Friday, January 08, 2010

On the Darker Side of Songs

Still snowing here in the bleak and dying lands of Western Kentucky.  Another day of cold, frigid temperatures and harsh winds.  Roads covered with pure white and ugly, dirty brown.  The juxtaposition does not go unnoticed.  In something as clean and pristine as snow, the reality of life’s hard edge still exists.

If you’ve clicked on my profile then you know that I’m a fan of folk, bluegrass, and old-time music.  Some common motifs in many songs from these genres are murder, infidelity, death and dying, alcohol, drugs, theft, and any combination of these or other reprehensible things.  Not all of this kind of music is dark, but some of it is, and it’s these dark songs that often get wedged in my head.

Take Old Crow Medicine Show’s “Methamphetamine.”  The song has a hook that pulls you in and keeps your ears glued.  But I like the song because it’s real.  It’s raw.  It’s true.  It talks about how times are tough and surviving is hard.  But there’s a light for those in the song, and that light comes from selling/using meth.  The song doesn’t advocate using the deadly drug, but it points out the reality of our world.  And coming from a county often called “Methenberg Co.,” I know the devastating affects of this drug.

Or look at The Decemberists song “The Shankill Butchers.”  The dark mood of the song immediately struck a chord in me, forcing me to listen to what the singer was saying.  Then I found out that song was based on actual events, actual horrible murders, that took place in the 1970s in Belfast, Northern Ireland.  I knew about the conflicts between Ireland and Northern Ireland, but not like this.  This was eye opening.  This was how-can-people-be-so-cruel-gut-tearing.  This, again, was real. 

I guess the point I’m trying to make is that a lot of the songs I listen to come across as dark, terrible songs.  Like the white clean snow and the dirty, road-weary snow, this is how I see my life.  I’m not pure and holy, but I don’t necessarily think I’m a vile person, either.  So listening to these kinds of songs strike some as odd.

A large attraction to the dark songs is that their melody’s are often catchy and the music is pleasing.  But an even greater attraction is the Realism in the songs.  They have poignant, obvious life messages.  Don’t cheat on your spouse.  Don’t kill people just for the fun of it.  Don’t rob banks.  Be thankful and satisfied with your lot in this world.  In almost every outcome the guilt is unbearable and the aftermath is never worth it.  The heartache is never worth it.

I think these kinds of songs can be used to teach people/society lessons.  If a song can pack enough weight in its words and music, then maybe, just maybe, someone will be affected by it.  Songs are emotional things, after all, and so are (most) people, whether they show it or not.

In the end, dark songs are not the only songs I listen to, but that’s rather obvious, again, if you’ve looked at my profile and know the kinds of music I like.  But I do like songs that are real and honest, and I take what I get.  Mama pajama rolled out of bed and she ran to the police station

Random Bits and Pieces

  • Firefly disc one, containing the first three episodes, was amazing
  • Poker tourney tomorrow night
  • I’m finally able to buy monthly editions of STAR WARS Legacy comics
  • I’m thankful for Diet Mtn. Dew, Tea, and Coffee
  • I’ve not had much free time to read lately
  • Stella does NOT like the snow


Stephanie Fey said...

That's the deepest and most fascinating and rewarding post I've read from you yet, my good friend. I loved it. Honest, profound and stimulating. Feel very free to let that side of you out whenever you like. I, for one, am more than happy to read it!

Now, to read your poetry! Onwards, Steph Fey, onwards!

Oh, The Decembrists - I love that band.

Steph Fey x

logankstewart said...

@Steph: Thank you very much for the comment. Honesty is a priority in life, and it should be in song, too, I say.

Kristopher A. Denby said...

I'll have to go back and give this the attention it deserves when I'm not on lunch. I have listened to some of the Decemberists stuff and really enjoy it. They come up all the time on my Knopfler Pandora station.

Have you check him out yet?

logankstewart said...

@Denby: I only recently discovered The Decemberists (thanks NPR!), but I love 'em. And aye, I have a Knopfler Pandora station now, too, that I'm enjoying. Thanks for the suggestion.

David Wagner said...

Logan for President!

They used to have the entire Firefly series available to watch on Hulu, but now they rotate through 5 episodes for some reason... they get to the whole series ultimately, but they add a new one and take off the oldest every Monday. Odd way to do it.

I watched a couple episodes of the series, but it really didn't do much for me. Dangit, I wish I liked Sci-Fi more, but I just don't...

John Stewart had a great interview with George Lucas on Monday - you can find that one Hulu as well, Logan, if you want.

Good thoughts on dark music.

Onward and upward!

logankstewart said...

@David: Oh man, Firefly has been awesome. It's like a science-fiction-western-fantasy mix that I'm loving, complete with Nathan Filion!

Yeah, I read about that interview. Haven't got a chance to watch it yet, but thanks for reminding me.