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why write sad, depressing, angst?


wwwjd

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watching the world eat itself up mentally and emotionally by constant consumption of "negativity" is hard enough, without also wearing a song writers cap, knowing I'm adding to the steaming pile.

 

Why do we write songs of angst?

 

Hollywood RARELY can sell a depressing movie or one with a negative ending. It's box office DOOM for them 9 out of 10 times, and they know it. They KNOW people want to watch someone triumph in the end, the bad guy get theirs, and the good people live happily ever after. Why isn't that the same for music? Or, maybe it SHOULD be but no one is stepping up to the plate, staying in the comfort zone of suicided artists from the past and the whole north western caused grundge thing.

 

Yes, life can suck sometimes, but why are we [us songwriters] enabling it by bringing that sludge to the surface and spreading the anti-joy? This doesn't make any sense to me. Maybe it's personal therapy? Would any of you CHOOSE ON PURPOSE to sit in a therapy session and listen to some other human's problems... over and over and over and over again?

 

The 40s 50s 60s and maybe even the 70 had lots of good music released because it was GOOD MUSIC. Positive role models, happy endings... sure there were some negative moments, but I believe if you averaged thing on a spreadsheet, the positive would outweigh the negative ones 4 to 1.

 

Are YOU up to it? Can you tackle the monumental task of making good stuff instead of enabled, depressing, "Life Sucks then we die" angst song material?

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Depressing images haunt us. The best paintings are depressing. The best stories are depressing. The greatest songs are depressing. We look, listen, and absorb them and come away feeling connected to somebody in pain. It's much harder to connect to happiness imo.

I'm not referring to "life sucks and I want to die material". That's too simple. I'm referring to songs like The River-springsteen, Hurt (nin but covered brilliantly as a haunting last word by Johnny Cash, Southern Accents by Tom Petty which manages to display depression, isolation, longing, and happiness about the same thing.

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I agree, yet disagree. You opinions are, of course, valid and fair. But I think we are bred to connect with the depressing stuff, simply due to lack of positive stuff.

Yes, we all can connect with the "yeah, I know how THAT is" feeling of hurt or lost loves, what have you, but if you've ever connected with the uppidy songs, they are just as powerful - we're just not used to that anymore, because as a society, that's gone or going away. And that is wrong. It's like how abused children continue through life seeking abuse as justification that their [abused] world is normal. Same deal. And we, as songwriters, are selling the abuse.

 

There are some feel good country [not a fan] songs out there, and they connect wonderfully. I suppose country is a good example of some non-angst driven material.

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If you refer to music history often times the mood of the tunes reflect socio-economic situations-- I'd would have been hard pressed I would imagin in the 60's and 70's with all the feel good drugs running around to write gloomy stuff.

Sadly enough I think it shows the real side of most musicians ones who probably spend their time in a room or basement isolated from people to play music all the while leaving themselves isolated from the rest of the world.

I dont really have an answer- but for some reason moments of stress, disapointment or devistating situations usually seems to pull some new song idea or melodic guitar part that enivitably turns into some gloomy tune.

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I don't generally write about positive things, because if I have them, I have no need to exorcise them. If I have negative things, I want them out, so I write about them.

 

But occasionally I will write something positive, i.e. if I'm in love -- because I love that person so much, I am motivated to write about it.

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A bunch of reasons:

 

Life and art are about more than feeling good and partying.

 

Sometimes it's good just to know other people can feel as bad as you do and go on living.

 

And sometimes, who can say why, a good, really depressing song about unredeemed sadness just makes you feel better, somehow.

 

 

With regard to the music of the past, ever hear of a little genre called the blues?

 

The 30s was when the blues first blew up into a full-blown popular music form... Before swing there was a wave of mainstream popularity of blues and torch singing that launched some of the vocalists who helped dominate the swing era, like Billie Holiday, who knew her way around a sad song, you bet.

 

And before and after that, there were plenty of popular songs in many genres that featured cheating, loss, crippling nostalgia, and, one of the favorites of popular music through the centuries: murder.

 

 

With regard to movies: maybe the movies you see all have happy endings. Not me. I like a movie with a little meat on its bones. I like happy endings -- but I get tired of pablum -- especially the stuff the studios pump out today. If I want mindless entertainment, I'll go for the screwball comedies of the 30s and 40s, thanks, and leave most of today's fluff to the fluff-brained masses. (God love 'em.)

 

 

And with regard to what might be regarded as a surplus of sorrowful songs... I can think of some genres where sadness seems like a hackneyed caricature -- kind of like how all those black metal bands have to have sex-with-the-dead in all their songs.

