Saturday, 29 October 2005

Depressing Songs

Well, this week has not been a good one for me. It seems that for whatever reason my life this week has become more complicated than I would like it. I am hardly happy right now, but there is very little I can do about it. It is times like these that my mind turns towards depressing songs. Strangely enough, it always seemed to me that depressing songs have always outnumbered happy songs. For every "Happy Together" there is a "Crying" or a "Love Hurts."

It would seem that depressing songs are then very much a part of the fabric of pop culture. In the movie Bridget Jones's Diary there is a scene that has always stood out in my mind. It occurs early in the movie when Bridget is in her room listening to a medley of depressing songs. At least I remember "Without You" as performed by Harry Nilsson and "All By Myself" by Eric Carmen. Both of these songs were released in the early Seventies. I think that may well have been the Golden Age of depressing songs. Besides those two there was also "Ill Never Fall in Love Again," also by Eric Carmen, "Photograph" by Ringo Starr, "One" as performed by Three Dog Night, and several more. I really can't say why there were so many depressing songs in the early Seventies, but then it was a generally depressing decade any way. Maybe songs simply reflect the era in which they were written and/or performed.

Of course, there are some artists who seem to specialise in depressing songs. Roy Orbison was the master of them. "It's Over" lamented the end of a relationship. "In Dreams" was about a man who had lost his love and now only had her in his dreams. "Crying" was about the perpetual state in which a man who had lost his love was. In fact, off the top of my head I can think of only two Roy Orbison songs which had happy endings: "(Oh) Pretty Woman" and "Running Scared." Balladeers aren't the only specialists in depressing songs. The bulk of rock band Stabbing Westward's work seems to have been depressing songs. I don't think there are too many more depressing songs than "Shame," "What Do I Have to Do," or "Sometimes It Hurts." Even old time rock stars did plenty of depressing love songs. The Beatles had "This Boy," "You Won't See Me," "I'll Cry Instead"--and that's just scratching the surface. Rod Stewart alone did "Baby Jane," his remake of "I Know I'm Losing You," and his remake of "Some Guys Have All the Luck (his most depressing song of all, and one which I can identify with....). None of this is counting the covers of various standards he has made lately. Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, the Gershwins, now those guys could write depressing songs....

Given that people want to be happy, it seems odd that depressing songs should be so popular. I can only suppose that they serve as an outlet for people. When people are hurt and down they want to listen to songs with which they can identify. At some point all of us have lost someone we love and at that point I would assume all of us have the desire to know that we are not the only ones to have lost someone. Quite simply, misery loves company. As to why depressing songs are more common than happy songs, I cannot say. Perhaps most of us are unhappy. Perhaps depressing songs are simply easier to write than happy ones. Perhaps lost love makes more interesting copy than a happy love affair. At any rate, it seems to me that most people at some point are in the mood for depressing songs. I have to say that I am now.

Friday, 28 October 2005

The Gateway Arch

It was 40 years ago today that the Gateway Arch (or the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, as it is officially designated) was completed. I don't know how significant the Arch (as folks around here simply call it) is to other Americans, much less for people living outside the United States, but I am guessing that for most Missourians it is our Mount Everest, our Empire State Building. Quite simply, I suspect that for most Missourians it is our most important piece of architecture.

The Gateway Arch was the result of a long proces that began over thirty years before it was topped off with its last piee. In 1933 lawyer Luther Ely Smith urged St. Louis Mayor Bernard F. Dickmann to make over the forty acres of riverfront warehouses into a monument to the settlement of the West. The following year, in April, Smith was made the chairman of a nonprofit organisation towards that goal, the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Association. That June, President Roosevelt signed a bill which established the U.S. Territorial Expansion Memorial Commission. On September 10, 1935, the citizens of St. Louis passed a $7.5 million bond issue for the constructon of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. That same year, on December 1935, President Roosevelt issued an executive order which made the 40 acres of St. Louis riverfront part of the National Park system.

Progress on the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial was interupted by World War II and for many years nothing happened. Finally, on October 22, 1946, a contest to choose the design for the memorial began. The prize was $50,000. By Feb. 19, 1948 a winner had been chosen. That man was architect Eero Saarinen of Detroit, whose desing was the arch we now know and love. Work on the Arch was interrupted once more, this time by the Korean War. For the next many years work would progress slowly until, on June 27, 1962, construction of the Arch finally commenced. It was on this date in 1965 that the project, first conceived in 1933, was finally completed. The Gateway Arch cost a bit less than $15 million. It is built to stand up to strong winds and even earthquakes. It is 630 feet tall.

I have only gotten to visit the Gateway Arch once. My brother, my future sister in law, and I went to St. Louis one July 4 to watch Cheap Trick perform. I could not help but be amazed by the Arch. It is absolutely huge. Made of stainless steel, it is also very bright. In fact, it does act as a bit of giant reflector--I came away that day with a severe sunburn on my face! I wanted to go up in the Arch, although both my brother and future sister in law complained that it would bother their inner ears. At least in my brother's case, I think acrophobia may have been more the case. At any rate, someday I want to go up in the Arch.

As stated earlier, the Gateway Arch is meant to commerate the expansion of the United States west of the Mississippi River. Its name is taken in part from President Thomas Jefferson, who signed the Louisiana Purchase. In my opinion, however, I think the Arch represents more things that simply the nation's movement westward. It is probably the one structure most idenified with the city of St. Louis. Indeed, I daresay many people may think of St. Louis as the home of the Arch. Given that St. Louis is the largest city (and one of the oldest) in the state of Missouri, it is to some degree also a symbol of the state. In fact, it is probably the most famous monument, the most famous single structure, in all of Missouri. Of course, the Arch is an architectural marvel. It towers over the riverfront and can be seen for literally miles. Standing directly beneath it, one cannot help but feel overwhelmed.

Thursday, 27 October 2005

A Halloween Song

Okay, so far it has been a pretty miserable week for me. It started off lousy and, while it has gotten better, I still feel myself feeling down. Anyhow, I feel as if I need some cheering up and one thing that cheers me up is the song "Monster Mash" by by Bobby (Boris) Pickett and The Crypt-Kickers. It's a fairly old song (almost as old as I am) and it is overplayed this time of year. But then there aren't really that many songs for Halloween. Off the top of my head, I can only think of "Dead Man's Party" by Oingo Boingo and nearly anything by Blue Oyster Cult, Ozzy Osbourne, and Marilyn Manson... So here it is...

"The Monster Mash" by Bobby (Boris) Pickett and The Crypt-Kickers