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The Joy of C Minor

February 18, 2014

“We make out of the quarrel with others rhetoric, but of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry.
– W.B. Yeats

I’ve wondered why some people in my generation stop listening to music.  It may be for very practical reasons.  Priorities change.  Responsibilities and life’s demands take over and dictate daily routines.  There just may not be enough time to keep listening.  It might also be that the music no longer has an impact on them.  They just don’t feel any emotion when listening.  Whatever once happened, just doesn’t show up any longer.  Or possibly, it’s  just the opposite; the lasting effect is too much of a burden.  Music brings them sorrow and makes them downhearted and it’s better to leave it all behind.  Cheerful music or no music at all can work well in these cases.

photo 1

Linda Ronstadt’s Don’t Cry Now album cover, 1973

Linda Ronstadt had a long and successful music career until she was afflicted with Parkinson’s Disease.  She sang plenty of sad songs.  She didn’t write very much, but had a beautiful voice and recorded and performed many songs from a variety of genres – country, pop, the “American standards,” rock, and even Mexican.  Ronstadt found these songs wherever she could.  She tells the story of how she would often bug Jackson Browne, a talented songwriter who’s been her friend since they were teenagers, to teach her one of his songs.  He’d agree, but would wait until he recorded it first and then in Ronstadt’s typical modesty, she would be a bit intimidated to try because she didn’t see how she could measure up to J.B.’s version.  She learned about “Heart Like a Wheel,” one of my favorites of her recordings, in the back seat of a New York taxi from Jerry Jeff Walker.  She covered many musicians’ songs during her career, including The Everly Brothers, Warren Zevon, The Rolling Stones, Frank Sinatra, Hank Williams, Bob Dylan, Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison, and Ella Fitzgerald, among others.

Ronstadt says that the way that the chords are voiced attracted her to a song.  The sound of the chords and the way that they reached in and grabbed her heart got her attention.  She jokes that she wanted the song to rip on one of the heart’s ventricles and cause enough pain to send her to the emergency hospital.  In a perverse way, she’d play the song again and find that there was something in the chords or the phrase of words that made her realize that it was portraying the way she was feeling at the time.  It was speaking to her in the moment and then she wanted to sing it.

photo 4

Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks is a hard-hitting listen. The title says it all.

Of course, sad songs are popular with many.  That’s part of the deal with blues, country, and even some rock music.  Minor chords can also have their own deflating influence in all sorts of music, particularly classical.  As a bit of a paradox however, scientists are finding that sad music can evoke positive emotions.  These people will give careful and methodical process to the matter, but of course anyone can witness first hand the smiling faces at any blues festival.  (How’s that for a contradictory name for an event?)


These are a fine complement to a cheddar cheese sandwich.

Linda Ronstadt also says that any melancholy from the time she learned the song usually dissipates.  Matters once associated with the gloomy time are long forgotten.  A song once connected to heart-break could now reflect a more current disappointment.  She’s moved on.  In some cases, she’s left it all in the past, joking that the letdown of not being able to find any bread and butter pickles at the grocer, which she needed for a cheese sandwich, could be the replacement for the more complicated despair that she once felt.

Maybe there’s a message here.  It could be as simple as keeping the kitchen stocked.  If there’s more to the point than that, jump in headlong, but make it easier with a good cheese and bread and butter pickle sandwich.

From → Life, Music

  1. I’m always amazed by how music can transport us back in time. Something we haven’t thought about in years often resurfaces when we hear a song from that time period.


  2. As a lover of music and particularly the music of the poets, like Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne, Peter Gabriel. I always feel more alive when I sing sad songs; they seem to awaken something in me.

    Twice last week, I heard Dylan’s Visions of Johanna on the radio. I am even thinking of writing a post about that songs beauty and the ingenious voicing that Dylan uses.

    Have to share a quote I just read:

    “The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.” Khalil Gibran



    • Now that’s a winner of a radio week, Debra. I recently heard Linda Ronstadt quickly shut down someone who started on the worn-out commentary about Dylan’s poor singing voice. I agree. I love a good Dylan cover, but nobody sings Dylan like Dylan. I even like the way he sings others’ songs.


  3. I was on a road trip and had some car time to listen and found “the loft” on sirius radio. Many long forgotten songs poping up over the miles. Some new covers of Jackson Brown’s songs and also some from him. Brings me back and makes me wonder what a 17 year old kid was thinking about a “Song for Adam” at the time. It’s so sad and yet made me somehow long for that simple time when a song could move me. Big thoughts for such a young kid. Life death love and loss.


  4. wow, a hat trick for us. We LOVE Yeats, our favorite poet, adore Linda (to a fault) and my pub’s grandmother made the BEST pickles ever.

    More to your point. While visiting a Japanese tea house once, we were reminded that music is all around us. sometimes it’s the sound of wind blowing through the trees, utensils on plates, people speaking in the background, horns blowing from cars, a match being struck. Granted, we could do without the obnoxious heavy metal suburban leaf blowers, but you get the idea.

    Love the post,

    xo, LMA


  5. Roberta permalink

    I think this is very soul searching and believe you have made a strong observation of how music does affect each and everyone.


  6. Lessons learned, however. I think everyone would be better off making their own.


  7. I enjoyed reading this, Bruce. and I do love Linda! What a voice she had. And I agree with her comment that the melancholy dissipates over time. I find that most often songs from my past make me smile and give me the joy of memory.


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