Listening to Sad Tunes

I rely solely on my more knowledgeable friends to give me music suggestions and shape […]

David Peterson / 10.21.15

I rely solely on my more knowledgeable friends to give me music suggestions and shape my listening habits. This is a good idea because I’m basically tone deaf, and it allows for a bit of an eclectic personal playlist (that, at least, is my hope). To find something I really like, I keep my ears open and wait to hear what sticks. This streamlined process led me to an old Deerhunter album called Halcyon Digest this week. I think it’s awesome, but it’s also really sad. So, as I listen obsessively, I’m wondering, why am I so hooked on this total downer of an album?

Remember John Cusack’s query to open High Fidelity, “Am I miserable because I listen to pop music, or do I listen to pop music because I’m miserable?” DZ answered that question in the Mess of Help chapter on the appeal of Nirvana as an angsty teen. “For a piece of culture to gain traction in the viewer or consumer, in other words, it has to find an internal foothold first. Which is another way of saying that we listen to pop music because we are miserable, not the other way around,” Dave writes. He cites Mark 7:14b-15 as convincing evidence for the claim.

Taking these pearls into account, it would appear that I like the album because I’m sad and lonely. But there’s more to the story. First of all, it’s significant that a close friend suggested the band to me, that’s a definite sign of closeness. Secondly, Dave didn’t end his essay on the downer of Cusack’s existential misery. Here’s how he concluded that chapter: “This, I’d wager, is what we mean when we talk about the therapeutic value of music. Not that it makes us feel better, but that it gives us permission to feel worse.” A deeply felt phrase in a Pitchfork review of the album helped to tie together these threads (and further justify my listening):

We’ll never be able to parse every lyric or tease out every technical intricacy– though somebody will probably try– but that is what Halcyon Digest is all about: nostalgia not for an era, not for antiquated technology, but for a feeling of excitement, of connection, of that dumb obsession that makes life worth living no matter how horrible it gets. And then sharing that feeling with somebody else who’ll start the cycle all over again.

Here’s a more uplifting song they released recently: