If you’ve been following my “Song of the Month” segment, you’ve probably noticed by now that I don’t exactly listen to a lot of happy music. Even the songs I listen to that do sound peppy and upbeat at first glance usually have crushingly dark lyrics.
You may find it strange or even unhealthy that I spend so much time listening to music that is so full of pain and heartbreak, but the fact is sad music makes me feel good. And there’s a reason for that, a reason that cuts to the heart of my artistic sensibilities and perhaps even includes a bit of a life lesson.
I don’t think happiness and sadness are really opposites. Or at least not in the sense that they cancel each other out. You can feel both at the same time.
Some of my happiest memories are from some of the unhappiest times in my life. Despair has a way of reminding you what really matters, and allowing you to appreciate the beauty in life.
I currently have about 230 songs on my MP3 player. Of those, the only one that predates 1990 is Bad Moon Rising by Credence Clearwater Revival. It’s not exactly a happy song to begin with, but it’s especially sad for me.
For whatever reason, Bad Moon Rising was in heavy rotation on my father’s favourite classic rock station around the time my parents were divorcing. Thus that song has always been associated with one of the most painful periods of my life (my parents splitting up wasn’t the only thing going wrong at that point).
Choosing to regularly revisit a song with such painful associations may seem masochistic, but it reminds me that I survived that time. It was horrible, but I’m still here. There were good times after that, and hopefully there are still good times to come.
It also reminds me that as painful as that time was, it was also a time when I did a lot of growing as a person. It was a time when I was exposed to many wonderful new places and new experiences, and it helped shape my life for years to come in very positive ways.
And therein lies the appeal of sad songs. Music that manages to be both sorrowful and beautiful reminds me that even in the darkest moments there is still the potential for growth, and discovery, and beauty.
I apply a similar sensibility when it comes to story-telling, both my own and that of others. As I’ve said before, I enjoy dark stories, but it needs to be done right. You need to be able to still find the moments of warmth and joy even in the darkest story. Stories where nothing bad happens are boring, but so are stories that spend all their time wallowing in awfulness.
My favourite stories therefore are not the ones that make me happy, nor the ones that make me sad. They’re the ones that do both at once. The ones that really stick with me are those that can still find grace and hope in the darkest moments, or fill you with such joy it makes your heart hurt.
Because in the end, that’s what life is about. You take the good with the bad. Even when everything is seemingly going well, regrets and insecurities can rise up to swallow you, and even when everything seems hopeless, you can still find little moments of peace and beauty to lessen your burdens and put a smile on your face.