 

But, you know, all the little lumps of dough run up to the Big Cookie Cutter and jump under, trying to be like all the other little lumps of dough trying to be like their heroes of the moment (some of whom might just have had an original idea at some point, you never know). But, anyhow, that's how the convergence of people making systematic studies of 'how to make it in the music biz' and today's fluid cyber media works out, I guess. I could see the roots of that in some of the classes I took and articles I started seeing emerging with detailed how to's on making it back in the 80s. Once that kind of thinking and the collected information (books, lecture series, et al) started hitting the net and then getting Xerox-cultured out over and over in various permutations, the rest was probably more or less inevitable.

 

 

Anyhow, where were we?

 

Oh yeah, depressing songs.

 

 

When I'm really, really down... typically when I've been sick for awhile and it's been raining for what seems like weeks... I'll put on the Cure's "Hanging Gardens" and wait for him to scream, "I will never be clean again." At least, I think that's what he screams... it's been a while since I was that down. The rest of the time, I basically can't put that record on...

 

;)

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it's tempting to sum up an "era" in one or two words

 

yes, the 60's and 70's had bouncy, upbeat music, so did the 80's the 90s and this decade (just turn on a pop/top 40 station)

 

all those decades also had angst, with, just to name a few, Leonard Cohen, Bruce Springsteen, Joy Division, Nirvana, and Radiohead stepping up to the bat for the "Gloom and Doom" team

 

generally speaking, you don't go to a night club looking for angst nor do you put on a Cat Powers c.d. to feel good and dance around some

 

as in all decades, there's all sorts of writers out there putting out all sorts of music for all sorts of target audiences

 

i just happen to fall in the "gloom and doom" category. i don't chose to write that way, it's just what comes out. as my wife says, even when i write about something happy there are storm clouds in the horizon

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There is, of course, room for both happy and sad music, frequently by the same artist, often on the same album, and once in a while, even in the same song (A Fairytale of New York, by the Pogues, comes to mind).

 

I don't necessarily think current music is dominated by sad or angry music, even. I quick look at the five top songs on the Billboard Chart shows:

1. Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)

2. Just Dance

3. Live Your Life

4. Heartless

5. Love Story

 

Perhaps sadly or perhaps fortunately, I've never heard any of those songs, but based on the titles only #4 seems to be a negative song.

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songs out there, and they connect wonderfully. I suppose country is a good example of some non-angst driven material.

 

 

I'm going to soak up the sun

 

doesn't have quite the effect as

 

I know I'm dead on the surface, but I am screaming underneath!

 

I don't think that comes from how we were raised. I think that comes from the fact that happiness is common... it's easy to go outside and take a deep breath with a huge smile on your face and go to the beach and have fun. That takes no emotional investment to write either.. and none to listen to.

 

 

That said, there are some happy songs that have great emotional lyrics. The majority are cheesey though imo.

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as in all decades, there's all sorts of writers out there putting out all sorts of music for all sorts of target audiences


i just happen to fall in the "gloom and doom" category. i don't chose to write that way, it's just what comes out. as my wife says, even when i write about something happy there are storm clouds in the horizon

 

 

AMEN~ ++1

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To echo Eclepto Funk's words, I too seem to fall in the "gloom and doom" category. I simply can't write a happy song. Partly because when I'm happy, I don't really feel like writing, it's not an introspective time. Too busy being happy. Even when I sometimes try to write when I'm happy, it makes me feel less happy in a way because writing forces me to think about things on more than the surface level, and the songs become twisted.

 

Maybe that's just me, or my type of person. But seeing as the issue of the prevalence of this type of music in today's society was put forward, maybe some thoughts on that should be in order. The "happy" songs today seem very artificial and pretty much mind-numbing, they don't seem to display any true form of happiness, but some distraction and a "good time" at best (my knowledge of today's music though is hardly extensive, so if I'm wrong please correct me. If you have any songs that you find to cover true happiness, please let me know). And indeed "angsty" songs seem to be on the rise.

 

Maybe it's just a passing phase in music? It may well be, but I don't find that intuitively correct. I think it reflects the world we're living today, particularly as young people. With the {censored} that is going on, and the level to which we're being made aware of them, it's increasingly difficult to really be happy. At least I find this to be the case, perhaps it is just me. I used the term "true happiness" earlier, and it got me wondering at what it really means. An unachievable illusion created in the plethora of Hollywood films? I'm not sure if the "ideal life" or "true happiness" concept of today is really qualitatively different from the preceding generations. Any thoughts?

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Happiness and joy are like laughter. You can't manufacture these things. Many of us have been caught in the unpleasant position of having to politely 'fake laugh' at someone's joke or anecdote even when we don't think it's funny. Half the time, the other person knows you're just humoring them.

