This is a story about death. And life. And ghosts who enjoy sad songs. You know, the usual.
Look, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Sad songs make me happy.
Do you agree? There’s some sort of cleansing in a properly sad song. My favorites are songs that might sound fairly uplifting, musically, or at least not be all depressing sounding, but where the lyrics are about terribly sad stuff. Some of my heroes, like Tom Waits, Nick Cave, Leonard Cohen and Neil Young, are great at this. Take Neil Young’s The Needle and the Damage Done, for instance. The music doesn’t sound all that sad. But of course the words, the story, it’s all very tragic.
My man Mark Everett, or E from Eels, calls this the Motown formula. Uplifting music that tells heartbreaking stories. (Of course, he’s another master of this.)
I like to write songs like this, of course. If you’ve listened to some of my stuff, you’ll know what I mean. One of my songs was literally written as an experiment into how I could write the biggest bummer of a song imaginable, without it being depressing or sappy. Well, I think I did alright. I’ll let you be the judge:
That’s actually one of my favorite songs to perform live. It’s a blast to do, and I insert a few jokes and have fun with the audience. I’ve been doing it live for over 10 years now, and I almost never skip it. It’s usually a crowd favorite whenever I do gigs.
It was a particular favorite of a friend I made at the Melodica acoustic festival in Reykjavik one year. The Melodica Festival is an international, volunteer based singer-songwriter festival that has taken place in Reykjavik since 2007. I’ve played every single Melodica in Reykjavik, and I’ve also travelled abroad to play it elsewhere. It is done in many different cities around the world, including Berlin, Nottingham, Melbourne and more.
One year at Melodica I got to know a fantastic music fan. His name was Dr. Mike Drake, and he was a particular fan of Lock This Door. He just loved how the song goes from bad to worse to horrible to nuclear bummer. He asked me if it was available on an album, and I had to tell him no, unfortunately. But I told him I was working on it.
Well, as you may know already, it took me years and years to finally get the album finished. Dr. Mike showed up to Melodica Reykjavik every year, and every year he would ask me how the album was coming along. I would always promise to have it done by next year. And of course I’d have to tell him the same thing the year after.
One year I was finally making headway, but I was still a ways off. I braced myself to tell Dr. Mike that he still couldn’t buy the album, but that it was at least under way.
Dr. Mike then sent a message to the Melodica team (I was one of the organizers that year) and told us that he was too busy to make it that year. I was sad I wouldn’t be able to see him, but secretly a little relieved I wouldn’t need to disappoint him once more. I vowed to have the album ready the next time I saw him.
But sadly I never saw Dr. Mike again. The day after Melodica was over we got word from his wife that he had suffered a heart attack and died. He never got to hear my album.
I did keep my promise, though. By the time the next Melodica Reykjavik rolled around, the album was out. And I dedicated it to Dr. Mike, because even though we never got to know each other all that well, he was a huge driving force in my musical career. And he made me realize that unless I make these things happen, I might forever disappoint my friends and followers, and that just sucks.
Once the album was out, with the dedication to Dr. Mike, I of course sent a copy to his family. They were touched and grateful, and I was happy to at least be able to give them this little gift.
Later I heard the most incredible story from Dr. Mike’s wife. She sent me a message and told me she had been listening to the album, just at a low volume in the background. All of a sudden the volume went up. One song played at a much higher volume. Then it went back down again.
Dr. Mike must have turned up the volume. Apparently he really loved the song.
What song was it that he turned back from the grave to folk out to, you ask? It’s this one:
I’m pretty happy with it. And so are the dead.
Anyway, I just wanted to share that story with you. Do you have a song you would return from the grave to turn up the volume on? Let me know in the comments.
I hope you enjoy my songs. And I most certainly hope you’ll tell me about it. I really love to hear from you guys. And of course, if you haven’t already, I hope you’ll pick up a copy of the album. I’m very proud of it, of course, and if Dr. Mike cared enough to return from the grave, there’s got to be something there, right?
May he rest in peace. He was a brilliant man.
As always, I appreciate you. Don’t be a stranger.
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