Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Surprised by Sorrow

The phrase "tug at your heartstrings" is very apt. Every once in a great while, a song elicits a strong twinge of sadness, the feeling that you're holding your breath when you're not. I hope you know what I mean. Anyhow, this doesn't necessarily mean I feel that way each time I hear the song now, and it doesn't make any of these the "best" sad songs. These are just songs that, at some point of my life, for whatever reason, brought out an intense sadness. In fact, if you've read C.S. Lewis' Surprised by Joy, you know exactly what I mean; it's not something intrinsic to the object, but something greater of which the object reminds you or to which it connects you. In any case...

Tears in Heaven, Eric Clapton
The earliest case of this reaction came when I was nine or ten years old, after my great-aunt Gertie had passed away. This was the first time I was really conscious of death. When my mother told me about it, I found the "Clapton Unplugged" CD, started this song, and only then cried. I still love Tears in Heaven; here Clapton sets aside his brilliant guitar-"God" persona and shows us a vulnerable, grieving father.

American Pie, Don Maclean
I was twelve, maybe. I think that I'd heard this at some point before, but never noticed it- it was just my parents' oldies station. But that day it came on the radio just as my family was getting ready to leave. When they tried to break it off mid-song I threw a fit. American Pie simply resonated with me. I had no idea then when or why it was written, or what anything in it meant. Something in it was just so honest that I couldn't turn it off. It was the most intense reaction to music that I can remember.

A Long December, Counting Crows
When I was a freshman in high school, I bought two Counting Crows CDs, mainly because people I hung out with liked them. I hardly listened to the music, I'm ashamed to say, but nonetheless this one stuck with me. Maybe it was on the radio too. Anyway, when 12 AM, January 1, 1998 came, I was sitting at home in front of the TV, alone for another year. I walked to my room and put this song on. Although A Long December talks about a relationship ended, the loneliness and regret applied (less deeply or poignantly by far) to me at the time. Times became happier eventually, and I put away my Counting Crows CDs. Only last year I rediscovered them and realized I liked their music after all. I still think this is their best song, and it still sends shivers up my back.

Stay, Lisa Loeb
Okay, now I'm really embarrassed about this one. Senior year, when my girlfriend was gone for a while, I thought a great deal about the relationship. For whatever reason, I heard this song on the radio and somehow it connected with my thought process. On a logical level, it doesn't match up, but the tone resonated with me. I didn't even admit to her that this was the song (I said at the time it was some country music song). I know it seems I should have my Y chromosome recalled for repairs, but this song just reflected my struggle at the time to maintain a loving relationship when I knew the strain of leaving for college was fast approaching.

Hard to Get, Rich Mullins
It increasingly irritates me when Christian music turns out judgmental or saccharine. Rich Mullins is neither; the songs he wrote were brutally sincere about his doubts, failings, and fears, and yet look to God always. This song, Hard to Get was preserved on a scratchy demo tape, as Rich died before making a studio album with it. The poor quality of the recording and the clumsy guitar only reflect the point too well- the question of suffering and weakness, asking God whether He even remembers what it was like to be a human being. But my description doesn't do it justice; check out this song yourself (album: The Jesus Demos).

The Background, Third Eye Blind
The most recent addition to this list, as Third Eye Blind was another freshman year casualty of my failed buy-CDs-to-be-more-popular scheme. I hardly listened to anything on the album until this summer, and this song hit me hard. I don't know whether the tragedy which The Background claims was a true one, and certainly I've never been through anything comparable. But it works perfectly. The song conveys a total feeling of loss and numbness- even the guitar sounds as if it's crying at the end. Give it a listen.

OK, now what about you? What songs have hit you like a ton of bricks? C'mon, try out my newfangled comments link...

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