Happy, sad, self-doubt and the transformative power of music

So I’m sitting here making a playlist.

The 75-minute limit that the CD format imposes forces one to make choices: thematic, lyrical, genre-iffic choices (“Genriffic” looked too much like some lame youth get-out-the-vote slogan. “Make Your Voice Heard! You’re GenRiffic!” And I’ve had about enough of that already.).

In which direction ought one to go? Cheery, yet thoughtful? Trend-conscious, yet universal? Melancholy, yet… well, just this side of suicidal-ideation-inspiring? How the heck am I supposed to combine brassy Bollywood and heartrending post-folk on the same CD? And should I give in to the urge to plant a healthy dollop of Wu-Tang Clan right in the middle?

(Like that healthy dollop. Right in the middle it went.)

I’m guessing it must be universal, but it’s no less creepy for its universality: the power of music to affect your mood with just a handful of notes. Even divorced of any particular place/time memory, a song can soothe your heart or clench your fists, send you into a downward spiral or inspire you to kick up your heels and do a little dance. (Or, better yet, the Saucy Walk a la my sister, which I have been trying to teach to my kids the last few weeks. I can’t wait until they’re teenagers and I can embarrass the hell out of them by doing the Saucy Walk when I go pick them up at the mall. Heh heh heh.)

So I’m wondering a couple of things:

1. Is there a particular song that threatens to tear you up a bit every time you hear it, even if you’ve heard it a thousand times before? For me, it’s Nirvana’s “Something in the Way,” also, a little inexplicably, Radiohead’s “True Love Waits.” Am I alone in this weirdness?

2. Which sort of music do you like better: happy(ish) or sad(dish)?

3. If you could abandon whatever it is that you’re good at–making art, running a business, crafting artisanal goatmilk cheeses, imparting classical knowledge to your children–and be terrifically good at something else, would you? ‘Cos I would. In one half of one second, I would. So that I could make music.

Anyway, it looks like it’s going to be a double (but, sadly, not Double Live) CD, possibly. Heading out toward what, ten of you?, sometime in the next few weeks or as soon as I can scrape up postage. And make some more art. Hooray, art!

Oh yeah… so that “Double Live” can enter your family’s vocabulary, too:

About Molly Newman

Writer, cook and trivia/spelling bee hostess, living it up in North Portland.
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7 Responses to Happy, sad, self-doubt and the transformative power of music

  1. rae says:

    Delurking to nod to the universality. I’m a former music therapist, so that mood altering stuff was at one time my stock and trade. I gave it all up gladly, to effect my children’s mood, education, etc. Now I just use the “tricks” of music to teach my offspring – and soothe my own savage beast.

  2. Magpie Ima says:

    First off, with just a bit of discretion, Bollywood does with anything.
    And now, to answer your questions…..
    1. 40 by U2 because it was my brother’s favorite song.
    2. It totally depends on the moment and there’s no way I could choose between one or the other.
    3. Maybe. I kind of like the idea of not teaching and being, say, a self-supporting artist instead. But only if it didn’t turn into a grind.

  3. janet o says:

    Yeah, there is a song that does that to me every time…
    2. Happyish. Mostly.
    3. i am in the position where making music is what I do for a living – but I’d like to be more visually artistic and maybe a good writer, which I’m not. Or a better Word Twist player. heh.

  4. Herm says:

    I haven’t Saucy Walked in months. I think it’s time to pull it out of hibernation (it’s hard to be saucy in the summer swelter).

  5. Elizabeth says:

    1. Yes! Despite being an atheist, I’m a sucker for those old gospel-y songs, like Farther Along and Hard Times. And, anytime I sing with a group of people I get all choked up. Every single Sunday at church I can’t make it through at least one song we sing.
    2. It is hard to say whether I prefer happy(ish) or sad(ish)–I need them both, at different times.
    3. I can’t think of anything I’d rather be good at than the things I already am good (enough) at. Probably, I value and have worked at the things I love doing and don’t really love doing the things I’m not any good at. I’m just not that motivated to become a top-flight crafter! I do *love* playing music, but don’t really enjoy performing, so I don’t think I’d want to make a living at it, though I wouldn’t mind being a lot better than I am.

  6. 1. Oh so many, but let’s start with “Ventura,” “Little Green,” “Nightswimming,” “Famous Blue Raincoat.”
    2. Saddish, except on a sunny cold day.
    3. constitutional law/civil rights specialist

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