The Importance of Sad Slow Folk Songs

The importance of the sad, slow, folk song.
By Tim Pepper

I’ve gone through phases when the only kind of song I could write was sad. I wasn’t trying to write sad songs. That’s just what came out. The honest overflowings of my soul just happened to be…sad.

Writing aside, there have been times when the only kind of music I wanted to listen to was that kind of sad, folky music in which you can hear fingernails scraping on guitar strings; you can hear years of whiskey and cigarettes in the growly vocal strains; you can hear the creaking chair the singer is sitting in; and, though you may not really get what the lyrics are actually saying, they are heavy with emotion. Not uplifting and positive emotion either, but dark and dreary stuff that really should bear some kind of surgeon generals warning; “caution: listening to this music may induce regret, fear, depression, heartache, sadness, etc.”

I hear people making fun of this kind of music and I get it. You want to tell the songwriter to get a life or cheer up or at least shut up. Because who needs that? But based on the sheer number of sad, folk songs out there I’d say that somebody must need it. In fact I think there’s a lot of people who need it.

We spend so much of our lives putting our best foot forward, putting on a brave face, looking at the brighter side. It’s for the best that we all generally do that. But it leaves a gap in our being. It creates a tension that we don’t know how to deal with. At the best of times our lives are a messy conglomeration of things and there’s at least some of it that we’d like to change for the better. We don’t focus on it because that makes it seem bigger. Instead we put a smile on and face the day and listen to pop-rock and go to dance parties. When people ask us how we are, we say, “I’m great! How are you?”. And it’s the best thing in the world that we all do that because we couldn’t function if we focused on the sad stuff all the time, especially if everyone else was doing that too and telling everyone they met about it. The world would be awful and nothing positive would ever get done.

But just like it’s important to have memorials for terrible things like the Holocaust, it’s important to acknowledge and remember that, even though we don’t want to and can’t focus on the sad stuff all the time, it’s still there. Enter the sad, folk song. While you drive home from the dance party, after you’ve smiled enough to make your face hurt, when you’re all alone, here it comes oozing out of your radio. But you don’t switch the station because subconsciously you know you need to hear it. You still don’t know what the guy’s singing about but that one line gets you every time. It makes you remember things you rarely think about. It makes you feel so much. It fills you with thoughts that you’ve been pushing away all week. And for a moment you forget the pressure of being positive and seeming “great” and you just be yourself with all the happy things and all the sad things about yourself that very few people really know about. It’s a wonderful release of all the bottled up, covered up, tucked away things that you ignore in order to be normal out there in the world.

For three and half minutes you get to acknowledge that part of yourself that you hide most of the time and that’s enough. The whole of the needle would be useless without that very fine, tiny point. I could be wrong. It’s just my opinion. But I think sad, folk songs are something like that point on the needle.

Here’s one of my own:

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