Monday, April 23, 2007

sad, sad songs

Over the weekend I headed down to Canberra (for a whole night!) and while there I picked up a book that was lying around the house called 'Heart Songs' by Annie Proulx. It's a book of short stories about the farmers and country dwellers in a remote part of New England, America, in the (fictional?) Chopping County. The characters are all either very poor or rich, city dwelling intruders. It had alot of elements that resonated with my American Gothic class, all dark secrets and run-down houses and a pervasive past. It also made me think of country music. This was not particularly original thinking on my part, the eponymous story ('Heart Songs') was about a family of these country people ('hicks' if you will, or maybe hillbillies?) who played country music together and are infiltrated by a city dweller who is impressed by their music. All the music is very sad. And I suppose the point of the stories is that they are like country songs themselves, sad and dark but beautiful.

In the car on the way back to Sydney we were listening to a selection of songs from a British folk radio station, and since I was reading this book at the same time I started drawing connections. Folk music is also generally sad and dark. And I think it is essentially the same thing as Country music, but from a different period and place, so the style is necessarily different. But the premise, that these are songs by and for the country people, the rural poor, is similar. Of course this is not really true, at least not these days, and the authenticity of this view and of the music in this style is highly questionable. Listening to some of the folk songs, with all the syllables carefully pronounced and the grammer corrected was interesting. Listening to some of these singers you could just tell how far removed they were from the troubles they were singing about, which ruined the effect somewhat. Fair enough when singing songs set in medieval England, but all the same I felt they were somewhat sanitized. I would really like to listen to the songs in 'Heart Songs', they sounded so good, are sadly entirely fictional.

The sad thing is that with this type of folk singer and the common type of country people miss out on the wonderful things about these genres, their darkness and sadness and all the quality music that expresses it. You have to listen to good country, not the country pop of such as Keith Urban. I mean, how can you have a country singer with the surname of 'Urban'? You should stop there. I shouldn't say this, because I haven't listened to much of his music, and the 'country pop' of the Dixie Chicks is actually pretty good. But my point is that the good, authentic stuff is better and entirely different in feel. Of course, when I say authentic, the problem from before still stands, because as a general rule the people singing country songs are singers, which immediately makes them less authentic.

Well, I should stop there. My main point really was that mostly country songs are sad. Or, in the immortal words of Poison, "every cowboy sings a sad, sad song".


  1. why is it that no-one comments on my long, obscure, rants of blog posts? I don't understand it...

  2. Anonymous24/4/07 22:41

    well, i would, but i don't want to overwhelm your wonderful blogs.
    I should take issue of course with the idea that all folk is sad. Mostly it is working or dance music. the sort of music that is easy to move to. Especially to dance to. I will never accept that music that makes you want to dance can be sad. Much of the words ARE sad, or wicked I guess, but a lot of it is simply cheerful.

    Actually, I have just looked at the top few CDs from the pile next to the TV, and I see your point. But all the same, there are plenty of old Steeleye Span songs that seem cheerful. I suppose I would have to admit that plenty of the seduction songs sound cheerful, but I do have my doubts about the sentiments expressed. On the other hand, even ni those songs, bad behavious usually gets its just desserts.

    And whatever the words, the songs often leave me feeling that "my feet are set for dancing", to coin a phrase. It can spoil the effect to listen too closely to the words. I don't in any case listen to music to learn philosophy, but in listening I am often lifted as high in mood as I easily get. Isn't it strange that we listen to sad stories to elevate our mood?
    That will do for now.

  3. well I must admit I don't know a whole lot about country or folk music...except I do remember my dad once playing a song with a chorus that went "oh my darling, oh my darling, oh my darling Clementine...", and it was the story of a girl, someone's lover, who eventually drowned herself in a river or something...but it was in a major key so it sounded sort of happy as well...hmmm...

    and yes, good point about Keith Urban, I never made that connection, lol...

  4. Well I've been busy sleeping, gaahhh... headache...

    Hmmm well the only country I listen to is Dixie Chicks and SheDaisy. SheDaisy's old album leans towards country rather than pop.
    Meanwhile I listen to blues music so generally blues are... blues.
    I love folk music, coz of its sadness. :) Perhaps it's tragedy that's attractive, but truthfully I like the rhythm and the mood it brings, nice and relaxing. And sometimes foot tapping yes :)

  5. Anonymous25/4/07 19:55

    So, it seems as if people DO respond to your blog posts.
    As far as cheerfulness goes, does anyone know of an advertising jingle (in any style) in a MINOR key?
    It seems to me that the linguistic content doesn't matter nearly as much as the emotional content of a song. But we humans are not all rational creatures.