 

True laughter takes us by surprise, and maybe happiness/joy does too. Can you plan to be happy? So how do you write a positive song without being in that positive state? If you try to write positive when you're not in a good mood, don't you think people can tell you're faking it?

 

Somehow it's easier to recreate a downbeat mood without even trying. (Now it's true that some people are clearly posing when they they're trying to seem depressed or angry or sad etc.) At least that's what I'm getting from most who have responded here so far. Are we all depressed people most of the time? Maybe, I dunno.

 

When we turn to the past and say "well they wrote more happy tunes back then", I wonder if this is just a function of music-making going from a communal act to a solitary one. Way back when, people were in big bands, hanging out in clubs, getting drunk together etc. The sense of community fed the positive energy, the laughter. Nowadays, it's one or two guys staring at a DAW in a dark basement...the solitude just promotes the wallowing in negativity.

 

(Also, some of those happy tunes from the olden days were written for musicals - a genre more likely to lapse into sentimentality and fake happy endings and so on...)

 

These are just my random thoughts on the subject. I don't think I've ever written a positive song. I'd like to be able to. When a positive song is written well, it's a beautiful thing.

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Hollywood RARELY can sell a depressing movie or one with a negative ending. It's box office DOOM for them 9 out of 10 times, and they know it. They KNOW people want to watch someone triumph in the end, the bad guy get theirs, and the good people live happily ever after. Why isn't that the same for music?

 

Hang on, since when is all the mchappymeal {censored}e that Hollywood keeps churning out a good thing? You want music to be more predictable like that? To follow a "happy" no loose ends no afterthought needed formula? Hollywood takes no chances and makes stories for the huddled masses because it wants to make a profit, not create art, and the majority of people in the audience don't want to think about anything too deeply. These happy endings you like so much do not contribute to a happy world outside the theatre, maybe they even serve to extract joy from real life with their unrealistic values and outcomes. Great films, like great music, do not stem from an attempt to appeal to the lowest common denominator. You answered your own question right there with the perfect parallel...:facepalm:

 

 

Maybe you just want to feel happy all the time and think the world is a big superfunhappyslide? The world is as full of pain as it is of joy(quite possibly more so), I see it every day in every face. You want to live in a bubble where the worlds troubles can't bring you down? You live in the west at the top of the foodchain, the vast majority of people in this world are not afforded the same luxuries as you are.

 

I'm all for positivity, but I gotta say your original post just baffles me no end, why shouldn't there be balance between good and bad? One without the other has no meaning, it becomes shallow and taken for granted. Without pain how would you ever be able to appreciate pleasure?

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Lots to respond to here.

 

First off, songwriters write about what they are feeling. If they are feeling sad, you're saying they should tack on a happy ending anyway, because "it's wrong" not to?

 

Second, any songwriter who primarily writes "life sucks and then we die" songs probably isn't a very good songwriter. Yeah, grunge was popular at one point, but that whole movement was sort of a reaction to what came before, which was basically an overabundance of hair metal songs about drinking and partying and getting laid. I don't the whole mope rock thing is really as popular or effective anymore. Nowadays, if you use the charts as a barometer, I think there's probably an equal amount of happy and sad songs. Depends on what you choose to listen to.

 

Also, comparing songs to movies isn't really an apt comparison, because the objectives are different. With movies, you're basically trying to tell a story with a beginning middle and end, and you've got about two hours to fit everything in there.

 

With songs, which are generally only 3 or 4 minutes long, it's more about conveying a mood or feeling, or moment in time. It would probably be more accurate to compare a song with just one scene in a movie, rather than an entire movie. Usually songs are either happy or sad all the way through. Suddenly changing mood at the end from sad to happy would generally be too jarring a shift.

 

Finally, I must mention that I find it interesting how many people say they write when they are feeling down. I'm the opposite. If something's bothering me, the last thing I feel like doing is sitting down and writing a song. Probably why I'm not as productive as I'd like to be. I find it much easier when my head is reasonably clear, so I can concentrate. That's not to say I write mostly happy songs. My songs generally have a cynical mood to them. If I wrote a truly happy song, it would feel contrived, because that's just not how I am.

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Lots of very, very, VERY good feedback, peoples. Thanks for that. Exactly the style of responses I wanted to read on this topic. I use Hollywood as an example because they do hold to a positive standard: people WILL pay money to be entertained with happy, possibly unrealistic endings. It is profitable. Yes, sad songs have their place for sure, and I wasn't trying to eliminate ALL non positive music, I just feel there should be more non-negative tunes. Not everything is about profit and I understand that. But everybody says, "in a perfect world..." I say it's up to US to help build foundations for that world. Or at least AIM in that direction to TRY to achieve that. Happy [or non-negative] music could help. It's universal. The "News" sure isn't doing anything to help. I've not watched "News" for about 5 years and that has reconditioned me to SEE how much negativity we are constantly bombarded with under the false reasoning that we need to know everything. We don't.

