Choosing songs for your Dismal Day: A countdown.

Go ahead and admit it, you’re really feeling down today. Just let it wash over you. Go with it. There’s no shame in having a little free-floating depression. I know… I been blessed with a brain that cycles in and out of an unmoored depression on a daily basis.

I want to help you with your Dismal Day. My advice for you is to listen to some music. “Wow, what a facile suggestion, Chris. Gee, thanks,” you’re saying now as you put your ear buds in.

Stop before you hit random and sink into the couch.

You can’t just hit random.

At least not right off the bat. Curating a depression playlist is one of the most important tasks to make the most of your Dismal Day. I know for me that listening to music is, on some of the worst days, all I have. Choosing those songs not only occupies my brain away from the dark thoughts, the songs themselves can focus my attention away from “What’s the fuck with your life, Chris?” to “What’s the Frequency Kenneth?”

Or any other of the billions of questions that song lyrics bring up. That’s my universal bit of advice. Find something with lyrics. Listening closely and actively to the lyrics is the best medicine for shutting down that little hamster on a Mobius Strip that your brain’s become today.

I’m not going to offer up specific songs except by means of example. My taste in music is not going to match up with yours. Do what you will with the specific examples I’m tossing off below –focus instead on the wayfinding aspects. I guarantee you that, while curated music may not lift you out, it’ll stop you from sinking deeper.

#5

Songs that take you back to a specific time and place. It goes without saying that this place should be a happy place, a place you felt welcome. Try to choose as specific a memory as possible, one not saddled with a lot of baggage. I would steer away from the song you danced to at your prom if, let’s say, she ripped your heart out later. So “Sister Christian” by Night Ranger is off my list.

But… “You Got Another Thing Comin’” by Judas Priest does the trick because I have this very pleasant memory snippet of dancing with Amy Burns to it at a post-game sock-hop junior year of high school. After two years at this school, I had finally worked up the nerve to attend a game and a sock-hop. We were just bopping on the dance floor, and, when we got to the chorus, Amy screamed it at the top of her lungs, poking her finger into my chest to the beat. Weird yes, but I finally felt I belonged at Dublin High.

Or maybe you remember the first time you heard the song. My favorite pop song of all time, and one that I always turn to when I’m down, is “Bad Time” by Grand Funk Railroad. This is not because it’s the “best” pop song ever. It’s because the first time I heard it I was curled up in the back seat of my parents car driving back to our house on Long Island after a fun day in Manhattan. We had seen Grease on Broadway and eaten in fancy French restaurant where I serenaded the table by playing the crystal water glasses. As the notes poured out of WABC-77AM, I felt safe, warm, and, most of all, sophisticated. It’s that feeling I return to whenever I hear “Bad Time.”

#4

Songs from when you first realized you were “different.” Yes, as shown above, some songs can engender a warm, fuzzy sense of belonging. However, if you’re compiling a playlist to listen to on a Dismal Day, chances are you’re not feeling like you belong anywhere. So why not drill down into that feeling of alienation with some selections from when you first felt like you didn’t belong. We all had that time, usually around the age of 12 or 13, when we first turned to music to express our butt-hurt at the horrible, epoch-shattering injustices that were being heaped upon us. Today’s problems may seem insurmountable, but 12 year old you’s problems got solved. Go back to what got you through that.

I repeatedly choose “The Logical Song” by Supertramp. My mom and dad had “tricked” me into going to a private school just as I was starting to settle in, after three years, into the public school where I was. “Just take the entrance exam. If you pass it, we’ll know you’re getting a good education in the Virginia Beach Schools.” How could I have fallen for that? It’s not the angriest sounding song, but, again, listen to the lyrics and imagine how deep and angsty they sounded to a 12 year old in my situation.

#3

In for a penny, in for a pound: Really, really depressing songs. Just go for it. You’re depressed today. Embrace it. Wallow in it. Spread it all over you like off-brand suntan lotion from the Family Dollar.

Now this requires a little pre-planning. Have a few of these types of songs ready to cue up before the day gets dark. You definitely don’t want to be digging around trying to find sad songs when you’re already sad. It’s the emotional equivalent of hunting for a flashlight in the basement after the lights go out and the ice weasels come.

“I’ve Been Destroyed” by Mantler (or Marker Starling). You’ve never heard this song before, but it’s a doozy.

“Alone Again, Naturally” by Gilbert O’ Sullivan. Sadness doesn’t need to be obscure: Number one for six weeks in 1972. Fifth most popular song of the 1970s.

Remember, a song doesn’t have to sound sad to be sad. Perhaps the artist met an untimely fate. “Valerie Loves Me” by Material Issue sounds upbeat… until you find out that the lead singer took his own life five years after this song came out, reportedly over a relationship gone bad. This song now serves to remind me that I will not go down this path. Dig out your favorite rock n roll cautionary tale and give it a spin; it’ll do more than you think.

#2

Find some well-curated nostalgia. By now you’ve figure out that I’m not a big fan of discovering new music when you’re depressed. That new song will cuneiform onto your brain in this delicate state, and when you hear it at a future date, it will bring you back to this Dismal Day. Instead, take advantage of the amazing streaming universe in which we now live.

  • Remember an old peppy song, search for it on YouTube, and, when you find the video, click on the “Mix” choice. It works surprisingly well, and as a bonus, you occasionally get amazing videos to watch. I’ve been feeding off of “Heavenly Pop Hit” by the New Zealand pop band The Chills for three days now.
  • Your iTunes still has a mess of streaming radio stations. They never took those away thru the various iterations of the platform. There are literally hundreds of stations that play nothing but songs from the 1960s/70s/80s/90s. That should come as no surprise. But today, why not mix it up a bit? Shift a decade out of your comfort zone. Or maybe listen to a station from Germany or France. After all, there’s only so many times you can hear “Come On Eileen.”
  • I’m a complete chart nerd, and I listen old recordings of Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 each weekend morning, the times I’m most likely to wake up depressed –one from the 80s on Saturday morning and one from the 70s on Sundays. Casey was a treasure, and I’m not ashamed to say I cried a few years ago when he passed away (and his wife stole his corpse) (Links to an external site.). Casey should appeal to two aspects of your Dismal Day: First, a sense of order. You need order today to keep your mind occupied. Second, Casey doesn’t judge. All songs are equal in his velvety voice; he only cares about the numbers and the trivia. You can find old broadcasts of AT40 by downloading either the TuneIn or iHeartRadio apps and searching for “American Top 40 the 70s [or 80s].” Furthermore, the iHeartRadio app has a dedicated station that plays nothing but AT40s.

#1

Pretend you’re singing. I know it’s too much to ask that one ask you to sing, much less dance, when you’re this depressed. But maybe you can pretend to sing. Find some songs that you’ve always pictured yourself singing. I don’t mean in the shower; I mean singing instead of the artist who does it now. For example, whenever I hear Oasis’ “Morning Glory” it’s not Liam Gallagher singing it’s me. And you know what? I rock.

I also rock when I’m Billy Ocean…

And when I’m Paul McCartney…

So now, go inside, curl up, and find some music because you know what, too?

You rock.

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