Depressing Music


Nov 8 2009, 20h13

Journal Excerpt

I was thinking about this word 'melancholy'. I wanted to defend it, to wrestle or distinguish it from the word 'depressing' with which it is often confused. Melancholy is something that can be defined as much by its great beauty and sense of rapture as it is by sadness and introspection.

This sentiment seems to me to be exemplified in the music of Leonard Cohen, an artist whose music has become synonymous with the word depressing in many quarters. If his music is sad (and often it is) it is sadness elevated to an art form, and one that does not fail to admit the light as well as the dark; broadly life’s sense of wonder as well as it’s disappointments and absurdities.

The kind of melancholy that pervades the music of Leonard Cohen seems to me one of the most balanced (and honest) of all sentiments – who has not at some point of great euphoria wondered why life is not always such and in that moment experienced a feeling of melancholy that cannot be called depressing or even sad?

A sad or melancholy song that successfully communicates that sentiment seems to me to be ultimately positive thing. There will always be music that seems compromised from humble beginning to cynically marketed end – derivative schlock in any idiom or style that seems bereft of its own voice (including songs that attempt to convey any genuine sadness or melancholy but fail). This is what I think of as 'depressing music' and it's a distinction that I think is important to make.

Leonard Cohen


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