The Music, Or The Melancholy

Which came first, the music or the melancholy? Do I listen to pop music because I’m melancholy? Or am I melancholy because I listen to pop music?

It has been (lovingly, I hope) brought to my attention that The Daily Journal is rife with mentions of melancholy. I gave this some thought as I walked through the bitter cold listening to Badly Drawn Boy this morning. Is melancholy really what I’m feeling? Is melancholy even a feeling?

Webster’s defines melancholy thusly:

1 a : an abnormal state attributed to an excess of black bile and characterized by irascibility or depression b : BLACK BILE c : MELANCHOLIA
2 a : depression of spirits : DEJECTION b : a pensive mood

Bile? Nope. Depression? Rarely. Pensive? Absolutely. But let me to back up a bit. Like, 32 years…

You, Dear Reader, will recall that my mother was learning classical guitar when pregnant with me way back in the summer of 1971. It is not a major leap, then, to suggest that the soothing strains the acoustic guitar have been my soundtrack since birth. It is in me on the cellular level.

I grew up in the 70s. James Taylor, Carol King, John Denver, Jim Croce — the list goes on and on — were in frequent rotation on my parent’s turntable. To say that the melancholic tone of the singer/songwriter era was apt accompaniment for the subtext of my family dynamic might be a stretch. What do I know? I was a kid. But that’s how I remember it.

And so, when I reached out for an instrument to accompany the rough prose of my adolescent diaries, the acoustic guitar was a natural choice. It is not an instrument of joy, really — horns may be a better fit, or at least synthesizer. I don’t really know. I’ve never turned to music for joy (though I do love to rock the dance floor). No, I reached for the acoustic guitar. I reach for it still, almost exclusively when I’m pensive. And when I make records, I turn to cellists, organists, and other acoustic guitar players. Sweet, sad, and simple.

And my iPod is filled with pensive: REM, Wilco, Aimee Mann, Beth Orton, John Mayer, etc etc etc. I mean, if I’m not pensive — deeply, wistfully, dreamily thoughtful — walking through this life, what am I? And what is this life for?

So, which came first, the music of the melancholy? I guess it’s moot. It’s guess it’s just who I am.

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