Saturday, December 23, 2017

Christmas music for the depressed

At last I get it.

I mean, cognitively I've always known it. Now, I've lived the experience.

The holidays are a very difficult time for many people. If you're in the midst of any kind of loss or if you're genuinely alone in the world, this is probably one of the worst times of the year to endure. In fact this season seems to magnify any pain one might already be bearing, thus causing further isolation. I think of how Colin Wilson wrote his first, and greatest, academic work, The Outsider, because he was alone in his room on Christmas Day.

(One quick but important aside: The notion that suicides increase during the holidays is a myth. Regardless, that doesn't mean you shouldn't keep an eye on the depressed, though.)

Difficult financial times also make the holidays an ordeal. This year has taught me that it only takes one good shove and all the dominoes start falling. Things continue to fail and fall into disrepair, because that's what things naturally do. When you don't have the funds to effect these repairs or replacements, they turn into what's known as "deferred maintenance"...a phrase I've become most understanding of for many reasons. One thing leads to another and you just begin to feel like you're continuously sliding down this muddy bank. After a while you're exhausted and you just sit in the muck at the bottom because further attempts look every bit as futile as the past ones. Hell is living in a constant state of fear. There are few greater fears than not knowing where you're going to end up.

All the while you're bombarded by happy, perky tunes and advertisements urging you to buy buy buy so that people know you love them. If you can't, then you've truly failed somewhere along the way.

It's easy to get resentful. "Yes, enjoy your petroleum-based society, you slack-jawed troglodytes. Drive to the malls and buy your useless shit products just as you're told. It's all coming crashing down sooner rather than later. A tax plan just got passed that's going to balloon the deficit, all to justify massive cuts to Social Security and Medicare. I give up. I'm just going to watch it all collapse."

That's reactionary, however. It neglects how truly fortunate I am. Since the decimation of February 3rd, I've been helped by so many. I don't sleep in my car. I'm not one of the millions of people in the world who try to survive on less than $10 a day. I'm worried about paying medical bills and what, if anything, insurance will cover next year, but I'm not struggling to pay for cancer treatments.

Oh and thank goodness there's always music.

I found this list on NPR. It's ten of the most depressing Christmas songs ever and it provides an odd sense of comfort knowing that there are at least a few other people who have been sad this time of year and put those thoughts to music. A few of the highlights from the list:

-"Ring the Bells for Jim" by Johnny Cash. Anything Cash did comes with a certain, brilliant heft. Spoiler alert: things don't end well for Jim.

-"7 O'clock News/Silent Night" by Simon and Garfunkel. As the article's author put it: "This is pretty much what it would sound like if Simon and Garfunkel were jamming "Silent Night" post-Christmas feast in your living room with a guitar, if your intense uncle insisted on keeping the TV blaring CNN in the background."

-"Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis" by Tom Waits. The title says it all.

I'll add my own to the list. "Washington Square" by the very brilliant, Chris Isaak. Mournful, melodically melancholy, and although it's obviously about missing someone serving overseas, it can also be interpreted for your own situation if need be.

This next one isn't legit, but oh if only...

Then there's one of my favorites, "Do They Know It's Christmas?" by Band Aid. It's been lambasted in recent years, even by its composer. Maybe it hasn't held up all that well, especially lyrically, but it's one of the first times musicians came together to record for a cause, in this case famine relief in Ethiopia. Plus, it has Duran Duran and U2 on the same record, so how could I not love it? Just listen to Bono belt out that line, "Tonight thank God it's them instead of you." I know he had great reservations about the line, but it did hit me at the time in 1984. It got a 14 year-old brat to at least start thinking about those in extreme poverty, so that's something, right? Right?

All levity aside, if you really are feeling depressed and alone this holiday season, please check out this site. It's maintained by others of us dealing with the loss and depression and it has tips that might help.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

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