”People don’t want to hear it, do they?” she said.
No one said anything, because we weren’t sure where she was at.
“This is how I feel, every day, and people don’t want to know that. They want to know that I’m feeling what Tom Jones makes you feel. Or that Australian girl who used to be in ‘Neighbours’. But I feel like this, and they won’t play what I feel on the radio, because people that are sad don’t fit in.”
-Maureen, 51 and semi-suicidal, upon hearing Five Leaves Left for the first time in Nick Hornby’s A Long Way Down.
She’s right, that Maureen.
As I put down my wine bottle and question myself daily about who I’ve become, I recently joined a gym (I swear I am going somewhere with this). I asked my better half, a master of seamless mixing, to put together some hour-long, no-break mixes so I don’t have to be subjected to the pap being piped in while sweating my ass off (as I’m in enough physical pain as it is when I’m there, you see). Though our musical tastes overlap right between Britpop and Post Rock, his electro leanings are way stronger than mine. Perfect for the fitness studio.
As I was exercising away one afternoon this, well, how do I put it lightly? This mindfuck (that’ll do) flowed through my ears. I was like..wait..is that…..?!? Yes..yes it is. It is exactly that.
For those of you wondering exactly what: Elliott Smith…all happy and dancy. That’s what.
This little yammer is not about cover songs or whether someone should mess around with Smith’s highly evocative catalog, as my jury’s still out on that one. It’s about what most music aficionados have, self-proclaimed or otherwise: a not so tidy package of records and artists we gravitate to when we are ascending or descending Sad Sack Mountain. That Smith cover, which I must admit is catchy as hell, was just a catalyst to listen to what I ordinarily reserve for the days I am feeling blue and hopeless while I was feeling particularly jolly. Doing so gives one (read: me) some clarity of instrumentation and song. Or whatever.
The top three artists for punishing myself while I am already down, in no particular order: Nick Drake, Tim Buckley and Elliott Smith, the runners up being Damon and Naomi, whose cover of Buckley’s “Song to the Siren” (DOUBLE WHAMMY) brings me to my knees in a river of my own tears every damn time. Everyevery. Interestingly enough I’ve never really been a singer songwriter girl. There is something about these men however, their words and the sound of them being ejected from their mouths, that draws me in when I am low. Sounds silly, but it’s like they get it. They’re my blanket. On those days they get me.
I listened. It doesn’t matter to which records. I listened. And while I was of sound mind I still sensed an overwhelming melancholic pall. Not because I was feeling sorry for myself. I got caught up in feeling sad for them as people. So tell me, am/was I wrong to feel such emotions? Like who am I to pity them, you know? Well…
Nobody can argue how terribly heartsickening it is to ponder how young these men were when they died, and under what circumstances. Forget about them being artists and using copious amounts drugs or doing other potentially and arguably unforgivable things. They were human beings first and were someone’s friend and someone’s kid and, in one case, someone’s father. They just happened to have their 15 minutes. Here’s the kicker and where art does become a factor: Cobain, Morrison, Hendrix, even Ian Curtis (surprise) don’t do it for me in the same way. I kinda don’t care as much, sometimes not at all, as heartless as that may sound.
It begs me to wonder if I’d be paying them as much attention, these artists, these men, if they were still walking among us. Not as much, probably. Sadly. The non-musical baggage and stories unearthed and attached to their posthumous success in whatever circles, Abby circles anyway, are responsible, partially, for my ability to get over life’s bitter pills before they get too unmanageable. Suffering by proxy.
We all have our own artists to lean on. It doesn’t matter who they are. It’s like a basic, root passion for music. I am at a point in my life where I can’t hatefully chastise someone for being over the moon for, say, Country Rock. At one time I could. Hear me out. Now, I abhor the stuff. But if Suzy Smith’s life revolves around Country Rock, if she has an untiring love of it and she writes about it and it is what she eats and breathes and it gives her life meaning…that passion she has? I share that feeling, that core passion at its most basic. The explosions one feels in their gut and their head and heart when listening to what makes them tick, specifically. Point is, we share the joy and comfort music can bring and it is equally important to the other, it doesn’t matter what pigeonhole it fits into. That realization, friends, is something special.
[Abby’s Road is a Knox Road feature published every other Friday.]