Happy or Sad? Over the past few months, I’ve experienced both these emotions and it’s not just to do with the fortunes of Brighton And Hove Albion. Why do we experience these emotions? Why do some people swing from deliriously happy to depressingly sad in a short period of time and others tend to feel neither emotion very much at all? What makes us happy or sad?
Dale Carnegie was an American writer who wrote “How To Win Friends And Influence People”. One of his quotes is “The person who seeks all their applause from outside has their happiness in another’s keeping.” As a teacher, I was constantly getting feedback from students. Sometimes it was direct praise or criticism. Other times the feedback was implied by body language or behaviour. The quote from Dale Carnegie indicates that if my feelings of self worth, value or meaning were to be completely determined by the feedback from my students, I was likely to feel more negative, pessimistic or curmudgeonly than maybe I could have done. On the other hand, to be impervious to the reactions of students was a failing that I saw too many times from poor teachers.
The conclusion I draw from that is that seeking approbation from others is a trap that I can all too easily fall into and I should recognise when my mood is determined by the reaction of other people to me.
I have been thinking that this is the first January that I’ve ever had when I haven’t been working or studying. January is never the happiest time of the year. Blue Monday is on the horizon to add to the terrible news coming through the letterbox each day in the form of the daily newspaper. So it’s no wonder that I sometimes feel a bit sad. Seasonal Affective Disorder is a real thing. The NHS website describes the symptoms of SAD and they include a persistent low mood, a loss of pleasure or interest in normal everyday activities, irritability, feelings of despair, guilt and worthlessness, feeling lethargic (lacking in energy) and sleepy during the day, sleeping for longer than normal and finding it hard to get up in the morning, craving carbohydrates and gaining weight.
The NHS website has five interesting tips on how to improve mental well-being. These are 1) connect with other people, 2) be physically active, 3) learn new skills, 4) give to others, 5) pay attention to the present moment. I thought that the recent concept of “mindfulness” covered all five of these but the website indicates that mindfulness is exclusively centred on the fifth point.
An article by Robert Puff on Psychology Today explains that sadness is a healthy and appropriate reaction to certain events. To not feel sad about the immense loss of life due to the pandemic would be unhealthy. The issue comes, he argues, if sadness turns into depression. The key point is whether we feel these sad feelings will last forever and we can’t anticipate never feeling sad. “If we are thinking about what is causing our sadness over and over, it’s going to turn it into depression”. Or, don’t doomscroll or have BBC News on continually. Listen to music and podcasts. Read books. Talk to friends. Watch sport on TV. Sounds good but on the other hand, I do spend a lot of time assuming that Brighton will never win another game; I reserve the right to feel depressed about Brighton – but not about anything else.
Yesterday I spent a lovely couple of hours listening to the first disc of the “Lullabies For Catatonics” box set. I found myself smiling non stop. What was it about that activity that caused me to be feel so happy? I think it was an example of mindfulness. For those two to three hours, I was completely lost in the moment without anticipating a doom laden future or regretting the mistakes of the past. Discussing this with John this afternoon, he pointed out that it’s a bit like riding on a big dipper at a funfair. For the three minutes or so that someone is on the ride, there’s no opportunity to do anything but live in the thrills (but hopefully not spills) of the present.
What I could try and do is to experience each day in isolation, without expectations, avoid looking back with regret and without craving feedback, applause or praise.
Another Sixties album. Another Elektra album from the 74 series. This time it’s 74045 and Tim Buckley’s most beautiful sounding album. This time it’s “Happy/Sad”. It marked a big change of direction from his previous album, “Goodbye And Hello” and one of the main reasons for this is that he dispensed with his lyricist, poet Larry Beckett. New York Times writer Mike Jahn reviewed a concert that Tim Buckley performed at this time and he wrote that on the songs from “Goodbye And Hello Tim Buckley “spent too much time trying to be a sensitive alienated poet and not enough time exercising his voice” whereas on the “Happy/Sad” songs he “left poetic sensitivity behind and just sung his head off”. Another way of thinking about this is to say that Tim Buckley’s first two albums were “head” music – appealing to the intellect and inspiring awe at how clever and sophisticated the words and the music were. By contrast, “Happy/Sad” (and the following album “Blue Afternoon”) were “heart” music – appealing to our emotions. There certainly weren’t as many words on “Happy/Sad”, there were only six songs on the whole album and there was great opportunity for Tim Buckley to improvise and create a musical mood of emotional depth.
