Written By Phillip Mottaz
Dedicated to those songs that I can't stop playing, humming, or thinking about; the 4+ minutes you fall head-over-heels in love with. Past instances have included Tender Box's "Spectacular Spider-Man Theme" Johnny Cash's "Ghost Riders In The Sky" and Run-DMC's "It's Tricky."
I get angry music. I understand it. You scream, you yell. You're pissed and you wanna have something to get you even more angry. But depressing music doesn't depress me. "Untitled" is a quintessential example of my misguided joy in a supposedly dreary song. My wife is the resisdent Cure expert of our house, and I was delighted to tell her how I was lost in the world of this closing track of "Disintegration". But as we discussed the song, I let it slip that "Untitled" made me feel good, and she slammed the breaks. "You feel good listening to this? It's a Cure song."
"I know. It's beautiful and delicate and precise. That weird 'air organ' at the beginning -- that sounds like the one that was upstairs in my Grandma's old house -- it draws me in every time for the big crashing drums and the main part of the song. The whole song is lovely."
"Yeah..." she stared at me over her iced tea. "But it's a Cure song."
Maybe I wasn't paying attention, and that wouldn't be the first time. I give lyrics some attention, but not my full attention unless it's about a very simple story (like how girls from different regions of our nation are all unique, but they should be encouraged to move closer to the Pacific ocean). The first line in "Untitled" is "Hopelessly adrift in the eyes of a ghost again," so how happy could the song really be? But I can't deny how a song from the poster boys of gloom makes me feel, and it makes me feel good. My own feelings of happiness when playing "Untitled" are completely misplaced, but actually not at all. It's all about what the listener brings to the game, and that's why Roger Ebert is misguided.
Let me explain.
Of the many rules and beliefs Roger Ebert holds about movies, he has one which has never set with me. He believes that there is only joy to be found in good movies, and only bad movies are depressing. I suppose I know what he really means -- that seeing a finely crafted piece dissect a depressing topic is more joyous than watching a horribly constructed hunk of garbage -- but he's going at the problem like a critic first and a human being second. By this rationale, one could find himself "enjoying" a viewing of United 93, which seems impossible. Depressing movies, by design, depress me and I'm certain I'm not alone. I distinctly remember watching the well crafted, acted, shot, etc. "Boys Don't Cry," and feeling midway through that:
A. This story was gonna end badly for Brandon Teena,
B. I had known it was going to end badly before I even bought my ticket, and C. why would I put myself through this pain?
Sure enough, the Oscar-worthy Swank got messed up in a messed up way, leaving me shaken and depressed. I was joylous and inconsolible.
Now I'm not arguing that "depressing" or "sad" movies are bad or should be avoided, but I am arguing that all movies -- especially well made ones -- are convincing. They snare your mind for two hours and convince you to connect with one or more of the characters, and this emotional connection can lead to eventual heartbreak just like in real life, only much more trivial. Movies have it all over music in this regard. Movies are emotional convincing machines.
Music, on the other hand, is less about convincing and more about supporting. Your mood can be "scored" by the right song, and then... well, you end up with a column like this dedicated to those moments of emotional harmony. And while Ebert's rule does not apply to my movie watching, it works perfectly for my music listening. By nature, "good" music -- despite any emotional resonance of happy, sad, angry, exciting, sexy, etc. -- is built on harmony, and harmony equates with feeling good. It sounds good, so it feels good. What's "good" depends on the circumstances of your life, but that's why you have a music collection. For whatever reason, my life last week needed to be scored by this song and lyrics be damned, it made me feel great.
Many could argue that the Cure's reputation is based on depression, but this is more of a comment on the baggage brought on by their fans than by the band itself. So much of pop music is based on style and flair and flash and image that people become as careless about paying attention to the content, just like how I don't pay attention to lyrics. The Cure's music does not depress people; depressed people listen to the Cure. Listening to their music doesn't make people depressed, just as listening to The Smiths doesn't make people gay or listening to the Rolling Stones doesn't make people sexist and occasionally gay. The nice part is that depressed people seem to enjoy harmonious music just as much as non-depressed people, so a common ground can be reached.
I just realized that I've logically proven that I'm not a depressed person. I'm happy enough I'm going to play "Untitled" again.