Even when life is good, overwhelmingly good, I can still get melancholy. I fixate on one thing that is lacking, that is hard, that isn’t going according to my plan. When I’m in this kind of mood, all the good things in my life recede into the background and the thing that is causing me pain takes center stage, monopolizing my thoughts and emotions.
If I’m keeping busy, I can temporarily forget about the pain. Things like being with my family, teaching music lessons, recording music or working on a video, practicing clarinet or piano, they help. I am more or less able to be present in those moments, to savor the joy and the chaos that is my life.
It’s the down time that’s problematic. When the kids are at school and the baby is sleeping, when I have nothing more to occupy my mind than domestic work, that’s when it’s hard not to slip into a pattern of thinking obsessively about something that’s been plaguing me.
If left unchecked, I can think about it for hours, working myself up into a state of agitation, of anxiety. I will rehash conversations that went off the rails. I will beat myself up for not making a different choice that would’ve perhaps led to a better outcome. I will review and review and review what happened and I won’t get anything out of it except more anguish.
Sounds fun, right?
While I completely agree with Brookelynne that we shouldn’t ignore the darkness in life, that we should embrace it and not be afraid of it, I have an unhealthy tendency to let it dominate me if I’m not careful. Something that helps me modify my emotional state is listening to music.
Not just any music, mind you, but songs full of the melancholy I’m feeling in my heart. Songs that let me revel in it, but that add the beauty and power found in good music. That helps kick my emotions back into some sort of equilibrium.
Here are some of the songs that work for me. They will speak to you in a different way, I’m sure, since we all have our own emotional layers to experiencing music. Feel free to share which songs work for you.
Ah, Dylan. His uncomplicated yet potent music serves as a fitting backdrop for his lyrical genius. Amid the heartbreak of this song, the following words shine brightly as a reminder of what I want to focus on in life, not on the dreck, but on the love:
“Love is all there is, it makes the world go ‘round. Love and only love, it can’t be denied.”
I love what McCartney does with the guitar in this song. The accidentals and passing tones create a fabulous sense of tension that adds depth to what would otherwise be a simple folk song style. When the lyrics mention taking broken wings and learning to fly with them, it evokes a sense of making the impossible possible. Which would be mighty nice sometimes.
I had forgotten about this one, honestly. It popped up as a suggested song when I was putting together this playlist, and I was thrilled to rediscover it. On the surface, it just seems like a lovely recollection of a nice day spent with a loved one. But the music behind the innocent-sounding verses gives them a melancholy air. And certainly the final lyrics of the song, “you’re going to reap just what you sow,” is a sober way to finish. Which is fabulous.
In the immediately post-college period in my life, I basically had OK Computer on permanent repeat. It was very difficult to pick just one song from this album; they’re all so good. I picked this one because (a) I love the idea of karma police, and of karma in general (b) The line “this is what you’ll get when you mess with us.” Oh, how many times have I used a version of line in my head to make myself feel more powerful (c) The line “for a minute there, I lost myself.” That’s how I feel when I get caught in a circle of obsessive thinking.
I started listening to the Pixies in college mainly because people who I perceived as cooler than me listened to them. I don’t think it made me any cooler, but I did really like their music, so I count that as a win. There’s a quirkiness to their music which appeals to my inner quirkiness. This song serves as a reminder to not let my mind wander off on its own into dark corners and get stuck there. Plus I like the guitar line at the beginning and ending.
When I was in high school, I bought Billy Joel’s Greatest Hits, which came in a double CD. That seemed like a really big deal at the time. I listened to it incessantly, even bringing it with me to band camp. Joel reminds me of Dylan in the way he works with lyrics, though musically his songs tend to be more complex, which I enjoy. This song is here because it just breaks my heart. Breaks it. And we have to break to build sometimes.
This is the only song on the list which is from my recent life experience. I only discovered Zusha a few months ago and they quickly rose to the top of music I enjoy. Whenever I’m feeling stressed or overwhelmed, I put on one of their albums and sing as loud as I can, and then I feel better. I play them a lot Friday afternoon, too, to get into the mood of Shabbat. This song starts the upward trajectory of this playlist and of my mood. It’s cleansing and uplifting, ‘cause, you know, when Moshiach is here pain goes away.
This song has so much movement to it, which aligns nicely with the lyrics. Everything is moving, and at this point in the playlist, I’m moving away from my negative thinking and I’m tapping my feet and probably dancing a little bit, too.
During my childhood, my dad always had the oldies station on in his car (of course, now the oldies are ancient, and music from my era are oldies. Freaky). I don’t know much about CCR, but I definitely heard this song in my dad’s car, and I have a strongly positive association with it. I love how this song feels upbeat and simple and cheerful, but the lyrics refer to the way good things and hard things co-exist. It can be a sunny day and yet there still can be rain. And that’s okay.