Tim Buckley’s lead guitarist for most of his career was Lee Underwood and before recording “Happy/Sad”, he played Tim Buckley albums by Miles Davis, Bill Evans, Jimmy Giuffre, Gabor Szabo and Roland Kirk. In Lee Underwood’s book “Blue Melody”, he describes the attitude of Tim Buckley to recording this album. “He didn’t want pre-conceived mind music, rehearsed art. static museum pieces. He wanted expression music, living emotion in sound.” The result of this change of attitude was an album that, as Tim Buckley put it, “all sounded like it was happening for the first time.” Listening to the album, it genuinely sounds like there are five brilliant musicians who know each other’s musical spaces inside out and are able to improvise together to make wonderful music.
The other musicians on the album are David Friedman, Carter C. C. Collins and John Miller. David Friedman was hired the day before a prestigious show, opening for The Byrds, at The Fillmore East. During the day of the concert, Tim Buckley and David Friedman practised 16 songs for 7 hours before the performance. Carter C.C. Collins played congas and he had been with Tim Buckley since before his first recording contract. Lee Underwood can’t recall him ever drinking alcohol, taking drugs or having any sexual involvement with anyone. He was the one who could remember the Sixties and he was there. John Miller played double bass on “Happy/Sad” and he has also played with, literally, hundreds of artists including Bob Dylan, Michael Jackson, Frank Sinatra, Leonard Cohen, Ornette Coleman, Cleo Lane, Loudon Wainwright, Liza Minelli, Tony Bennett and many more.
On one occasion, Tim Buckley walked into a room and found John Miller and David Friedman playing “All Blues” from Miles Davis’ “Kind Of Blue”. He started playing along with them and then developed their improvisation into the beautiful opening song “Strange Feeling”.
“Buzzin’ Fly” was written one night in a hotel room in new York just after Tim Buckley and Lee Underwood had taken some acid which, according to Lee Underwood, caused “the walls and curtains to breathe and made the glistening orange velvet lining in open guitar cases to undulate like red orange sea waves“.
“Love From Room 109 At The Islander (On Pacific Coast Highway)” featured the sounds of waves rushing into the shore. This was meant to simulate the feelings and emotions generated by a romantic night’s love making overlooking the sea. As it happens, The Islander is in a commercial area of Seal Beach, near Los Angeles and it was nowhere near the sea. The sounds of the waves were introduced because Bruce Botnick, the well regarded and experienced engineer on the sessions, forgot to turn on the Dolby sound processor which resulted in the long improvisation being spoilt by tape hiss, especially in the quieter moments. The producer, Jerry Yester (who had been a member of The Lovin’ Spoonful) suggested the use of sound effects which work spectacularly well. The song is nearly eleven minutes long and is in five sections with contrasting tempos and melodies.
“Dream Letter” is astonishing. Tim Buckley’s voice has never sounded better in this song of regret about his past. He divorced his wife (Mary Guibert) a month before his son (Jeff Buckley) was born and this song directly addresses her, asking about their son. “Is he a soldier or is he a dreamer? Is he mama’s little man? Does he help you when he can? Does he ask about me?”
“Gypsy Woman” is a great twelve minute improvisation and is unlike the rest of the album. It is much more up-tempo, Carter C C Collins’ conga playing is frantic and Tim Buckley’s voice demonstrates its full remarkable range. Lee Underwood wrote that the band were not happy with the recorded version and recommends the version they performed at The Queen Elizabeth Hall, captured on “Dream Letter Live In London 1968“.
“Sing A Song For You” finishes the album on a gentle, gorgeous note.
This is a truly wondrous album and is well titled. The full range of emotions are here to absorb. Happy and sad. Excited and regretful. Loving and apologetic. Listening to it over the past two hours has allowed me to immerse myself in the moment and to find peace.