Apparently, the recent entry Sad Songs Say So Much struck a chord with many of you. So, I thought I would continue the theme for a bit more...
One of the many, many reasons that I think sad songs say so much is that they don't actually "say"... they sing. There are a whole mess of things that are hard to say-- I love you, I miss you, I'm leaving you, I'm sorry, I did you wrong, You did me wrong, This isn't working, Don't think twice, it's all right-- but those very same expressions seems to slide out of our broken hearts and over our trembling lips easier when accompanied with music and sung to the poor, wretched soul to whom they are directed. You don't actually have to be a "singer" to know this is true, I think. How many of us have made mixed-tapes/CDs (or received the same) full of songs that somehow perfectly comunicate what we couldn't bring ourselves to articulate? How many of us have called in to dedicate a song over the radio? How many of us have stopped a conversation mid-sentence in a bar or restaurant, late one night, and noticed the song playing over the speakers? And then, somehow, still had the feeling that something that needed to be said had been said... in song.
Now, I am-- or, at least, have been in the past-- a singer. Not a great singer. Not even a really good singer. But I grew up in a singing church and a singing family, in a musical city in the musical part of this country, and I do still love to sing. I've always felt that people singing together is one of the purest experiences of community that human beings can have. For about the last fifteen years, until very recently, I sang in some band or another. (R.I.P. all my old bands: The Dillingers, Bob, The Dialectics, Sweetness, Mad Love, Red Hip and the Boys, Soultryst, Philbilly Cadillac... I miss them all. Even the ones with terrible band names.) Many times over the years, when I was trying to woo someone or another, I would try to do it through song. And, as I got older and started writing my own songs, they were almost all substitutes for things that I wanted or needed to say, but could only sing.
I think every sad song is being sung to someone. Someone with a story and a history. I have a hard time getting the same feeling from sad songs that are entirely instrumental as I do from songs with lyrics-- and, correspondingly, a singer-- though I think there are some good ones. Almost all of the sad songs I've ever written were written to someone, and even when that someone wasn't present when those songs were played many years later, I still thought of that missing person and thought to myself: "I'm singing to you."
I love it when other people sing... even, and sometimes especially, when they are bad singers. There something honest and endearing to me about that form of expression. And this is particularly true when the song is a sad one, because sad songs are those kinds of creations that seem like they're for someone and everyone at once. I've always imagined (read: "hoped") that people felt the same way when I used to sing. Because, if you were ever there, I was singing to you, too.