Depressing misunderstood music

People have often criticised sections of the music I like, because it’s ‘depressing’. There is no such thing as “depressing’ music, only music that you don’t get or don’t understand, perhaps people don’t want to say: “Turn this off because I don’t understand it”, which would be more accurate.

Generally the music referred to, lyrically, deals with sad topics, the plight of the alienated from society, with the expression of quite specific negative feelings. Such music concerns the feelings of a minority in society. This music has very positive functions. Most importantly it allows the listener to recognise and relate to an expressed emotion, from this comes a sense of validation, that those thoughts are not unique and are those of a wider community of people. This association with the negative actually helps allow the listener to escape from negative feelings as a focal point for the negativity is provided, so the feelings can be appropriately compartmentalised. it is no surprise that the purveyors of such music, never achieve super stardom, but often have large, loyal very dedicated groups of fans. for example Leonard Cohen sang “We are ugly, but we have the music”, to me this means that whilst outsiders may feel outside society, at least they/we have understanding of a great collection of music.

I stressed in a recent post, how human feelings consists of happiness, sadness and a neutrality. Art should concern all possible states of human conciousness. I don’t understand the call for more happy music. It is harder to express happiness artistically I feel. However you can’t force happiness on people (though it would be wonderful if this was actually possible!). I am a massive fan of ‘The Cure‘, In the late 1980s they suddenly started producing a string of poppy, happy songs, that gained more widespread success, ‘Lovecats’ reached the giddy heights of number 7 in the singles chart in the UK. These worked wonderfully as very rare expression and explorations of happiness. More recently with ‘Happy’ by Marina and the Diamonds

It would be wrong to suggest that this music is better or worse than other music, by which I mean music that concerns more general widely felt thoughts and feelings about the human condition. Whilst this kind of music can be amazing it will always fail to provide the keenness of resonance of a more rare or specific emotion. However, good music of this variety is harder to distinguish. Often an artist will write lyrics that are so general and lacking any real insight, that they are dull and boring.

What has always flummoxed me, is that pop music that becomes hugely successful, seems to bare little relation to it’s quality, whether lyrically or musically. I’m aware that music lovers and lovers of insightful lyrics are the minority and don’t determine popularity. I wonder whether there is something special that people who don’t feel like outsiders or a developed sense of music pick up on?

However it may be something less profound. sometimes an artist will emerge for popularising a new style of music. Usually the new style will already have developed in the underground by experimental artists. To fans of the experimental sound, the popularisation will sound dull and boring, but to the uninitiated it may present the expression of that musical idea for the masses.

I’ve mainly been discussing lyrical content in this discussion, as i hinted almost the exact same argument apples to musicality. However musicality is different. Being an outsider is something that happens to an individual. Musicality can be developed by anyone, through active listening to music. For example, the popular works of a classical composer, most people will like, you then play another less popular work by that artist, and the listener won’t get it. However if they have developed musicality, they will be able to appreciate the less popular work ┬ájust as much as the popular one. Composers, don’t know what is going to be popular. Perhaps popularity occurs when a musical idea is very simple, it is the simplicity that resonates, to the composer the simplicity may not be apparent at the time of writing.

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Outside creativity

It is a fair proposition to suggest that the majority of great artists throughout history have been outsiders. Second preposition: as there is such diversity in people, including outsiders, it is unlikely that such people inherently have a special gift. My hypothesis is that outsiders are more likely to be good artists because of their nature as outsiders.

As outsiders have had difficulties in accepting themselves and the world around them, then they have had cause to reflect on this and spend time viewing people and society from the outside. Such thinking allows the outsider to more readily identify specific emotional strands, which they can then express through their art.

This creative process is illustrated by a blog post I read recently. Here the idea is that as people we fill our minds with things, assimilating all this data is confusing and confusion can lead to depression and seeking more data to escape the depression/ find the answer. Expression of thoughts, especially artistically, allows the mind to be emptied or unburdened, to be more like itself and hence more at ease. This idea is counter-intuitive but works: instead of needing more, we need less. Through this emptying process, identification of specific things becomes clear. So, a an artist who is or has become technically competent as an artist is able to express these specific thoughts or emotions through their art.

However, this blog, suggests that through expression of such identifications, the person is released from such burdens, as a path to happiness. Which by the argument above, tends to remove the basis for artisitic endeavour, the outsider is no longer plagued by insecurities about themselves, such emotions are no longer felt, so there is less to express.

However, I would suggest that the artist can do something a realised outsider would perhaps not wish to do. Having discovered how to be happy, why would they wish to be sad again. They can be sad again, I believe it is possible to re-visit any emotional state. Mentally I think it is analogous to places on maps: once you have visited somewhere it is then somewhere known rather than a place on a map, there are memories of the place and how to get there. What is difficult is to revisit somewhere and to feel a similar emotional response on a return visit, i think great artists manage to do this.