June 14, 2016 – Two days after a man in Orlando killed 49 people in a gay-friendly nightclub called Pulse in Orlando. Like everyone I was shocked that an event like this could happen, but for some reason it didn’t hit me until that day. I don’t know if it was the eight hours of Fox News coverage that was three feet away from me at my job at the time or my choice of music on my drive home, “All Apologies” by Nirvana and Ninja Sex Party’s cover of Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here,” but on my drive home I nearly broke down and felt such anguish for all those people after hearing these songs. That inspired me to make this playlist of songs that have had an emotional effect on me whether it be the song itself, or my own state when I listened to the song.
It doesn’t make much sense to me that listening to sad music when you’re sad makes you feel better. But I know for sure on June 14, hearing Kurt Cobain’s voice and lyrics and Danny Sexbang trade comedy for seriousness brought out something inside that I didn’t know was lingering inside, and that catharsis of shedding tears felt great. It felt like I wasn’t alone in my grieving for these people. Even now as I write this it seems strange that I would feel such emotion for those I didn’t even know, but with Nirvana specifically, it felt like there was someone else who was feeling some kind of pain and on that 25-minute car ride home that was exactly what I needed.
With “Wish You Were Here” it’s a bit of a different story. I follow Danny Sexbang’s (real name Dan Avidan) YouTube show Game Grumps where he and Arin Hanson play games and talk about the game or life in general. Their play through of “Katamari Damacy” was recommended to me at a time where I felt like a real screw up and had essentially hit rock bottom as far as mental states go. But in the Grumps playthrough Danny talked about his life and how he was just some stoner in Jersey or Philly living without much direction or purpose and that he felt terrible every day for years before he started doing musical comedy with Ninja Sex Party and eventually Game Grumps.
Hearing Avidan recite David Gilmour and Roger Waters’ lyrics about former bandmate Syd Barrett really struck a chord with me. The original Pink Floyd version is great and one of the band’s best songs. But hearing a band called Ninja Sex Party play this song almost acoustically and no frills added to vocals sent me a message like “Maybe when Avidan was recording this song, he felt the same anguish that Gilmour and Waters went through.”
Both Cobain and Avidan are huge inspirations to me musically, and in the case of Avidan, almost a life coach for his attitude and his own experiences. So “All Apologies” and “Wish You Were Here” (both versions) will now forever hold a special place in my heart for making me feel like I’m not the only person to be sad over the loss of a friend or family member or a breakup or even not knowing how to feel after a truly awful massacre.
In keeping with this theme of how songs can affect the listener I wanted to add a few more that at one time or another really spoke to me starting with another Pink Floyd song “Us and Them.” This song has saxophones and down beats and piano chords echoing throughout and it’s sung in traditional spacey Floyd fashion by Gilmour. This is a great song for driving at night, if you feel loved or if you want to feel loved. There’s a sense of belonging that comes with this song and really the entirety of “The Dark Side of the Moon.”
Coldplay can be something of a hit-or-miss band, but when I was in high school and thought that I had no chance of ever dating a girl after the one I pined over turned me down I turned to them. “Strawberry Swing” is a song more about nostalgia and youth than it is sadness or despair, but any time I’m in a down mood it always helps for one reason or another. Maybe it’s the twangy guitars of Chris Martin’s choral voice that help soothe whatever ails me at the time, but this one never fails to help in times of need. I’d also recommend Frank Ocean’s cover of the song which I would dare to say is better than the original. Ocean has a great set of pipes on him and really hits those high notes well and the story on his take is different, but in other ways it’s also the same.
When you think of songs that tug at emotional heartstrings, I’m sure Mobb Deep isn’t the first to come to mind, but the song “Give Up the Goods (Just Step)” was a solace I needed this past winter. I felt very down in the dumps and also felt like I wasn’t going anywhere with life, just sort of checking off the boxes. Then a few things happened with girls I was trying to date and needless to say a lot came crashing down all at once. But I kept plugging through whatever it was that was keeping me down and “Give Up the Goods” was a pretty good medicine. In comparison to other songs on the album, this one has an almost synth sound in the back beat and string samples sprinkled throughout the verses to make this song more about the content of the lyrics rather than just a catchy hook. The lyrics themselves are something else; the album speaks about the rap duo’s hardships, but this track makes everything seem approachable. At this point they’re not being gangsters for fun, but to survive. I think this one sticks out because no matter what thing has me down, I know Deep has been through worse, but they’re still here, so why shouldn’t I be?
The last track I put on here is Tycho’s “A Walk.” Tycho is a British DJ who excels at making beats and songs that are genetically engineered for solo night driving. “A Walk” features a melodic piano line then adds bass and a beat to drive the song a little more. It’s impressive what is able to be accomplished in five minutes on this track. Right when you feel like you have it all figured out the beat changes on you. Maybe that’s why this is always a go-to for me. There are no words to identify with, just sound and in that a simplistic beauty. I have no sad memory associated with this track, but I discovered Tycho on a day off one summer a few years ago and I can recall rain smacking my window behind my head. I wanted to find a rainy day kind of song and lo and behold, there was Tycho. Now no rainy day is complete without a listen to this song and the album “Dive.”
These songs aren’t meant to make anyone feel bad by listening to them, I just know that hearing Cobain’s raspy voice or Avidan losing the comedy for a musical purpose always speaks volumes to me and that 14th day of June this year inspired me to take a deeper look at how music can affect your emotions, even if you didn’t know it could.