Monday, March 24, 2014


The proposition read as a perverse challenge to me: Sad music might actually evoke positive emotions, reveals a new study by Japanese researchers... The summary suggested that there is an odd ambivalence that comes from listening to sad music, suggesting that pleasant feelings derive from sad music because that it does not pose a real threat to personal safety. It was a vague proposition with little scientific certainty in its brief citation. In any case, I decided that I wanted to conduct my own uncontrolled study using myself, an old unfinished C60 cassette and the tape deck in my Volvo.

I tested the theory during a familiar late night drive, when time was indistinct and the streets were empty. I pushed in the tape and pressed rewind. The tape whirred, eventually clicking to start. The plane trees bowed ruefully over Orrong Road, the heavy branches clouded the flossy glow of the passing street lights. I was convinced that I could handle whatever associations it threw at me and I did. I remained stoic throughout the aggressive jangly semiquavers of Fonz. I felt fine through the scarcely discernible French ramblorings of Still Fond. Each lyrical proclamation left me unperturbed: One day, we're gonna live in Paris, I promise...

It was sad, but not in the Lacrimosa sense of the word. It was sad in that everything from its sequence to its sentiments felt so familiar to me, in spite of the fact that it had been so long since I'd listened to it. It felt like living: speeding through the darkness, being bombarded with scarcely-forgotten reminders, always battling to shut up.

Now homeward bound, the last song came on near where I spotted a Toorak fox, some nights before. I was bemused, having momentarily forgotten the song's inclusion on the tape. It was a lo-fi home-made demo with acoustic guitar and loud female backing vocals. I recalled its lyrics and sang along in a plaintive masochistic style, Why don't you call me? As the song went on to describe the devastating possibility of his crush running out of phone credit, I had to smile and acknowledge how dated and painful it all was. As much as I tried to guard the ongoing legacy of this thing, there was always the risk I'd trip over something like that. I'd come across a horrible reminder of how this is life, as it worked out.

I'll admit, I had some doubts about this scientific proposition. For one thing, I don't necessarily believe that music can be divided into the happy and the sad. There are associations, meanings and intentions, always contained and largely untapped. For me, both music and living is all about legacy management. I try to organise memories in the knowledge that time will never make the painful, painless. I appreciate that one point that study did make though: that music, like memory, poses no immediate threat to us in the present moment. Despite my initial reluctance to reacquaint myself with his songs, I will always be protected due to the nature of the past and its complete irrelevance. I am comforted in the idea that I'm strong enough to return as an unmoved silent tourist. I am safe, I will always be safe, so long as I am alone at some indistinct hour.


  1. "I don't necessarily believe that music can be divided into the happy and the sad."

    "Young Americans" makes me giddy with posibility and expectation while also evoking deep feeling of melancholy. It also makes me want to shake my butt whenever I listen to it on the U-Bahn.

    Music's funny like that.

    Excellent post as always, Miss El.

  2. Love your readership, Smudge! Thanks for your support as always x