30 day song challenge: day 22 – a song that you listen to when you’re sad

jg thirlwell by seze devres 2009

Now that the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness is finally upon us, I’m detecting a sadness in the air. It’s not just gloom in the news – there is always gloom in the news – but that literal gloom when it’s dark at teatime and the sun doesn’t rise for an hour or two after waking.  It’s not even seven at night and I’m typing this by dull lamp-light, deciding which fluffy blanket to snuggle under while I watch something comforting on DVD.

I just feel a bit like this

and given the nature of some of my friends’ Facebook updates, I’m far from the only one. Luckily, I have cheering-myself-the-hell-up down to a fine art after nearly 35 winters.

You have to approach sadness as being another problem to be fixed. Obviously it helps if you can eliminate the root cause of the sadness, but more often than not it’s just hormonal. Recognise it as such: as Blur sing, “This is a low, but it won’t hurt you”.


Start with the first aid. Certain frequencies can trigger certain reactions in the brains of certain people – it can zone you out or chill you out or activate parts of your brain to do specific things. I react very strongly to the music of JG Thirlwell because he puts sounds together in specific keys and frequencies that have intense effects on my mood – to the point where I can start off feeling one way and three minutes later be feeling completely differently. Some people get that from Swans, but I would run a mile from their music because it would just make me want to hurl myself from the nearest bridge.

Mutapump by Foetus is the first song I reach for when I’m sad. It’s just such a devastatingly powerful song that it eclipses any personal disaster or crappy day and has much the same effect as hitting me with a truck when I’m complaining about a paper cut. Plus I love the song more than almost any other song in the world.


Five and a half minutes later, I’ve stopped wallowing in despair and I’m back to wondering where the hell the sample comes from that immediately precedes the chorus. And loving his voice. It’s raw and sensual and honest and just makes me want to wrap him in a blanket and feed him soup.

Now that the safety net of pummelling noise has stopped me feeling any more despondent, I immediately play Wash It All Off to feel happy again. It’s like how if someone comes up to you with a zippy, happy grin and tells you to “cheer up”, you just want to punch them in the face, but someone making the right off-hand quip can have you giggling in no time.

Wash It All Off is certainly cheerful, but in such a manic way – and there’s just something inherently naughty and inappropriate about it – that you can’t help but smile. This is early Foetus, when Thirlwell was still doing his crazed Elvis impersonations – this time to an unhinged Beach Boys homage. This fan-made video is certainly bracing, but it’s more likely to gross you out than cheer you up. Very well made, though. Supercalifragilisticsadomasochism!


It’s best if you can get outside and do something active in the lunchtime sunshine – a brisk walk or a run, preferably in the park – and use Wash It All Off as your soundtrack.

Then, once the fresh air, vitamin D and adrenaline has done its work, time to sit down with the mood stabiliser. One of Thirlwell’s many other outlets, Manorexia, fits the bill with Fluorescent Radiation (mislabelled here as Canaries). I’ve never been able to explain the effect this track has on me, other than it feels like my soul is being massaged. Like when you’re all knotted up and tense and then suddenly you feel soothed and relieved and ahhhhh that feels better. Four and a bit minutes of this, and no force in the world can bring me down.



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