“Cheer Up, Emo Dude”: my five favorite sad songs of the moment

Here are five sad tunes that have been keeping me company over the past month, listed in reverse chronological order:

1) “Casimir Pulaski Day” – Sufjan Stevens (2005).

I’ll admit, I was slightly disappointed when I saw this on the Illinois album tracklist and realized that this song was not, in fact, a Big Black cover. But Soof won me over, despite his religious under-/overtones, because of that gorgeous banjo melody, his hushed mention of “cancer of the bone”, and the ripples of sorrow that permeate this tune.

2) “Have You Forgotten” – the Red House Painters (1996).

Sometimes, all it takes is just to remember the innocence of happier times to trigger pangs of sadness, and the seriously underrated Mark Kozelek is at his nostalgic peak (or, rather, nadir) here as he remembers the simpler moments of a childhood gone by. The simple question at the core of this song (Have you forgotten how to love yourself?) really cuts right to the core of our weakest moments: as easy as it is to blame our sorrow on the failings of others, our disappointments are more often rooted in ourself.

3) “Love Will Tear Us Apart” – Joy Division (1980).

This one is almost too obvious– I mean, read the title and you know it’s going to be a sad tune. But this one is sad to me not so much because of the content of the song itself but because of its obvious personal-ness: you hear this song, and you know exactly what Ian Curtis was going through. There’s almost certainly a reason his wife had these words inscribed on his tombstone after he committed suicide a few months later, but we’ll never really know if it was to broadcast Curtis’s obvious pain or to punish herself for not being able to fix it.

4)¬†“Hey Hey What Can I Do” – Led Zeppelin (1970).

Let’s face it: if Robert Plant circa 1970 couldn’t keep his woman happy and satisfied, then what hope is there for the rest of us?

5) “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” – Bob Dylan (1963).

Admittedly, I have a love/hate relationship with Dylan: I love his songs but generally can’t stand listening to him sing them. I was reminded of this song recently by a haunting a cappella version, but it’s Dylan’s raspy, broken melodies that really channel his mood. Even as he ponders the ultimate choice (I gave her my heart, but she wanted my soul), he pretends that he’s able to pick himself up and move on. Of course, we all know better. You just kinda wasted my precious time, indeed.

17 Responses to ““Cheer Up, Emo Dude”: my five favorite sad songs of the moment”

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  17. […] (4AD, 1995). I love Mark Kozelek, and I love RHP, but sometimes this music is just a little bit too sad. 2) Yo La Tengo: And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out (Matador, 2000). I’ll admit it: […]

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