 

As Prince once stated: [about our depressing world condition]

Is art immitating life, or is LIFE immatating ART?

 

Life does immitate art more than it should.... especially during crappy times - like everyone keeps telling me we are in.

 

Cool, rsadasiv, made it the Challenge thing. I'm tooling up 2-3 songs right now that might fit. They are not all happy joy joy songs, but they are not about negativity.

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Sad songs have their place and I indeed write em to get that load of shirt offen me chestal areas.

Sometimes life sucks and then folkes you LOVE die.

Some of us(you) are BORN WINNERS and others are doomed to lose, everything.

 

I admit I'm a BORN loser.

lose-ing things you've grown to love SUCKS.

LOSER hispeed link

 

LOSER: original words and music by ar-ell Spencer aug 31 2002

 

NOW I would not complain

against the falling rain

nor against the sun that warms us so well

 

Though I must draw a line

when it comes right down to

who must win or lose

 

Now no one says it's fair...

Me? no I would not dare

not something I would choose...

 

Oh I'm a loser

and losers never win...

simple truths my friends.

oh I'm a loser

Oh I'm the loseing kind

I lose everything I find

 

be a winner

babies be a winner

win while there's still time

be a winner

babies be a winner

learn to win while there's still time

 

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...look at the five top songs on the
:

1. Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)

2. Just Dance

3. Live Your Life

4. Heartless

5. Love Story


Perhaps sadly or perhaps fortunately, I've never heard any of those songs...

 

 

Hahaha, Eddie is an old farrht!

 

I'll look at the Top Five, just don't make me listen to them! :poke: Just hearing the kids' headphone overflow from their MP3 players gives me enough sucky current "Moo-sick"!

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Hopefully we write the truth, whatever that is.

To manufacture something happy because we think that's what we should be manufacturing seems Pollyanna-ish.

I don't worry too much about dragging the whole world down with me.

I think people can tell what the truth is, and I think especially when we are sad we do not want to be alone.

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Let's face it some of the best songs come out of people when their in the depths of despair and or have the hunger. Paul McCartney once said something to the effect of it's hard for him to write songs when his life is all happy and he (at the time) was happy, succsessful and had little worries.

 

I've written many sad songs but I seem to always leave them with hope that things will get better.

 

I love the way John Hiatt writes some of his sadder topics, throws in a little antidote or comedy and makes you laugh. A song that could be a downer but he makes his point but doesn't make it depressing. Something like this....

 

Your Dad Did

John Hiatt

 

Well the sun comes up and you stare your cup of coffee, yup

Right through the kitchen floor

You feel like hell so you might as well get out and sell

Your smart ass door to door

 

And the mrs. wears her robe slightly undone

As your daughter dumps her oatmeal on your son

And you keep it hid

Just like your did

 

So you go to work just to watch some jerk

Pick up the perks

You were in line to get

And the guy that hired you just got fired,

Your jobs expired

They just aint told you yet

 

So you go and buy a brand new set of wheels

To show your family just how great you feel

Acting like a kid

Just like your dad did

And

 

Bridge:

Youre a chip off the old block

Why does it come as such a shock

That every road up which you rock

Your dad already did

 

Yeah youve seen the old mans ghost

Come back as creamed chipped beef on toast

Now if you dont get your slice of the roast

Youre gonna flip your lid

Just like your dad did, just like your dad did

 

Well the day was long now, suppers on

The thrill is gone

But somethings taking place

Yeah the food is cold and your wife feels old

But all hands fold

As the two year old says grace

She says help the starving children to get well

But let my brothers hamster burn in hell

You love your wife and kids

Just like your dad did

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I think we're CONDITIONED to accept "depressing" as normal. What if it was not that way? We SAY the "Best" stuff comes out of someone's dispair... but isn't that wrong for us to say someone's dispair is good? As a society, we are programmed wrong, so it's "OK"

 

We are what we eat. And this is what we are eating.

 

Ever wonder WHY there is so much negativity in the world? We are CREATING it as art.

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Your Dad Did

John Hiatt

 

 

One of my very favorite John Hiatt songs - which equates to one of my very favorite songs period. The couplet:

 

"And now you see the old man's ghost

Come back as creamed chipped beef on toast"

 

is pure brilliance.

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I think we're CONDITIONED to accept "depressing" as normal.

 

 

That may be so.........

 

But I believe that we are constantly seeking emotional stability through our music. Writing about depression and angst is a bit like taking out the emotional trash.

 

Kick your blues to the curb and get happy again.

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