There are certain songs that must be avoided during times of distress. Music has the power to move us like nothing else, and in times of emotional fragility, all tune intake must be carefully monitored. It doesn’t take a lot to overdose and over-react. A dash of Damien Rice here, a snippet of Sia there – before long, you will find yourself nodding along emphatically to REM’s Everyone Hurts, wallowing in self-pity and writing your own orbituary.
Wallowing can be its own fun, but when you’re feeling sad and actually want to feel better, you need shiny,happy music and novelty comedy songs. If you have the blues, for God’s sake, don’t listen to any.
However, I do think that certain tunes are oddly suited to the career-less no-man’s land I am currently populating. I’ve been listening to a lot of music (because it is that rare thing, a fun AND FREE activity) and the following tracks keep coming up as the perfect accompaniments to my usual job hunt activities, i.e. running recreationally to take my mind off things and sitting under my bare bulb writing angry letters to no one in particular.
NOTE: As you can probably tell my the above references, very few of these songs are what you would call “modern”. Three and a half years away from the UK music scene has left me woefully incompetent on the subject of contemporary popular music. Plus, when I do hear anything made after 2007, I immediately turn into a curmudgeonly older relative: “Call this music? It’s just noise…you crazy kids…back in my day…” etc
Song: My Little Town
Artist: Simon and Garfunkel
Sample Lyric: “Saving my money/ dreaming of glory/ twitching like the finger on the trigger of a gun…”
Why it works:
Simon and Garfunkel is generally a healthy precription whatever the mood or occasion – their songs manage to be both rousing AND relaxing, like getting gently drunk in a field full of daisies on a warm August evening.
My Little Town is a really fine choice if you find yourself jobless in the middle of the English countryside, and need to convince yourself that the reason you have yet to set the world on fire is not through a lack of talent, but simply a lack of opportunity. Particularly if you have big, idealistic city dreams that haven’t come to fruition just yet. Any day now, though.
Song: Ain’t Got No (I Got Life)
Artist: Nina Simone
Sample Lyric: Ain’t got no work/ Ain’t got no job/ Ain’t got no mind
Why it works:
Ain’t Got No (I Got Life) has the happy retro vibe, the burst of optimistic brass that kicks it all off, and the simple, positive lyrics to reassure the listener that things could be so much worse. I mean, the song’s persona doesn’t even have earth, or water, or friends, or shoes. I have those things. (Even though I could do with some new winter shoes, because I don’t think my two-year-old cowboy boots are ever coming back into fashion…)
All jokes aside, this is one flawless track that never fails to raise my spirits and remind me that as long as I’ve got life, I’ve got what matters – heart and soul. (And boobies).
Song: Like A Rolling Stone
Artist: Bob Dylan
Sample lyric: How does it feel/ To be on your own/ With no direction home/ A complete unknown
Why It Works:
This is a deceptively happy-sounding song for those moments of melodramatic self-indulgence best experienced in private. I can’t pretend to truly relate to the lyrics because I am not hopping freight trains and writing poetic lyrics, I am surfing the internet and eating Crunchy Nut cornflakes.
The “complete unknown” lyric however is more than welcome to my pity party. The quarterlife crisis is nothing if not an opportunity to lament a feeling of invisibility and general mopiness. My favourite literary example of this is in the David Nicholl’s novel One Day when he describes protagonist Emma’s Morley’s quarterlife crisis thus:
Emma’s mid-twenties had brought a second adolescence even more self-absorbed and doom-laden than the first one […] The city had defeated her, just like they said it would. Like some overcrowded party, no-one had noticed her arrival, and no-one would notice if she left.
To sum up: Sometimes I feel like a loser, and listening to Like A Rolling Stone makes me feel less of one.
Song: Miss Halfway
Artist: Anya Marina
Sample Lyric: Don’t he make 60K/ Invests in IRAs/ While I’m busy making paper aeroplanes/ Out of resumes
Why it works:
This song is pure dreamy, breathy disappointment – twenty-something moodiness and self-loathing rarely sounded so pretty. The paper aeroplane resumes is a tidy illustrating of half-assed procrastination (because what is the POINT when all you get are chirpy rejections wishing you good luck in your future job hunt?). It’s a tune about falling behind your friends and failing to keep up with your own expectaions and ambitions. In my opinion it is the classic twenty-nothing lament of feeling like we’re not quite where (or how) we’d like to be yet.
Song: When The Levee Breaks
Artist: Led Zeppelin
Sample lyric: If it keeps on raining/ The levee’s gonna break
Why it works:
I’m not sure. It feels like an odd choice, mostly because I’m not entirely clear on what a levee is. I’ve been puzzled it about it ever since that Don McLean song, and even though I’m pretty sure we covered it in secondary school Geography, I remain none the wiser.
To me, the song illustrates a booming build-up of doom, and the rain in question can refer to any of those pressures that make us clench up: relationships, deadlines, cancellations on public transport. For now, I’m choosing to relate the rain to the slew of rejection letters thanking me for my application and wishing me luck. The levee in question is my poor brain.
Bonus: if the unemployment thing continues for so long that I have to seek alternative means of support, i.e. dancing up and down a greased pole as my exotic dancer alter ego Tequila Mockingbird (nobody steal that), When The Levee Breaks strikes me as an excellent song to bump and/or grind to.