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30 songs in (almost) 30 days: day 22

June 19, 2011

day 22 – a song that you listen to when you’re sad: Tim Buckley, “Blue Melody”

Like yesterday’s happy songs, I had a lot of options for this one too. I often use music to manipulate my own emotions. I have playlists organized by mood. It’s easy for me to index “sad.”

When I’m sad, I apparently like a good acoustic/folk song. There’s Rufus Wainwright’s setting of a portion of the Catholic Mass, “Agnus Dei,” for instance:

I first wrote a little bit about this song in 2008 in response to a mix Dr. Geek sent me that included it. Wainright’s take on the Mass setting is fascinating and the sound world, borrowing heavily from both Western and Eastern religious musical traditions (including a nod to Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings, which I mentioned earlier in this meme as a song that makes me sad), he creates is really fantastic.

I also considered Lisa Gerrard’s (formerly of Dead Can Dance) “Sanvean,” which has some similar cross-cultural tendencies, albeit more submerged in its own aural aesthetic:

I wrote extensively about this song, specifically about it’s use in a post-9/11 episode of The West Wing way back in 2003.

I also considered Gordon Lightfoot’s “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” although really this is sadder for the people in the audience when you bring out your guitar and start playing it: it’s loud, it has 4 chords, and 90 gazillion verses that all sound the same. If that doesn’t make them cry, I don’t know what will.

And then I remembered that this category isn’t actually about a sad song. It’s about a song you listen to when you’re sad. And then there was one obvious choice: Tim Buckley’s “Blue Melody”:

This isn’t actually the saddest version of this song. This one comes off his album Blue Afternoon (1969). My favorite is the one I heard on the radio driving home late one night. It comes from his Live at the Troubadour(1969) album and I can’t seem to find an online source. You’ll have to track it down yourself. It was the perfect song for driving down a long lonely highway.

Buckley’s voice sounds like raw and honest emotion to me. It’s a voice that has the potential to transcend genre and style. It’s haunting and his songs use it to its advantage.

The lyrics to this song are sad, but it’s the sound that makes me want to listen to it when I am sad. I’m not looking to get sadder, just to put my sadness to good use, to find some catharsis or redemption. This song fits the bill for me.

I like the jazz-influenced recording on Blue Afternoon. But I love The Live at the Troubadour version of “Blue Melody.” It’s just Buckley’s voice, acoustic guitar, lead electric guitar, and a little mellow percussion to keep it moving. The acoustic is dry as a bone – no reverb of any kind. There’s nowhere for that voice to hide. Lucky it doesn’t need to. His pitch is perfect, his control, sliding into notes like “one summer morning” is exquisite. I just listened to three versions of it in a row and I’m still not done. He somehow gets both lightness and richness in his voice while still sounding utterly natural. I can’t get enough.

Tim’s own life is the saddest song of all. He died at 28 of a drug overdose, leaving behind his son, Jeff Buckley, best known for his performance of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” which will be coming up here in a day or two. Jeff Buckley himself died far too young, accidentally drowned at the age of 31. The personal tragedies associated with the song may add a little to its sadness, but when I first heard the song on the radio, I didn’t know any of that. I didn’t even know the name of the singer. I just knew the sound of that lonely voice filling up my car on a dark night. I pulled over to the side of the road, dug an envelope out of my purse, and scribbled down the lyrics as fast as I could. When I looked up a deer was peering in the passenger side window. We stared at each other for a minute before it took off, back into the woods. It seemed like a sign of something, of what I wasn’t sure. But when I got home, I got on the computer and tracked down the song.

What songs do you listen to when you are sad? Do you like songs that help you wallow or songs that cheer you up? How hard will you try to find a song you hear by chance?

2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 19, 2011 8:56 pm

    Tim Buckley’s Song To The Siren gets me every time. And if I really want to cry, I listen to The Statler Bros. version of Shenandoah, which was a favorite of my dad’s.

  2. June 19, 2011 9:21 pm

    Those are both excellent choices as well. I just love Buckley’s voice. I wish he’d made more recordings.

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