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November, 2009

"Happy Songs"

by Webmaster

Someone asked me once, "Why aren't there any good 'happy' songs?"

That caught me by surprise. I hadn't given it much thought.

My first reaction was that there are "happy" songs. "Don't Worry. Be Happy" pops into my mind.

But, is it a good song? And, isn't it based on the premise that we've all got something to be unhappy, or at least worried, about?

Well, songs are supposed to be "universal." That is, they touch on themes that a lot of people can identify with. Could loss, frustration, and unfulfillment be more universal than success, accomplishment, and satisfaction?

  • "I Can't Get No Satisfaction" vs. "I'm Satisfied With You"
  • "The Ballad of Billy Joe" vs. "I'm Getting Married in the Morning"
  • "Take This Job and Shove It" vs. "Along the Navajo Trail"

Think of the stereotype of the tormented artist. Are happy people less artistic and creative than unhappy people?

"More and more creative people find they do their best work when they're feeling healthy and secure. We know writers who no longer need to be drunk or in agony in order to shed the numbness of their daily routine and tap into the full powers of their imagination. We have filmmaker friends whose best work flows not from the depths of alienated self-doubt but rather from the heights of well-earned bliss. Singer-songwriter P.J. Harvey is the patron saint of this new breed. 'When I'm contented, I'm more open to receiving a lot of inspiration," she has testified. "I'm most creative when I feel safe and happy.'" — Rob Brezsny, PRONOIA Is the Antidote for Paranoia: How the Whole World Is Conspiring to Shower You with Blessings

I don't claim to have the ultimate answer to any or all of these questions. Speaking strictly for myself, I'm a lot happier now than I was 15+ years ago when I was a fledgling songwriter. But, my songs are better now. At least I think they are, and the feedback and success I'm having with them tells me other people think they are, too. Some of that may be due to my studying songwriting and practicing my craft.

But, I really feel that my happiness provides me with a safe emotional place in which to be creative.

"I definitely still have ... angst but I also wrote some songs that say it's okay to love, now. I'm happy in my life, and it's a bit easier to write happy songs when you are actually happy." — Miranda Lambert, quoted by Russell Hall in "Miranda Lambert's Revolution," BMI MusicWorld (received Dec 2009)

While some of my newer songs are humorous and upbeat, they didn't necessarily arise from happy events in my life. They came out of my ability to transform a negative experience into a more positive one.

"Free Fall" is based on a story about the death of a stewardess who fell out of a flying plane. But I see it as an allegory of lost love and a triumph of human spirit.

And, some of my newer songs are really sad. They've touched people who have gotten tears in their eyes listening to the songs. (I'd like to attribute that reaction to the quality of the song and not the lack of quality of either the song or the performance.)

In an interview with John Irving, in the AARP November&December 2009 magazine, Irving quotes Herman Melville's advice, "Woe to him who seeks to please rather than to appal!" When asked by Daniel Stashower, the interviewer, what that means to Irving, he replies, "Be serious. Life hurts. Reflect what hurts. I don't mean that you can't also be funny, or have fun, but at the end of the day, stories are about what you lose."

And, we all eventually experience loss, face death (and taxes), and get hurt. We don't all win the Nobel Peace Prize, Academy Award or a Grammy. So, perhaps, unhappy subjects are more universal.

And, a good cry can be so therapeutic! Like the rain, it can clean and nuture.

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