Thursday, December 13, 2012

On music: Sadstalgia

Sadstalgia - noun - the alluring depression felt when thinking about certain music, films, books, or people. "I was up all night listening to the second Counting Crows album and wallowing in sadstalgia."

Like many people, I have an emotional relationship to music. Perhaps it was the years of oldies radio my mom listened to when I was a kid. Or the years of Kenny G, Sade, James Taylor, Patsy Cline, and Whitney Houston my mom also listened to. Constantly. Maybe it's because of all the times my best friend Scott and I listened to Metallica in fourth grade. Or how my sister leant me that Faith No More tape and said "I'm not sure I like it" but then realized she did like it and I liked it and how could you not like it?

Nostalgia is a perfectly good word for fond memories, but I feel like it's not quite accurate when it comes to the experience I have when listening to certain albums/songs. As someone who's long suffered from depression, I've got many, many songs that spark a solid, crystalline sadness when I hear them. Sometimes there are particular people associated with the music (past crushes, lost friends) sometimes events (long road trips, summer vacations).

I feel that Sadstalgia is a nerdy way to talk about those pieces of music (or books, movies, people) that cause me to feel a vibrating tightness in the bottom half of my heart. It's sadness but the kind I can get near without being damaged -- as if time has applied a layer of protection from the pain radioactivity still pulsing outward from those potent moments of my youth. Douglas Coupland's Life After God describes this potency of certain memories most effectively:
I thought of this: I thought of how every day each of us experiences a few little moments that have just a bit more resonance than other moments—we hear a word that sticks in our mind—or maybe we have a small experience that pulls us out of ourselves, if only briefly—we share a hotel elevator with a bride in her veils, say, or a stranger gives us a piece of bread to feed to the mallard ducks in the lagoon; a small child starts a conversation with us in a Dairy Queen[...]
And if we were to collect these small moments in a notebook and save them over a period of months we would see certain trends emerge from our collection—certain voices would emerge that have been trying to speak through us. We would realize that we have been having another life altogether; one we didn’t even know was going on inside us. And maybe this other life is more important than the one we think of as being real—this clunky day-to-day world of furniture and noise and metal. So just maybe it is these small silent moments which are the true story-making events of our lives. [quote taken from Goodreads]
Sadstalgia is the feeling you get when you don't want to go back to the time associated with something, and even you've been reminded of that time and have moved far enough past it to not be dragged down too deeply into a destructive sadness.

So, in that joyous spirit, here are a list of my Sadstalgia albums:

Bloodletting by Concrete Blonde -- Most severely felt in the opening track, that moody, bass-bouncing opening I most readily associate with the era my sister read tons of Anne Rice and I was just getting tired of Stephen King even though The Dark Half kinda kicked ass. Most potent moment: "You were a vampire and now I'll never see the lie-ee-ii-ee-ii-ee-ight!"

Recovering the Satellites by Counting Crows -- Freshmen year of college, particularly the first semester. Most potent sadstalgia: opening notes of either title track or "A Long December." Dear god, I feel it. DEAR GOD.
No Adam Duritz! NO!!!!
Parachutes & b-sides by Coldplay -- makes me think of a particular girl and the Northeast extension of the PA turnpike, which I had to drive to see her. In some ways, it's best if I don't listen to Coldplay at all, but when I hear any of their early songs I'm thrown into the moment of driving at night on a road where the exits are 20 miles apart (what is WRONG with you Pennsylvania?!) Most potent song: "See You Soon"
"See You Soon" by Coldplay

"Protected from the Rain" by Grandaddy -- this b-side sends me to an overseas business trip I took in 2002. Not a dense feeling of sadness as much as disconnection because I was far from home for two weeks and full of anxiety. Most potent moment: "that poem you left on my windshield wrapped in plastic to protect it from the rain...protect it from the rain..."

The River Runs Red by Life of Agony -- this hardcore-ish concept album has some of the most horrible between-song skits that are supposed to tell the story of a teenager with a shitty life who ends up killing himself by the end of the album. The songs, however, are more well done. Still, this album puts me right back into a particular winter with a pile of Marvel comics that I re-read obsessively. Most potent moment: First 40 seconds of "River Runs Red."

Vulgar Display of Power by Pantera -- school bus and crappy headphones for a walkman cassette player (I'm old). While Far Beyond Driven and Cowboys from Hell also got tons of my attention back in the early nineties, this album has that perfect balance of guitar solo nastiness and control and aggressive that triggers my sadstalgia feeling. Most potent sadstalgia: the "1-2-3-4!" opening to "Fucking Hostile" right up to the chorus (i.e., first 40 seconds).

Bringing Down the Horse by The Wallflowers -- as a testament to my random musical taste, I include the two songs that haunted me for years from the summer before I went to college. It was a rough year! Potency overload thanks to life changes and summer relationship and anxieties and really catchy choruses: "One Headlight" and "6th Avenue Heartache."

Last three tracks on Third Eye Blind's debut album -- these songs still have the power to knock me for a loop and I'm still not 100% sure why. I didn't like this band until I saw them in concert (I went with my cousin simply because Our Lady Peace was the opening act). But then I heard these songs on the album and something about them -- I have no idea. Was it a girl? Was it depression? Was it life changes? Was it some hidden code that only reveals itself if you listen to the songs backwards 666 times? Who knows. Most potent sadstalgia: Pretty much the entire three tracks are poison and yet I've listened to them countless times because I enjoy causing myself existential pain.