Van Morrison wrote a song called “I’m Not Feeling It Any More” and that sums up how I’m feeling today. I’m just feeling a bit down. This “same old”, “same old” every day is getting to me. Just some variety in my life would be great. I got excited yesterday when I saw a news item which stated that there was between a 50% and 80% chance of a vaccination being ready by Christmas but I’ve subsequently been put right about how unlikely that is and I think it’s hit me hard. The low wouldn’t have been so low without yesterday’s high.
I’ve tried to write this blog three times already. I’ve tried a great compilation from New York in 1963 called “Broadside Ballads Volume 1” featuring, amongst others, Blind Boy Grunt (a pseudonym used by Bob Dylan) and I’ve tried a lovely record called “Bonny Light Horsemen” that Anais Mitchell released with Eric D. Johnson, and Josh Kaufman. I couldn’t get going. Thinking about what I wrote yesterday about how depressing music can lift my mood, I tried “Concussion” by Matthew Ryan but then I was reminded about this excellent collaboration between Neilsen Hubbard and Matthew Ryan.
Already, just listening to the resigned vocals on the second song “Pretty Girl”, I feel more energised. It’s not logical and I can’t describe this rationally – it’s just the power of music to amplify feelings. I guess the definition of “catharsis” is relevant here: “Catharsis (from Greek κάθαρσις, katharsis, meaning “purification” or “cleansing” or “clarification”) refers to the purification and purgation of emotions—particularly pity and fear—through art or any extreme change in emotion that results in renewal and restoration.” Yup, that’s it. A purgation of negative emotions.
I have 10 records by Matthew Ryan and Roo classifies them all as “dead miserable music”. The “No Depression” website describes him as “equal parts Springsteen, Paul Westerberg and Ryan Adams. He has been a powerhouse of a storyteller for almost two decades.” He does not play in goal for Brighton And Hove Albion – that’s Maty Ryan, who is Australian. I have 1 record by Neilsen Hubbard and he is more well known as a music and video producer than a performer, working with Mary Gauthier, John Prine and Jason Isbell amongst others.
“Strays Don’t Sleep” is a one-off collaboration between these two artists. The CD came with a DVD of videos for each of the 9 songs. They do not make for happy watching but they do help me restore a sense of equilibrium.
In his early twenties, Ryan Webb changed his name to Matthew Ryan in honor of his older brother, who, in 2006, was sentenced to 30 years in prison. It appears he might have helped a murderer escape from a police chase but the details on the Internet are hard to ascertain. “For Blue Skies”, a song from that project’s one and only album, a self-titled effort, directly addresses his brother’s predicament. “What you couldn’t do, I will,” Ryan sings in a beautiful, broken whisper. He sings “I forgive you” 15 times at the end of the song which was included on a soundtrack record for a TV program called “One Tree Hill”. The YouTube video below is the one from the DVD included with the CD.
The other outstanding song is called “Cars And History”. This features more of Matthew Ryan’s beautiful whispered mournful vocals and there’s also a haunting counter vocal. What the song is about escapes me. Try this: “December 31st,/11:59,/Come a little closer girl,/It’s time to rise and shine./I had to let it go,/We had to let it slip,/Funny how it all works out,/When you’ve given up on it./Rooftops and stars above,/(cold war is gone)/The smell of cold, dead leaves,/Our skin was all in knots,/(cold war is over, dear)/You were moving under me.” Who knows what the literal meaning of this is? I know it sounds very sad, regretful and resigned. The YouTube video below is a bit strong but is the one included with the CD. It’s from a film called “You Are Alone”
The act of writing is, in itself, cathartic and my mood has improved considerably by a) listening to this beautifully sad music b) writing about it and c) an email that John sent me.