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The Catharsis of Sad Music

September 27th, 2013 by Michael Tabor

sadhurtsToday not unlike every other day, I had NPR on and a most interesting topic was brought up, which made me pause and think: What are your favorite sad songs? Why? And – In addition, why do sad songs not make us sadder but more importantly make us a little stronger and even help us along with all the unspeakable difficulties that lie ahead when something tragic happens to us. So of course NPR (I think it was “On All Things Considered”) simply the greatest radio media source in terms of higher education had a scientist who was theorizing as to why sad songs and catharsis in general is such an integral part in dealing with grief and moving on without falling apart.

Catharsis – the purging of the emotions or relieving of emotional tensions, especially through certain kinds of art, as tragedy or music is the OED definition and makes sense !!!

Anyway, what they posed to the listening audience was: What were your favorites (or perhaps more aptly stated, songs that most resonated with you?) and I thought about this and put together a list of 6 of my all – time favorites. Here they are and why:

  • #1 has to go to ‘Adagio For Strings’ by Samuel Barber. This is without question the most hauntingly tragic yet most beautiful piece of music I have ever heard in my life and if this doesn’t move you in anyway then you are not a human being. I know ‘Adagio For Strings’ has been used as a score for several films, one of which was Oliver Stone’s ‘platoon’ (Easily the score was the best part of the film). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=izQsgE0L450

  • After ‘Adagio…’ it’s difficult to place any given song in any particular order because they’re all profoundly moving and sad. Anyway, Warren Zevon’s  ‘Keep Me in Your Heart’ is monumentally heart – wrenching, especially if you’re or were a Zevon fan. I pulled 2 videos from YouTube 1. The song itself with some amazing shots and 2. The David Letterman Show the day he died…. Warren and David had an incredibly special relationship. What really killed me about Warren was his rebellion & the sense of injustice and the line “…grab your coat, I’m your mutineer” just makes me weep every time I hear it  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1KjRLq4uF4A     and here’s Dave & Warren   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xZ8xO6BrZRU

  • ‘Brian’s Song’ by Henry Mancini will bring even the most hardened person to tears. The song is utterly sad and cathartic but what amplifies it is the movie (low – budget TV and basically not a very good movie but there are a couple of scenes in it that will make grown men reach out for the Kleenex) Here’s the best link I found on YouTube … watch the whole thing, it’s awesome   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fhXLP36OUdw

  • How about the Hollies and ‘He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother’ … again, it’s the story that rips your heart out, especially in this lousy economy. In a nutshell: The line “he ain’t heavy, he’s my brother” is from the old 30’s movie Boy’s Town. The scene is a young boy carrying his little brother, who is crippled and can’t walk in the ice and snow. It is during the depression and they are homeless, unwanted, and not needed by the world at large. They encounter a catholic priest, father Flannigan, who is moved and asks ” isn’t that a heavy load for such a small fellow” he replies “he ain’t heavy father, He’s my brother”(boy ain’t he lucky. That’s an insider)

  • Yep, Elton John’s, ‘Funeral for a Friend’ is a must. He really drives home the fact that this life in terms of the age of the universe (14 billion yrs. Old) is just sort of a meaningless blip .. f^&k the rich, they will get theirs – lol !!!  “The roses in the window box tilted to one side, everything about this house is going to grow and die”  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5GYI6XJH9Ss

  • Well I’ll leave you with John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ which is just prodigiously crushing!!!  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yRhq-yO1KN8

So WhaDaYaThink ? What do you think ? There are so many more songs out there and while I was writing this, I thought of a few more, but I’d love to hear what yours are.

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15 Responses to “The Catharsis of Sad Music”

  1. magdalena Says:

    We connect to those who feel the way we do so we are naturally drawn to sad songs, sad movies, and just talking with someone who may have experienced the same thing consoles us. Some of my best writing stems from sadness because it transfers from the gut to paper, a means of purging and then being able to look at it squarely in the eye. Some of my favorite sad songs, though the list is endless: Yesterday by the Beatles, Scarborough Fair by Simon and Garfunkle, Oh Very Young by Cat Stevens, Then you Can Tell Me Goodbye by Eddie Arnold, Danny Boy by some Irish guy, and for the life of me I don’t know why Silent Night and Old Lang Syne. They just kill me every time…..

