"Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable, or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?"
Those were the words of Rob Gordon in the movie "High Fidelity", and
they have long stuck with me as being more than a bit of wordplay. There
is a connection between music and mood, an intrinsic bond that adheres a
specific feeling to a song. We often hear
about the genesis of a song, the feeling in the artist that sparked
them into creating the piece of music. We take it for granted that music
is emotional for the people who are writing and performing it, as that
is the way in which the best music is created,
but what about the rest of us?
As listeners, we might not have access to the intended feeling, but we
have an emotional response to great music as well. Music can take us in
all directions, holding a power over us that is stronger than we might
like to admit a piece of art could have.
That brings up a point that I struggle with. There is a large amount of
music that is made, specifically in the metal world, that actively
promotes a dismal, miserable mood. Whether we're talking about music
that plugs the amps straight into the players' anger,
or black metal that treats the world as only containing misery, it's
not easy to be a fan of certain types of music without finding yourself
falling down into a well of negative emotions.
I made a conscious decision a while back to try to avoid these kinds of
music. While I can understand the artistic need for the artists to pour
those feelings into their music, if that's where they are in life, but
as a listener I have no interest in following
them down that path. Perhaps I am merely a cynic, but life makes it too
easy to dwell on negativity as it is. The last thing we need is to
intentionally pick up music that encourages those thoughts to take
I understand that many people say that miserable music actually makes
them feel better, but that has never made any sense to me. I am by no
means an empath, but hearing someone screaming their misery prompts me
to think about that, to share that feeling, not
to feel better knowing that someone else is going through tough times.
Being miserable in a crowd of miserable people doesn't actually do
anything to alleviate the problem, so it seems to me like a bit of
self-delusion to claim it does.
I've noticed that since I have been actively avoiding those kinds of
music, I have been a happier person. Music is an outlet, a release, and
it can act as one when it focuses on being something other than a sonic
noose we find perverse pleasure in tying for
ourselves. I've seen a shift in the records that I've been listening to
and reviewing, one where I have put a greater importance on how
enjoyable it is to listen to the music. I'll never dismiss a
well-written miserable record, but my praise will always come
with the caveat that I'm not going to find myself listening to it
often, because I don't see any point in subjecting myself to a mood
killer when I don't have to.
So to circle back and answer the question that opened this, you can
listen to miserable music because you're miserable, or you can be
miserable because you listen to miserably music. Either way, I don't
believe misery shouldn't be a part of music, so if you
feel that way, I'd say you're doing something wrong.