The idea for this blog has been on my mind, and my to-do list, for quite some time now. I don’t remember when I first started to think about songs that spoke to or alluded to depression but I do know it has been germinating for many years. I have been making playlists for as long as I can remember collecting music. First, it was mix tapes on cassette. I still have a few examples collecting dust someplace around the house. It evolved into mix-disc with the advent of CD which in turn became digital playlists, which is where we are now. Perhaps some day in the future we will be able to do neural implants and download directly to our memory banks but for now, we will be content with YouTube and iTunes. There will be two themes running through this blog: depression and not depression. Some songs are about depression, some are about healing; all of them have been a part of my journey.
Ribbon of Darkness by Marty Robbin
I picked this song for the title, not so much because it is a depressing song or even a song about depression but because of the excellent title: “Ribbon of Darkness”. It is the perfect description of the road that I walk many, many days. It has twists and turns. The ribbon of darkness goes up hills and down into valleys. It cuts through swamps and cuts through deep dark forests. I have bridges that cross valleys that seem bottomless. This highway circles mountains and occasionally scales peaks into crystal clear skies where we can see for miles and miles and can even see the direction forward. And then it winds its way down the other side and continues winding its way toward its destination, which is a story for another day.
“Clouds are gathering over my head
That chill the day and hide the sun
That shroud the night when day is done
Ribbon of darkness over me”
There are days when I feel like my head is in a cloud, a very dark and angry cloud. Swirling, unsteady, ever changing, and full of rain. The rain can be good or bad. It can be a deluge that drowns everything, not good. Or it can be a spring shower that brings hope and new growth. It can be a cold and lonely place, that chills not only the day but also the night and deep to the soul. It can feel cold and lonely even on a sunny day with loved ones. The ribbon of darkness cuts through life events like a highway through a park. It gets us where we are going at the expense of some beautiful scenery. Ribbon of darkness over me, where once the world was young as spring, where flowers did bloom and birds would sing, a ribbon of darkness over me.
Everybody Hurts by R.E.M
When your day is long And the night, the night is yours alone When you’re sure you’ve had enough Of this life, well hang on
Don’t let yourself go ‘Cause everybody cries And everybody hurts sometimes
Sometimes everything is wrong Now it’s time to sing along When your day is night alone (Hold on, hold on) If you feel like letting go (Hold on) If you think you’ve had too much Of this life, well hang on
Everybody hurts Take comfort in your friends Everybody Hurts Don’t throw your hand, oh no
Don’t throw your hand If you feel like you’re alone No, no, no, you are not alone
If you’re on your own in this life The days and nights are long When you think you’ve had too much of this life to hang on
Well, everybody hurts sometimes Everybody cries Everybody hurts sometimes And everybody hurts sometimes
So hold on, hold on Hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on Everybody hurts
The lyrics say enough, I don’t think I can add anything to them. Listen to them, not just the song, really listen to the words and what they say. Good stuff, thanks, R.E. M.
Eleanor Rigby by The Beatles
Ah, look at all the lonely people
Ah, look at all the lonely people
Eleanor Rigby picks up the rice in the church where a wedding has been
Lives in a dream Waits at the window, wearing the face that she keeps in a jar by the door
Who is it for?
[Chorus] All the lonely people
Where do they all come from? All the lonely people
Where do they all belong?
Father McKenzie writing the words of a sermon that no one will hear
No one comes near. Look at him working. Darning his socks in the night when there’s nobody there
What does he care?
[Chorus] Eleanor Rigby died in the church and was buried along with her name
Father McKenzie wiping the dirt from his hands as he walks from the grave
No one was saved“
In a previous chapter of my life, I was a pastor. Is this blog the words of a sermon that no one will hear? Do I care? Does anyone care? All the lonely people, where to they all belong? Where do I belong? Where do I feel like I belong? Who are the people that make me feel like I belong? On the surface, this song evokes desperation and loneliness but it gives me hope as well, I am not alone in my feeling of loneliness. There are other lonely people. There are Eleanor Rigby’s and Father Mckenzie’s all around us. Do I care? Yes, I do.
Dark Side of The Moon by Pink Floyd
Not a song this time, a whole album.
It has been well documented and spoken of many time that the founding member of Pink Floyd, Syd Barrett, was a deeply troubled person and that the other members of Pink Floyd drew inspiration from him. Some of the songs were very flattering such as “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”, from a different album are direct references to Syd Barrett.
Incidentally, I think crazy in that song is a slang for cool, not insanity.
