What is it exactly about music that can make us feel things so intensely? The right melody can fill us with joy, calm our nerves, even move us to dance and sing along. Some songs, however, make us feel something else entirely. Some songs make us pensive, melancholy- and sad. There are songs that can, without fail, make me cry.
But why would someone want to cry, you ask? I would ask you in return, who doesn’t want to cry from time to time? Crying is one of the most human experiences we can partake in. Sadness is but one color in the rainbow of a rich emotional life, though for some reason many don’t appreciate it’s beauty. It is the indigo of the rainbow, often brushed over, ignored, seen as unnecessary or unwanted. But even if you can’t find the right crayon in the box and decide to just leave it out, the rainbow’s name is still ROY G. BIV, not ROY G. BV.
I personally love to feel sadness, in the right amounts, at the right times. I revel in my joy, celebrate my pride, even indulge my anger with righteous indignation. It feels good to round out my inner world with a few key doses of sadness, especially sadness that does not pertain directly to my own circumstances.
That is where sad songs come in. Have you never sat back and just enjoyed a sad song, alone in a quiet place? That song can sound very different for different people, and what makes one person tear up may leave another completely unmoved. But it’s how the song makes you feel that matters.
The first song I ever heard that filled me with that sweet, sweet sadness was called My Ain’ True Love, sung by Alison Kraus in the movie Cold Mountain. I first heard it when I was pretty young, maybe eight or nine, but it stuck with me for life and I am always sure to give it a place on whatever device I’m currently using to listen to music. The lyrics are about a woman who is left behind when her lover goes to war, and Kraus’s sweet, soft, haunting vocals send a chill down my spine every time I hear it. On one train ride home from school, I played it over and over and over again, and I crafted the emotions it inspired in me into a short story that I still am proud of to this day.
If you want to give it a listen and share in the emotional goodness, here you go: https://youtu.be/wU7MEtAYSkA
Some songs can be sad without ponderous cellos and violins and a bluegrass voice, though. It’s about how the song makes you feel. Sometimes the lyrics just really strike a chord, and at other times you can’t quite put a finger on what is making you feel so deeply. You just do, and that’s beautiful in and of itself.
One song that gives me delicious waves of sadness for no reason is Gold, by Chet Faker. It’s nothing like Alison Kraus; it’s more upbeat and mainstream, some might even find it a happy song. But it will always make me pause, take a seat, and bathe in the bittersweet feelings it gives me.
If you want to give it a listen, you can find it here: https://youtu.be/hi4pzKvuEQM
My other two go-to sad songs are from the same movie- a foreign film I was introduced to in an advanced conversational Spanish class. It’s called Voces Inocentes (Innocent Voices), and it’s about a young El Salvidorian boy whose life is torn apart by the revolutionary war that his village lies on the frontlines of. This movie fills me with the entire emotional rainbow, and if you know Spanish, or don’t mind subtitles, I highly recommend it.
The two songs that I love most from this movie fill me with a different shade of sadness than the others. While Alison Kraus fills me with the aching, pining, resolute sadness that speaks of a missing love and stubborn hope, and Gold makes me reflect on both my sins and my traumas alike, these songs give me nothing but pure, unadulterated grief. I grieve for the people that the songs are about, for the cruelties of life, and for my helplessness in the face of human suffering.
The first song is Casas de Cartón (Cardboard Houses), specifically the version that is heard in the movie itself. It’s the official song of the revolution, and it speaks of the gut-wrenching conditions of the working class and the grave injustices of those in power. I have a link here: https://youtu.be/Sg08kREh824 (I apologize for the quality of the sound, it’s damn near impossible to find a decent copy of the movie version).
My final sad song to offer up is called Razones (Reasons), by Bebe. It’s a song about the loss of a loved one, and about the piercing hunger to see their face and hear their voice again. It’s about the emptiness of the bed you once shared, and the pleas you make to the wind for their return.
Sadness can feel awful, but every once in the while it’s exactly what you need. Happiness is what we all strive for, and rightfully so, but how can we truly feel happiness if we never know it’s opposite? Music is a portal into a world that is not your own, where it is safe to feel that sadness, and then leave it behind you when the song ends. Whatever that sad song is for you, do your best not to forget it for too long. Welcome it into your life and learn to love and appreciate it for the fullness it brings you. Without these moments, our world loses one beautiful shade of color from its rainbow.