,” the narrator has a dream that foreshadows the end of a relationship.  It’s not clear whether it was only the dream or real life that’s gone sour as he wakes up in a darkened room.  As the song fades out, a line is repeated: “He never got to say goodbye…he never got to say goodbye…he never got to say goodbye …”
  • “Yet why not say what happened?”  ─ Robert Lowell
  • A typical day in my classroom where I teach high schoolers:“Mr. C, don’t we read any cheerful books in this course?
    “No.  And here’s your copy of ‘Dante’s Inferno.’  Start reading.”
  • “Lifetime:” A woman in her 40s meets and falls in love with an older man, who also has a checkered history:

    He had skinny legs and smoked a pack a day
    Scar on his shoulder, she never asked
    Told her funny stories with a halfway crooked smile
    But he never talked about his past.He dies after 18 years with her and, of course, she’s left alone—again—with her memories:
    Now she sits alone on the porch of the old farmhouse
    Stares in the fields of flower’s bloom
    She says, my life burns hot as the August sun
    And cold as the shadows in these darkened rooms
  • “Do I listen to popular music because I’m miserable?  Or am I miserable because I listen to popular music?” ─ Nick Hornby, “High Fidelity”
  • That can’t be it — I’m one of the happiest, most carefree people I know.  And that’s a true statement, not an alcoholic saying, “I don’t have a drinking problem.”
  • “I have a foreboding… I’m oppressed by a strange, dark foreboding.  As though the loss of a loved one awaited me.”
    “Are you married, Doctor?  You have a family?”
    “Not a soul.  I’m alone, I haven’t even any friends.  Tell me, Madam, do you believe in forebodings?”
    “Oh, yes, I do.”─ Anton Chekov, “Perpetuum Mobile”
  • “Happy songs?  Shoot, nobody writes happy songs.”   ─ Lucinda Williams
  • So, I’m obsessed with loss and heartbreak.  I read and write about it, I teach it in my classroom, and I keep a close acquaintance with it.  Whether it’s a sad song or a tragic story, you can count me in.
  • “… words lead to deeds… they prepare the soul, make it ready, ad move it to tenderness.”  ─ Saint Teresa
  • These words, the focus on sad songs and stories… it’s healing, transformative.  I don’t think I could survive without it.   

 

Erik Christensen teaches at Oak Harbor High School, writes songs and poetry, and wonders why society doesn’t outlaw baseball played on artificial turf.

Upcoming shows:

  • Erik Christensen Band plays at the Front Street Grill in Coupeville on Wednesday, Aug. 14, and at the Evergreen State Fair in Monroe on Thursday, Aug. 22 and Saturday, Aug. 31.

 

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