Songs that are difficult to listen to – discuss

Almost 13 years ago I went through a traumatic event that ended with me in hospital undergoing a pretty grim surgical procedure.  My anxious and concerned husband and oblivious toddler collected me when I was discharged.  I couldn’t wait to get away from the hospital and back to everything familiar.  In the car on the way home a song came on the radio.  As it had just been released, I heard it almost constantly for weeks after.  It became inextricably linked to the trauma I had just experienced – it’s subject wasn’t a million miles from what I had gone through and it upset me every time I heard it.  It took me years to get over this event and every time I heard the song, it broke me again.  My husband was very good at anticipating the moments when I would disappear and he would then find me weeping in a quiet corner of the house.  Time has been a fantastic healer and I am reconciled to what happened to me; I know I did nothing to cause it and it was not my fault.  Because the song is now old and rarely played on the stations I listen to, I haven’t had a weepy meltdown for a very long time – I thought I was over that sort of thing too.  It seems not.  I heard this song on the radio today and instantly welled up, shedding big fat tears.  I hate that this song does this to me, I detest that it reminds me of things I want to forget.

There is another song I can’t hear without crying for very different reasons.  Tim Minchin’s song “When I Grow Up” from the musical Matilda gets me every time.  I insist, without observation to my demands, that my kids don’t sing this one around me.  They do, just to see me blub.  When my eldest child came to leave junior school, he and his school mates sang this as part of their leaver’s assembly.  There was not a dry eye in the audience.  Like the Athlete song, When I Grow Up is now linked in my subconscious to this passage from child to teen – it chokes me up.  My youngest child is about to go through this transition from junior to senior school.  I’ve been surreptitiously trying to find out what they are planning for their leaver’s assembly so I can stock up on tissues if necessary.  She knows my game.

Then there’s the song that makes me shed a wistful tear for my 18-year-old self.  I recall watching Jesus Jones in 1990 at Kilburn Ballroom (supported by Neds and Blur btw) and realising that I was very probably in love with the boy I’d gone there with.  It turned out I was right.  I know I shouldn’t hanker for my late teens, but I can’t help myself sometimes…

So, with a massive apology for the over-sharing confessional, yet again ‘Spillers I come to you to discuss this issue.  What do you know about all of this? Is there a track that gets you in the guts every time you hear it? Maybe you can’t bear to listen to it, maybe you put yourself through the mill of listening to it because it’s what you need….no need to go into detail if you’d rather not, I realise not everyone will want to share personal stuff.

47 thoughts on “Songs that are difficult to listen to – discuss

  1. I have several songs that evoke strong memories and occasionally a lot of pain and weeping, especially after a few drinks or when I am feeling particularly low and they are all linked to relationship issues. They aren’t all even songs that I particularly like, some are songs that “belong” to the other person or ones that go straight to a place and time. The cheesiest one is this, but it can still make me break down if I hear it at the wrong moment.

    • Hi Carole. Being caught off guard is the worst thing, I agree.
      My first proper boyfriend (before the one I realised I was in love with at the Jesus Jones gig) was in a band. He was a very romantic sort and played me “All Along the Watchtower” my parents weren’t into Hendrix or Dylan so I’d never heard it before. Every time I hear it now, I think of him.

    • Those Commodore songs are really powerful. It’s that period where a artist becomes an absolute master at their craft before they descend into a money making, self/ego feeding machine, losing their connection to reality. Again I was playing a compilation in the car – Motown 25 Years – but I can’t here it cos I’m driving so fast – until I come off the motorway. And “Sail On” is playing. Just at the point where he sings:

      ‘You know, it ain’t so hard to say, “Would you please just go away, ” I’ve thrown away the blues, I’m tired of bein’ used. I want everyone to know I’m lookin’ for a good time, good time. I gave you my heart and I tried to make you happy, and you gave me nothin’ in return. Got nothin’ else to lose, I’m tired of bein’ used, I want everyone to know I’m lookin’ for a good time, good time. Sail on honey, good times never felt so good. Sail on sugar, good times never felt so good.’

      I’d never listened before but the words left me sad and tearful and yet elated.

      It marks the this change in my life where I made a clear a break from the ex and told her in no uncertain terms what she had done, how she had done it and how she had manipulated me. Fucking smashing the shackles to smithereens. The relationship with her has been equal since that point.

      The tune can make me sad because it makes me realise the circumstances that led me to loving it or it can make me happy because I’m er… easy.

      As you say, it’s all about the moment and Three Times a Lady is up there with Touch Me in the Morning in the goodbye-while-still-in-love stakes. Nothing to be ashamed of.

  2. Hey Sarah, thanks for posting this and talking about what sounds like a tough experience. I certainly (enjoyed is the wrong word) found it an interesting read.

    My wife struggles with Elvis’ Blue Christmas. Her Mum was a bid Elvis fan and after her passing that song became hard for her. Thing is though, I really like it and at Xmas time I love play a diverse range of Xmas songs on shuffle. If she is home, I have to quickly skip it.

    I tend not to blubber up too much, but there are a few songs where I have had moments. I can listen to a song for ages, and then one day the lyrics hit me and really affect me.

    My most obvious example of this is Paul Kelly’s Deeper Water, and the lineds about death. But I can and do still listen to it.

    Can’t post a link now but highly recommend checking it out if you don’t know it.

    Thanks again for writing this post.

