Malcolm Gladwell did a podcast on Bobby Braddock, the man behind some of the saddest country songs of all time. Mr. Gladwell’s interpretation of American pop/rock music charts versus country music was interesting to me. He’s Canadian and I’m from Texas. I’m not a fan of much newer country music. I listened to alot of popular country music in the 90s because I was in Texas and my friends’ families all listened to it. Before that, I had only listened to older country music from people who weren’t from the suburbs. My favorite country songs, just like my favorite rock, jazz, pop, blues, rap, R&B, hip hop, classical, etc. have one of two things in common – they are either so sad that you want to throw your heart on the ground and hit it with a sledgehammer or they are so happy that your heart feels like it will burst with joy.
Anything in between is not good enough to be a favorite for me.
Since I listened to that podcast, I can’t quit thinking about Mr. Gladwell’s comments on “Wild Horses” by the Rolling Stones. I like the Rolling Stones’s version and, yes, the lyrics are not quite as sad as “From Boulder to Birmingham” by Emmylou Harris, to which Mr. Gladwell compared it. They’re both connected since Gram Parsons apparently wrote “Wild Horses” and his death inspired “From Boulder to Birmingham”. However, part of the sadness and heartache emoted in a song is in the music itself – the melody, the specific notes, the key of the song. While I think “From Boulder to Birmingham” is pretty heart-breaking, The Sundays‘s version of “Wild Horses” saddens a deeper part of me. Something about the fragility in Harriet Wheeler‘s voice shatters my heart. “From Boulder to Birmingham” is a finely-tuned piece of music, but The Sundays’s “Wild Horses” is something you sing to yourself while rocking back and forth and weeping in a corner.
While we’re on the topic of cover songs, we should talk about “Hurt“. Nine Inch Nails put out this song while I was in one of the deepest parts of my depression and it helped me. It made me feel a little less alone, like Trent Reznor understood what I was feeling. If Trent Reznor could feel that way, then maybe I wasn’t quite as alone in the world as I felt. When I first heard that Johnny Cash was doing a cover of the song, I felt the same way that Trent Reznor says he felt. The song just didn’t seem to fit. Johnny Cash is a country music legend, but Nine Inch Nails was filed under “Industrial Rock“. It just seemed so weird. Then, Johnny Cash’s version of “Hurt” was released. If the song itself wasn’t heart-wrenching enough, then the video would certainly make up for it. Whereas the Nine Inch Nails song moved me because of how I felt, Johnny Cash’s version moved me because of how he felt. We all know Johnny Cash’s story. We know his pain is real and he feels every word he sings, every chord he strums. You can see this clearly in the faces of Johnny and June in the video. There is no acting here, just memory.
I really don’t think that country music has more power to make me cry than rock music. Although, I have been moved to tears by many songs in both genres. For me, it’s more of the combo of lyrics, music, and personality that determine whether a song makes me cry. I know some people who feel the same as I do. I also know people who would agree with Malcolm Gladwell. There are also those who have never been moved by music in that way. I’m just sad for them because there’s a certain magic about being moved so deeply by a song that you cannot hold back your tears. It’s cathartic and also makes you feel connected to the world around you in a very unique way.
With that, I leave you with one more beautifully sad song. It’s from one of my favorite artists, Sara Bareilles. She was supposed to repeat the chorus to the end of the song, but was crying so hard while recording in the studio that she could no longer sing. If you love NYC the way I do, then you may find yourself tearing up at her broken-hearted sacrifice along with me.