Music and Misery

Posted: January 6, 2011 in Lyric Analysis

What came first, the music or the misery? People worry about kids playing with guns, or watching violent videos, that some sort of culture of violence will take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands, literally thousands of songs about heartbreak, rejection, pain, misery and loss. Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music? – Rob Fleming, High Fidelity (2000)

I love High Fidelity.  The book AND the movie.  It’s extremely an extremely insightful look into the human (particularly male) psyche.  And it’s mixed with a love of music, which I can relate to.  This quote sticks out to me as a musician, particularly as one who is often asked to learn new songs for sessions.

One of my clients asked me to bring in some Tom Jones to sing for our next session.  I suggested It’s Not Unusual (which was the only Tom Jones song I could think of off the top of my head), and he said that would be OK, but then started to try to remember another song called Delilah.

As I was looking these two songs up, I found that they’re both pretty depressing.  For It’s Not Unusual, the lyrics seem kind of disconnected from the joyful horn driven Vegas background music.  Take the first lines:

It’s not unusual to be loved by anyone
It’s not unusual to have fun with anyone
But when I see you hanging about with anyone
It’s not unusual to see me cry, and I wanna die

My most enduring memory of the song is seeing Tom Jones perform it while Martians are blowing up Vegas.  However, the music is more about a man who wants a woman that he can’t have.  There’s still some hope there, but still, pretty miserable lyrically.

And then there’s Delilah.  A snippet for you:

At break of day when that man drove away I was waiting
I crossed the street to her house and she opened the door
She stood there laughing
I felt the knife in my hand, and she laughed no more

OK, so this one is about a man who kills an adulterous woman.  Who knew that Tom Jones was such an advocate of violence?

I guess my point is that music has the ability to be really emotional.  You have to be prepared for some lyrical power at all times, even if it is from Tom Jones.  In knowing my client, I don’t think there’s any particular reason to choose those songs other than he just likes them (no girl troubles that I know about).  I doubt I’ll be taking in Delilah to sing with my client, but I will be prepared to talk with him about it if he wants to.

So, in summary, High Fidelity is a better movie than Mars Attacks, but Mars Attacks has Tom Jones.  Go figure.  Thanks for reading.



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