Emotional Rescue

Sad songs they say so much

First off, I don't want to hear any crap about how the holidays suck. The holidays do not suck; they're great. That's why they are called "the holidays" and not "Tuesday."

Sure, the holidays can be challenging, exerting their own particular pressure. Families, for instance. The holidays usually force us to spend time with our families, which can dredge up old wounds, the worst being that as a child you were forced to spend time with your family.

I got nothing for you on this one. I like my family. If you, on the other hand, enjoy breaking your mother's heart, you go right ahead.

It's of the holidays' effect on romantic entanglements that I mean to speak. It is no coincidence that many a relationship crashes and burns on the Yuletide tarmac, since Christmas, like birthdays and Valentine's Day, forces a couple to make a tangible statement about where they believe the relationship is going. For instance: she expects a diamond ring and all that it implies. You buy her a mountain bike. Now, it may be the best mountain bike there is. It may be painted a starburst of reds and yellows with some In-Your-Face declaration written in flames, but it doesn't matter. She wants one thing, you want another. It's all there in fiery extremeness that plays by its own rules.

So, you break up, and now you look for solace. Most often at times like this we turn to music, and the holidays are rife with the stuff—you know, heartwarming Christmas carols, not to mention hilarious holiday novelty ditties concerning manslaughtered grandparents.

But here's the thing about Christmas carols. You must not listen to Christmas carols. Christmas carols are fine when you're healthy enough to work up the strength to lie to yourself that life has some meaning. But not now; not while you are so emotionally fragile that "Love Is . . ." cartoons make you cry. Christmas carols either are so sticky sweet as to make you puke, or so melancholy—"White Christmas," "I'll Be Home for Christmas"—as to make you puke while sobbing. (My personal favorite, "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," is the only carol I know of that specifically references Satan, which doesn't figure to do anyone any good.)

So, what do you listen to? Friends and TV say you should listen to sad songs, that they will somehow provide catharsis, which makes about as much sense as treating cancer by shotgunning a can of Red Dye No. 2. Sad songs will make you drive off the road. Sad songs will make you cry, make you feel things that will make you a far less productive worker.

Not that it's any of your business, but I went through a bit of trauma this year, and I found that sad songs were the worst things to listen to. They didn't make me feel any better; they actually made me feel—wait for it—sad. Likewise, all that great, socially relevant music—Clash, Jam, etc.—seemed hollow and lightweight when weighed against life's ultimate truths, i.e., "Love is . . . the reason you stick to your diet."

. . .

. . . gimme a minute.

. . .

What I found got me through the tough times was stupid music. BTO and Badfinger. Heavy metal, power and bubble gum pop. I listened to a lot of Cheap Trick and K-Earth. I started everyday jumping around to an inane bit of arena rock called Burn in My Light, which was written specifically for World Wrestling Entertainment.

Conversely, I found a great amount of pleasure in very clever bands, bands that use their cleverness to keep any real emotion or real feeling out of their songs. Ever cried to Talking Heads? New Pornographers? Early REM?

Is this making sense to you, or are you so emotionally wrecked that you have a hard time following? Here, let me give you some examples.

You think you want to listen to . . .

"If You Could Read My Mind," Gordon Lightfoot. Perhaps the No. 1 guilty pleasure of all time. So sad. The acceptance of one's pathetic fate, one's powerlessness, one's . . . one's Gordon-ness.

You need to listen to . . .

"The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald," Gordon Lightfoot. Nothing shakes the doldrums like a bunch of guys dying on a ship.

*   *   *

You think you want to listen to . . .

"Yesterday," Paul McCartney. One of the most melancholy songs ever and perhaps the Beatles' most popular song, though it's well-known that the song is the creation of Paul McCartney.

You need to listen to . . .

"How Do You Sleep," John Lennon. After the breakup of the Beatles, Lennon took this vicious shot at McCartney's and his masterpiece: "The only thing you done was yesterday/And since you've gone it's just another day." You should never date a musician . . . or write songs with one.

*   *   *

You think you want to listen to . . .

Anything by Coldplay.

You need to listen to . . .

Anything by Gwar.

*   *   *

You think you want to listen to . . .

"Love Will Tear Us Apart," Joy Division. The tortured love song of my generation, owing much to its title, refrain and the fact that singer Ian Curtis hanged himself, apparently moved to do so by a performing chicken.

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