Tuesday, November 22, 2011

When Every Single Word Makes Sense*

"People worry about kids playing with guns, and teenagers watching violent videos; we are scared that some sort of culture of violence will take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands--literally thousands--of songs about broken hearts and rejection and pain and misery and loss. The unhappiest people I know, romantically speaking, are the one who like pop music the most; and I don't know whether pop music has caused this unhappiness, but I do know that they've been listening to sad songs longer than they've been living unhappy lives."

~~Nick Hornby

One rainy Saturday afternoon when I was fifteen or sixteen, my father walked into the living room to find me sitting next to the stereo near tears, staring soulfully into the distance singing along with some whiny, sappy pop song.

He took one look at my pathetic self and said, "You know, sometimes when you're feeling down, music like that makes it worse."

I hate to admit that I briefly wondered in that moment if my father even had a heart. How could he not understand that, as Elton John put it, "it feels so good to hurt so bad*" and knowing there were other people out there who had felt the same way at least long enough to write or sing a pop song was the most delicious sort of company for my misery?

It wasn't until I was watching my own daughter at fifteen or sixteen mooning over the desperate lyrics of her favorite songs, unable to answer a question without her voice cracking when she was in that mood, that I started to really have chicken-egg questions regarding the music of misery.

From the mom perspective, it certainly did not appear as though the music was in any way improving Daughter-Only's mood. In fact, it appeared exactly as though she was wallowing in her misery to the accompaniment of this music that was so depressing that even half a chorus half overheard had the power to make me cranky. I'll admit that on more than one occasion, I blurted, "How can this music possibly help?"

Then Daughter-Only would say out loud the things I had only said to my dad in my head: "Don't be stupid. These songs don't put me in a bad mood. They make me feel better because they match my mood."

Eventually, I remembered that "wallowing" was a word my mother used with some frequency to describe what it was she thought I was doing. And after I recovered from that wave of oh-crap-I've-turned-all-the-way-into-my-mother, I remembered just for a minute what it was like to be a teenaged girl, to have feelings so big that you can barely process them and instead of running away from them, you surround yourself with them, by cranking up the volume and singing along.

*From "Sad Songs Say So Much" by Elton John and Bernie Taupin


  1. Confession of a 40-year-old: occasionally, when I'm alone and feeling angsty, I still listen (and sing along) to the Smiths...loudly.

  2. I've been on both sides of this. These days, I'm far more likely to blast music that improves my mood, but there really is something to be said for the stuff that promotes wallowing.

    This reminded me of an episode of The Cosby Show when one of the daughters was writing poor-me teenage poetry. :O)

  3. I was just thinking about that quote from High Fidelity the other day! Love it. I must admit that even as an adult, I still listen to some pretty mopey stuff. Good for you, Mom, for remembering what that wallowing is like!

  4. Wait. You mean I as a *cough41cough* year old Mom, I am supposed to not listen to the same song over and over, feeling a bit weepy?

    Well, drat.

  5. It's good to know I'm not alone in my occasional adult wallowing. It may not be entirely healthy, but like a lot of allegedly unhealthy things, it has its rewards. :)

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