The news today that Joni Mitchell is unable to speak due to an aneurysm started me thinking about sad songs.
Joni certainly sang a lot of sad songs – wistful ballads, filled with regret or longing, perfect songs for sad times and depression.
This is what made me wonder.
You see, a great many years ago I was in a band, and one night we were poised to be signed by a big label. We’d enjoyed playing, we enjoyed the gigs around Glasgow, we had great fun writing and rehearsing. We were having a blast – local success, people saying hello. Lovely stuff – but this was a watershed moment – we’d have to write good songs to a deadline, we’d have to tour far away from home. We would have to play the same set over and over – perhaps for the rest of our lives. Scary stuff. The band imploded. This was not the life we wanted.
I saw the Rolling Stones 20 years apart – and it occurred to me that they have had to play those songs over and over – over the whole 20 years and more, over the whole world.
What other art form makes you do this? Comedians tour and then bin their material for new stuff. Painters and photographers are not obliged to repeat themselves, authors write different books. It’s only musicians who have this nightmare to face.
It’s bad enough that the mechanisms remain the same, more or less, writing a book – even though it is a different book, is still the product of the writing process. That’s unavoidable. Bricklayers build all sorts of properties, but it’s still brick-laying.
But to build the same thing over and over? That is inhumane. I pity the Rolling Stones – I couldn’t even listed to those songs every day, let alone play them on stage in some foreign arena.
It would drive me mad. What could be worse?
Well, that’s an interesting question – would it be worse if your hits were sad? Like Joni’s?
I can imagine that Uptown Funk may lose its sheen after a few years of constant performance, but at least it is upbeat. Maybe that is the same with the Stones – their stuff is not exactly mournful and depressing in the main. Could it be that Lemmy, The Stones, Status Quo and others have managed to push through because the were not bleeding heart balladeers?
I know that Joni Mitchell has suffered depression, is her music the cause or the effect of her depression? Would playing these songs over so many decades take it’s toll?
Whatever happened to R.E.M.? Automatic for the People has to be one of the most depressing albums ever recorded. Are they all in asylums? I would be.