When it comes to music, I tend to steer to the saddest shit possible and I don’t even know why. There’s something about that aural connection that makes my office need to soak up all the sads.
Maybe it stems from my father. His favourite band was The Platters. My lords, they are amazing. One of his favourites was ‘The Great Pretender’ and as a family we all loved it. Especially as Freddy Mercury also sang a version and we were and continue to be a huge Queen family.
Now imagine me, many years after my father’s suicide, really contemplating the fact this was one of his favourite songs. It’s kind of gutting. And yet I still love the song.
I also love ‘Twilight Time’ and ‘Harbor Lights’ and pretty well their whole damn ‘Best of’ album, which we owned on CD and spun goddamn daily in enjoyment, then in tribute.
For something more recent, I find myself in a crazy ear crush on Sarah Blasko because her music sounds like it’s scoring someone’s downfall. It is the perfect score to me writing, both my inner process as well as what comes out on the page.
But when it comes to a great noir song, I’ll always stop at ‘Sea of Heartbreak.’ Why?
The lights in the harbour
Don’t shine for me.
And with those opening words, my heart breaks. This song brings out the very best in noir in that it’s someone’s eternal turmoil over love lost. Because noir isn’t always death as opposed to life, sometimes it’s death inside as opposed to living. These lyrics paint a picture of a million words and only really talk about the emotion and the distance. It’s not a classical narrative story, it’s a response.
And you are allowed to fill in the gaps. Which is always the worst because my mind will always reach further than it needs to in order to destroy itself. I’ll imagine something so bad that it’s near impossible but that doesn’t stop its possibility being a complete curtain over my brain. So this song utterly stalls my brain and sets it floating on ‘this seas of tears.’
I am now certain you can only imagine what then occurs when you double-bill this song with ‘Teen Angel,’ an actual narrative song and the very saddest thing you’ll hear on this fine day.
‘Teen Angel’ is about a young picaresque high school couple whose car stalls in front of an oncoming train, and, well, it’s easier if you just hear it.
That fateful night the car was stalled
Upon the railroad track
I pulled you out and we were safe
But you went running baaaa-aack.
From there, the train hits, the girl dies, and when the young buck investigates to see why, oh why, would she go and do something so stupid, he finds his ‘high school ring, clutched in your fingers tiii–iight.’ We then follow him to her funeral and we know he’s broken for life, as you would be.
It is horrific.
It is also a song that featured on a 50-60s double cassette album of rock and roll hits that my father bought and loved and I listened to a million times as a kid. From ‘Rock Around the Clock’ to ‘Blueberry Hill’ to ‘Chantilly Lace’ these tapes had it all, and yet I never knew they held this piece of lovesick noir. And I knew the words to the song, I sang along, and it wasn’t until one day, in my late teens, I was in my car, tape jammed in, jamming along, when I paused and took stock of the words coming out of my mouth. I was floored. I rewound, I listened again. Why the hell was this even a song?
I took the tape home and played the song for my brother, he had also never really ‘heard’ the song before. We both stood there, paused, and that feeling that death is all around you, has always been around you, finally soaks in as you realise how comfortable you’ve become with it. How inured you are to things ending before they should. How much your brain protects you from the darkness all around.
All these songs, as bleak as the other side of the moon, and yet I can’t get enough.
As I write the downfall of so many characters, you’ll find these songs scoring their trip to the underworld, across the sea of heartbreak.