There's probably some language that has a word denoting the kind of emotion Gillian Welch summons in "Look at Miss Ohio." Maybe English does. I don't know.
It has something to do with dashed expectations. The subject of this song has a convertible and maybe has a kind of Auntie Mame devil-may-care type charisma. But the narrator's tone is weirdly critical, even while nostalgic. And then the subject admits that there's some problem lurking under the pretense:
I know all about it, so you don’t have to shout it
I’m gonna straighten it out somehow
Yeah, I wanna do right but not right now
And you know that she won't straighten it out until it gets much worse, if then.*
Another great song of hopelessness is Iris Dement's "Easy's Getting Harder Every Day."**
I'll never understand why human beings create beauty out of sorrow like this. I'm pretty sure I'll never write a song half so good as Welch's or Dement's. I don't think that solving the philosophical problem would help anyone write better songs.
Why do we listen to sad songs?*** It's no fun to be sad. Do we like this kind of thing because it makes us feel less alone? Because it makes us feel anything at all? Because we understand ourselves better? None of these things really track the actual phenomenology of listening to a beautiful sad song.
Anyhow, here's one more, I think one of the saddest songs ever written.
Songs like this are a little bit like an Aranofsky movie, almost unwatchable/unlistenable, but all the better for that. The fact that being almost unwatchable/unlistenable can be a goodmaking feature is another weird aesthetic fact.
[*See this great compendium of Roger Ebert talking about addiction in his film reviews.
**In my senescence I begin to repeat myself. punkrockmonday #22 was just this song. Jason Megill and I once titled a paper on the hard and easy problems of consciousness "Easy's Gettin Harder All the Time." It should have been low hanging fruit, but I'd misremembered the title of the song! Maybe better we didn't get it right,so the offense to art was less.
***I know there's a relevant literature about why we watch scary movies, summarized well in Noel Carroll's Philosophy of Horror.]
- [Punkrockmonday #1] The White Stripes - Jack the Ripper (orig. Screaming Lord Sutch), Black Math, and the Big Three Killed My Baby
- [Punkrockmonday #2] Roy Cook - Saint Paul Cathedral, Minneapolis Capitol Building, Aayla Secura Mosaic, and Firefly Class Spaceship
- [Punkrockmonday #3] El Général- Rais Le Bled (President, Your Country)
- [Punkrockmonday #4] Charlie Patton -High Water Everywhere, Part 2
- [Punkrockmonday #5] Henry Rollins- What Am I Doing Here; Willie Nelson- Me and Paul; Rainbow Connection (orig. Kermit the Frog)
- [Punkrockmonday #6] Philip Larkin - Church Going
- [Punkrockmonday #7] David Bowie - Time
- [Punkrockmonday #8] P.J. Harvey - When Under Ether; White Chalk; Broken Harp
- [Punkrockmonday #9] Allison Kraus and Robert Plant - When the Levee Breaks (orig. Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie)
- [Punkrockmonday #10] Doog - Famous Blue Raincoat (orig. Leonard Cohen); sElf - Back in Black (orig. AC/DC); Johnny Cash- Down There By the Train (orig. Tom Waits)
- [Punkrockmonday #11] John Lee Hooker - Hobo Blues; Weird Al Yankovic - My Sharona; Edgar Cruz - Bohemian Rhapsody
- [punkrockmonday #12] Pixar Studios - Cars 2; The Bang Bang - Sitting in a Car; Angry Samoans - Hot Cars; Black Flag - Drinking and Driving; Gary Numan - Cars; Queen - Bicycle Race
- [punkrockmonday #13] Betty Bowers - Betty Bowers Explains Traditional Marriage to Everyone Else
- [punkrockmonday #14] Sesame Street - Sure Shot (orig. Beastie Boys)
- [punkrockmonday #15] Neil Degrasse Tyson - Stupid Design
- [punkrockmonday # 16] C.M. Punk - run up to Money in the Bank victory
- [punkrockmonday #17] Dead Kennedys - Riot
- [punkrockmonday # 18] Cookie Monster - God's Away on Business (orig. Tom Waits)
- [punkrockmonday # 19] The Legendary K.O.- George Bush Don’t Like Black People
- [punkrockmonday #20] Mance Lipscomb- Ella Speed
- [punkrockmonday #21] Iggy Pop - Lust for Life; Iggy Pop - The Passenger; Iggy Pop - I'm Bored; Iggy Pop (orig. The Stooges)- I Wanna Be Your Dog; Iggy and the Stooges - Search and Destroy
- [punkrockmonday #22] Iris Dement - Easy's Gettin' Harder Every Day
- [punkrockmonday #23] Louis C.K. - Are You a Lizard?; U2 - Maggie's Farm; Pink Floyd - The Post War Dream; Morrissey - Maggie on the Guillotine; Newtown Neurotics - Kick out the Tories
- [punkrockmonday #24] The Maria Bamford Show 01 - Dropout; The Maria Bamford Show 02 - Maria Gets a Job
- [punkrockmonday #25] Blind Willie Johnson
- [punkrockmonday #26] Some songs about Death