Some of the songs from The Dark Side of the Moon:
Speak to Me (Mason) 1:16 “I’ve been mad for fucking years, absolutely years, been over the edge for yonks, been working me buns off for bands…”
“I’ve always been mad, I know I’ve been mad, like the most of us…very hard to explain why you’re mad, even if you’re not mad…”
I believe that I was mad long before I was formally diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder. I have been buried in the darkness of life many times and always wrote it off as having the blues or a hangover or a side effect of whatever drug I was using at the time.
Blaming it on the alcohol and drugs worked well until I sobered up. The darkness was still there. I was riding an emotional high after gaining sobriety and rediscovering my faith in God in 1989 but like all highs, it didn’t last. The first few years had a lot more high points than before but I could feel them eroding and the highs weren’t quite so high and the valleys started to get deeper and longer.
‘…very hard to explain why you’re mad, even if you’re not mad.’
So true, it is very hard to explain depression to someone who has never walked that road. It is very difficult to articulate what is happening in my head and there are times when a song or an album explains it better than I or any doctor or medical dictionary could. This is such an album. It speaks of what it is like to be mad (depressed) and it gives hope and joy because ‘everything under the sun is in tune.’ – Eclipse from Dark Side of the Moon.
I listened to this album a lot over the years. I bought it in 1972 when it first came out, on eight track believe it or not, and over the years I probably bought 10 more copies. I never tired of listening to The Dark Side of the Moon. It spoke to me deep in my emotional well. It spoke to me of hope and of despair. It buoyed me when I was down and encouraged me when I was up.
Brain Damage (Waters) 3:50
The lunatic is on the grass.
The lunatic is on the grass.
Remembering games and daisy chains and laughs.
Got to keep the loonies on the path.
The lunatic is in the hall.
The lunatics are in my hall.
The paper holds their folded faces to the floor
And every day the paper boy brings more.
And if the dam breaks open many years too soon
And if there is no room upon the hill
And if your head explodes with dark forebodings too
I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon.
The lunatic is in my head.
The lunatic is in my head
You raise the blade, you make the change
You re-arrange me ’til I’m sane.
You lock the door
And throw away the key
There’s someone in my head but it’s not me.
And if the cloud bursts, thunder in your ear
You shout and no one seems to hear.
And if the band you’re in starts playing different tunes
I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon.
“I can’t think of anything to say except… I think it’s marvellous! HaHaHa!” And I think the lyrics to this song are marvellous and the music is insane in a beautiful way. ‘Rearrange me ’til I’m sane.’, ‘You shout and no one seems to hear.’,’I can’t think of anything to say.’ And I can’t think of anything to say except that this is a go-to album for me anytime of the day or night, happy or sad, sane or insane. A masterpiece of sonic psychiatry.
Time; Mason, Waters, Wright, Gilmour) 7:06
“Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day
You fritter and waste the hours in an offhand way.
Kicking around on a piece of ground in your hometown
Waiting for someone or something to show you the way.
Tired of lying in the sunshine staying home to watch the rain.
You are young and life is long and there is time to kill today.
And then one day you find ten years have got behind you.
No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun.
So you run and you run to catch up with the sun but it’s sinking
Racing around to come up behind you again.
The sun is the same in a relative way but you’re older,
Shorter of breath and one day closer to death.
Every year is getting shorter never seem to find the time.
Plans that either come to nought or half a page of scribbled lines
Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way
The time is gone, the song is over,
Thought I’d something more to say.”
Hanging on in quiet desperation, what a perfect line of poetic inspiration. Hanging on, that is the important part. Yes, sometimes there is desperation but I want to focus on hanging on. Hanging on to everything good, hanging on to hope, hanging on to faith, hanging to… Sometimes it is just enough to hang on, even if it is in quiet desperation. Some music just plain feels good. Some go to music for me: Supertramp, The Beatles, The Lost Dogs, Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Talking Heads, Peter Gabriel, Bill Evans, John Coltrane, The Call, Nick Cave, mewithoutYou, Pink Floyd, Portland Cello Project, any K-tel record pre 1985 or so except Disco, Oscar Peterson, Terry Scott Taylor, Sam Phillips, Tom Waits, … OK, so I like to listen to lots of music. I guess that kind of is the whole point of this blog. Music is good. Music makes me feel good. Listening to music when I am depressed helps ease the pain. Listening to music helps keep the darkness away. Sharing music with others is good too. I like playing and singing with others. I like listening to a great piece of music with someone else who appreciates it as much as I do. Music makes the world go round.