A lot of people I know dislike sad or melancholy music. They don't understand why one would want to listen to such music since, the thinking goes, isn't the idea of art really just an aesthetic form of distraction? Distraction from the obvious troubles of life. Many people feel this way not just about music but also about movies and novels. But, I sense the more invested one is in the particularly form of art, the less one is likely to see it as a 'distraction.' What I mean is that when you are superficially interested in something, it can be useful as a distraction but that as your interest progresses into something more committed, you start to rethink the idea of art-as-distraction, and it becomes something else. That something else obviously varies person to person. But it becomes more important to reflect (or at least process) the emotional nature of the music/movie/book. Was it happy? Was it sad? Was it neither? Etc.
I've always found it difficult to describe why I like the music I like. I like loud and soft and in between, but I can't really describe any kind of particular sensibility beyond that "I like it." And therein must be a chemical explanation. For what else can it be?
A friend asked a question a while back: "what do you listen to when you're stupendously bored and apathetic?" Here, there could be two potential answers depending on the goal. If you're trying to connect even more with that boredom/apathy, it seems appropriate to listen to melancholy music, something that reflects your situation. If you want to get out of it, then listen to happy and/or angry music. The problem with the latter is that you might not want to, and you might not enjoy it.
I sometimes make mixes when I'm feeling one way or another to reflect my mood. Last spring, perhaps late in the spring, I don't remember -- I was feeling particularly down, about something that seemed so unattainable (although later it proved not so) but at the time it seemed absolutely impossible. I mention it because it was a particularly good mix, with lots of eclectic stuff, the kind that somehow strung together very well, some less well-known Neil Young, some Explosions in the Sky, some Gorecki, a Bengali song by Tagore, etc.. (Aside: Someone told me at the time that Neil Young was "dad's music." True, depends how old dad is, I suppose.) One of the songs was one of Neil Young's most peculiarly haunting songs, from his lovely but underrated album On the Beach. Hard to say what it's really about but it has that quality of unattainability too, or at least a strange detachment from the events swirling about you in life. I relate to the feeling right now, as if I'm watching my life go by, all around, unable to stop it, unable to stop the inexorable movement to something else. And the only thing I can do is sigh. This song is a like a five minute sigh. It really is.
I'm also posting a cover of the same song by Radiohead. Thom Yorke kills.
Neil Young -- On The Beach [mp3]
Radiohead -- On The Beach [mp3]