  2. magdalena Says:

    And Barbara Allen an old English song…….quick, grab me a tissue.

  3. Michael Tabor Says:

    Of course search for yourself, but here are links from Magdalena’s Fav.’s :

    . ‘Yesterday’ – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XNnaxGFO18o

    . ‘Scarborough Fair’ – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c4e-FV4P1aU

    . ‘ Oh Very Young” – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bP6B9HttRI8

    . “Then you can Tell Me Goodbye’ – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QkON34hpVL4
    . ‘Danny Boy’ – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ujr8dQJgQUU

    . ‘Old Lang Syne’ – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=acxnmaVTlZA

  4. Michael Tabor Says:

    oh, here’s ‘Barbara Allen’ by Joan Baez http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8woUkSu7FBs

    this one is also, well omg ‘Ashokan Farewell’ will just cripple you http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7TSm3GpQNoE

  5. Michael Tabor Says:

    ‘Angie’ from the Stones is good but if you click on this video, you’ll probably get caught up with the physical beauty of the woman http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K5_EBAzIPJM Our society is so enamored with shallow outer beauty, but anyway ..

  6. Michael Tabor Says:

    Oops I forgot this one…. this is for GOD i.e. What it must be like to be GOD http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wUyW3PvSNzA

  7. Michael Tabor Says:

    I think Superman is the most poignant, damn, just think how lonely it must be to be god…. Thank, ummm, god ?, I believe oblivion or just , I’m outta here, gives me solace !!!

  8. magdalena Says:

    And 100 Years by the same guy……OK, now I’m drowning.

  9. Michael Tabor Says:

    Holy mother F#$&er how can we forget Eric Clapton’s ‘Tears in Heaven’ …this song was written about his baby boy falling out of a window in Manhattan & dying …holy jesus h. Christ ..http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b6t4Zs5Yq_k just fast – forward the commercial non – sense

  10. Michael Tabor Says:

    Ever since I was a kid, I always wondered about what the concept of infinity was and what this god thing was about and well, I think we – mortals all think about this in the wee – hours of the night (3 am) …is this it ??? Is there a God ??? well, here’s God speaking again http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wUyW3PvSNzA

  11. magdalena Says:

    How about……How Can I Tell You by Cat Stevens. And of course his over played but still very effective Wild World. Just the introduction tugs at the tear ducts….LA LA LA LA LA LA LA…..http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k_0U3DlLFSU

  12. Michael Tabor Says:

    ‘How Can I Tell You’ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rDDm5ES5qIM

  13. Sal Paradise Says:

    A few songs which have always resonated with me, though more for their poignancy than overt sadness, are a couple of Bob Dylan classics: “Tangled Up in Blue” and “You’re Gonna’ Make Me Lonesome When You Go.” On a related note, favorite songs or works of mine that have come to assume sorrowful meanings because of various media representations are Badfinger’s “Baby Blue,” the fitting series ending song of “Breaking Bad,” and, on a profoundly tragic note, the Second Movement of Beethoven’s 7th Symphony. A sublimely beautiful composition, I’ll forever associate it with an indelible scene from a movie of the Holocaust in which it was being played by a concentration camp orchestra to ‘soothe’ the new arrivals disembarking from the boxcars.

  14. Michael Tabor Says:

    Hi Sal – Poignant indeed … here is Second Movement of Beethoven’s 7th Symphony http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kBtKbCX-sUw

    . Here’s Badfinger’s ‘Baby Blue’ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TkA7xQb6uPk Just an FYI, I never got the chance to get into the ‘Breaking Bad’ series, which I’ve heard and read was perhaps the greatest series ever.

    . Well are there words to describe the great Robert Zimmerman – the links: here is ‘Tangled Up in Blue’ + a little bonus – ‘Isis” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gP_nj5OcyDA

    & ‘Make Me Lonesome When You Go’ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5iJioCcAL4c

  15. Sal Paradise Says:

    Speaking of tragically sad, the fate of the once promising band Badfinger certainly fits the definition. Early on they were championed by no less than the Beatles, and were ultimately signed to the Apple label. Poor management, lousy promotion, bad timing, artistic conflicts and clinical depression led to two of the band members hanging themselves. I’ve loved “Baby Blue” since it was a hit in ’73, and it’s good to see it and interest in the band revived by the “Breaking Bad” finale.

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