day 04 – a song that makes you sad

And we’re inside the last 5, and hopefully tonight’s is the last one that’ll sneak in right before that 00:00 deadline, as I wave goodbye to the deadlines of academia.

R.E.M. – Nightswimming

It seems weird, given how attached I am to pop music, but there’s very little that can make me sad, that can bring that lump to the throat like, say, cinema. I might use music when I’m sad, but it’s unusual that an emotion will just hit me out of nowhere.

I think that’s an immersion thing. I talked, with Fitter Happier, about an experience that led to the purist values where I think music should be dipped into, in isolation. But I rarely do it, and when an album holds you for 40 minutes, the end is rarely suddenly an emotional kicker. There’s something more like release, for me, at the end of most albums.

I’ve been writing a lot, in my academic career, about narrative recently, but I think I really do need that for the emotional kick. If I hadn’t already written about them, this could have easily been about The Libertines: I find the narrative of Carl and Pete heart-rending, and it was always central to my enjoyment of their work.

The lyrical meaning I grab onto in Nightswimming* isn’t anything particularly sad. I’m a simple man, and I just get: it’s about skinny-dipping. But then it pulls that trick that pop music does so well, and in just its presentation, through the sounds of the instruments and the way Michael Stipe’s voice strains**, it sounds nostalgic and tired and scared, and it makes me go … if not throat-lumpy, then just quiet.

Like most music that’s considered sad, it’s also beautiful (see: The Arcade Fire, who this post was very nearly about). I find it incredibly calming, which I know sadness rarely is. My memories of the song – in bed with Imi, drunkenly trying to sleep in a friend’s too-small car – are happy.

But, if it hits me just right, Nightswimming can manages to do this thing, that music so rarely does for me. Why, after a day of banging my head against my choices, I came up with this, is one of the mysteries of music. And that just starts making me joyful again…

*Though Miles informs me it might actually be about AIDS. That is quite sad, isn’t it? Oops.

Leave a Reply