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TunesDay: Music to pluck raw nerves

If you care about music at all, you’ve probably got a few tunes that are agony to listen to. Tunes that you just can’t listen to, or that are so compelling that you can’t change the channel or hit “skip” no matter how much your brain screams. Tunes that remind you of times in your life you suffered more deeply than you thought possible. TunesDay today is an homage, if such a word is appropriate, to some of the music from such periods in my life. I hope that some of you are willing to share with the us some of your music, too.

I love, and hate, Pink Floyd’s The Wall. The first time I saw it, it was with my sister, and it was a profound moment of awakening for me. I didn’t get it all, of course, I was only in junior high, but I got that Pink was a seriously screwed up dude right off the bat. And based on my first watching, I concluded that The Wall was one movie that everyone should see at least once, an opinion I still hold. I also went out, bought the album on cassette, and proceeded to listen to it so much that the cassette stretched and distorted the music. My junior year of high school, my then-girlfriend and I sat down to watch it on her parents’ couch. At the time I was so in love with her that I would have given up my future to be with her. We broke up but stayed friends until we drifted apart after she went to college, and then a year later I did.

The third time I watched The Wall was five years later. I was a senior at Penn State and I dragged my then sort-of-girlfriend along with some other friends from the dining hall with me to watch it play in one of the classrooms on campus. It was amazing – again – just as I expected. But it was watching the movie this time, listening to the music, that The Wall finally drove home what I’d only suspected until then – The Wall is about many things, but it’s ultimately a story about one man going insane.

I used to say that The Wall was so depressing that you had to listen to it when you were happy – listening to it when you were depressed might leave you suicidal. I don’t any more. These days I listen to it when I’m pining for my college years or remembering my first lost love. It seems to demand to be listened to, in its entirety, when I’m the most depressed or scared or stressed. In other words, when I’m feeling the least stable myself, it seems to stabilize me. I’m not exactly sure why I have to listen to The Wall in those periods of my life. Maybe it’s as simple as I’ve often told people – no matter how screwed up I feel, I’m WAY better off than Pink is. But I really don’t know.

The song that sparked this post, however, is Matchbox 20’s Unwell. You know the chorus, I’m sure:

I’m not crazy, I’m just a little unwell
I know, right now you can’t tell
But stay awhile and maybe then you’ll see
A different side of me
I’m not crazy, I’m just a little impaired
I know, right now you don’t care
But soon enough you’re gonna think of me
And how I used to be

This song once nearly made me have to stop my car because I was about to have a hysterical crying fit while driving. And while it doesn’t do that to me these days, it’s not because it couldn’t – it’s because I’m in a better place in my head than I was at the time I nearly stopped the car. Whenever Unwell comes on the radio, no matter how much I want, need to change the channel, I can’t. It compels me to listen, to remember, and to ensure that my head never gets that bad again. Unwell is therapy, of a sort.

3 replies »

  1. I hate it when things happen that get in the way of my love for a song or a CD. For a long time the main culprit in life was Classic Rock radio. Oh, you like this song? We’re going to play it until it makes you homicidal. I remember when I used to like Bob Seger, but Rock 92 in Greensboro took care of that.

    What you’re talking about is different, though, and it hurts a lot more. I’m sure if I thought about it I could come up with a number of examples, but the one that springs most quickly to mind is Van Morrison’s “Carrying a Torch,” from his terribly underappreciated HYMNS TO THE SILENCE. Her name was Mary (still is, in fact), and when she left that was the song that I tormented myself to sleep with. On and off for two or three years.

    I can listen to it now without any pain, but not without remembering…

  2. The song I fear the most is “Too Far Down” by Hüsker Dü, from CANDY APPLE GRAY. I was in high school, and my high school sweetheart turned into heartbreaker, and in my post-breakup depression I latched onto that song, which hurt and healed. And though I look back now and feel tempted to dismiss it as “just high school,” it was real enough then that the flashbacks are literally quite visceral. So when that song shuffles up on iTunes, I’m quick to change it because it’s still a punch in the gut.

    “You don’t want the emotion,” Mould sings,”‘Cause the taste it leaves is for real.”

    Don’t I know it, all these years later.

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