    • Excuse my bad typing in that post – a combination of autocorrect being unhelpful and me not proofreading, and it’s late here

    • Thanks Deano – I remember you writing a similar honest post after your father died where you talked about the importance of choosing the music for his funeral. Music is such an evocative and emotive medium to express how you feel. This came upon me really out of the blue today.

  3. my eldest son was born start of March 2005 a month after Wires was released – there was 18 minutes while I waited for him to properly breath after a long struggle of a birth – memory of those 18 minutes still just made the cold sweat form on the back of my neck… I’m at our art co-op shop, I wont be pressing play.

    we’ll be joined by another spill member whom finds this song an intense listen.

    • I was just as shocked by how much it knocked me for six as actually being knocked for six. I’m not sure I will ever be able to listen to it without being done in by it.

  4. Well there’s a coincidence… “Wires” was the song that came immediately to mind.

    My youngest – Matilda – was born at 28 weeks, and spent several weeks in special care. This was several years after the song came out, but it was my permanent internal soundtrack to those weeks of corridors and automatic doors. I don’t think my wife could listen to it now without cracking, but to me it’s ultimately a positive one – the line “looking at you now, you would never know” was one to cling to. And almost six years later – I’ve just got back from her reception class’s assembly – you really wouldn’t.

      • Well, she knows she was born early, but doesn’t really understand what that meant for us. And to be honest, I don’t think I can fully understand what it meant for my wife, who can still hardly bear to look at photos of her in hospital.

        Thanks for the post Sarah – I don’t suppose it was an easy one to write.

        • Thanks Barney. I can only imagine the anguish you and your wife must have felt when your daughter was born. I’m sure her assembly was an absolute joy, tbh I don’t remember an assembly I haven’t cried at, the oddest was a harvest festival when my daughter was in year 2. Like. A. Baby. Thanks for reading.

  5. I’m such a masochistic wallower (no, not “wallflower”, iPhone predictive text thingummy) that I have a whole iPod “Weeping Songs” playlist. I don’t indulge often these days but sometimes I need to.

      • I have my wallow tracks too, but this is something different; it almost cuts me in half. I have a friend who has a wallow list. I know when he’s having a moment, because he “gets the tracks out”. I guess It’s a great distraction from what’s upsetting at that moment.

        • I think the closest I’ve ever got to a song I need to avoid for the sake of emotional self-preservation is On And On by the Longpigs. Put on a compilation tape (those were the days!) for me by The One Who Got Away. But these days, now the pain is gone, it moves me in a gentler way that is almost comforting: that happened; I survived. Sadly he didn’t. He died of a brain haemorrhage a couple of years ago, just shy of his 50th birthday.

          • Sorry to hear about your One Who Got Away – that sounds like a sad end but I’m glad you can now listen to the song and reflect. I’m hoping I will eventually get to that place with Wires.

          • Thanks Sarah. It was a huge shock, even the best part of two decades after we’d been a ‘thing’. After we split, he quickly got together with someone else, which hurt more than it should have done in the circumstances. But that new bloke turned out to be the love of his life (I’m guessing!) – they were certainly together till he died. So he definitely made the right choice.

  6. I used to know a girl who could not listen to I Don’t Like Mondays. I don’t know why; it too was linked to trauma of some sort. Took me a while to get through my thick skull that you can’t argue people out of such such linkages just because they don’t seem rational to me.

    The song that has made me choke up consistently over the years is 10,000 Maniacs’ What’s The Matter Here, right at the line about what could a little kid do so wrong to warrant a beating.

    • I think there is something in that point about songs that tell a story that are harrowing. My issue is that I feel I can relate somewhat to the themes in the song and that’s why it upsets me so much.

  7. I’m obviously really fortunate because, though music is incredibly important to me, I don’t associate particular songs or pieces of music with horrible things that have happened to me. (It’s more the good things!) But I can understand how difficult it must be when a song with sad associations pops up at random. Thanks for sharing this, Sarah.

    • It was the randomness of it tfd. I was also really surprised by how it affected me so many years on. Maybe if I’d been prepared I may not have had such a meltdown.

  8. I wrote this post six years ago, about the songs we had for my father-in-law’s funeral. The version of “Battle Hymn Of The Republic” still makes my eyes prickle when I think of it, and more should I play it. Otherwise, I’ve very few, if any, songs that have such specific associations. There’s always a chance that a song I’ve forgotten might ambush me, but I can’t bring any to mind.

    Your post is very well done, thanks Sarah.

    • Thanks DP. I didn’t really think about what I was writing, I just felt I needed to get it off my chest…your post about your father-in-law is lovely btw.

      • Thank you – although on reflection I’m not quite on the mark for your ‘topic’, because it’s such a stirring song and a sad sort of pleasure to listen to a Welsh male choir crescendo to a glorious ff.

        One artist I used to listen to a lot and can’t listen to any more is Christy Moore. His voice is so distinctive and emotive that when I stopped being taken in by the sentiment, the strength of it became unpalatable. A united Ireland still makes sense to me, but the romanticism of his music combined with some of what – in my opinion – he supports in his songs, I can’t bear anymore. It’s because I once fell for the romance that I’ve gone the other way.

        It was the scene in the pub in The Rotters’ Club, when Lois’s hippy love is about to propose, that did it for me – absolutely changed me from a detached and theoretical view of it all to a humane view (six counties or thirty-two, I wouldn’t want anyone in charge who can even contemplate what they did).

        I know that’s different again from the kind of personal experience you’re writing about, and I’ve only my former opinions to be ashamed of, but I find the sentimentality of that music to be sinister now. John Hume, foremost among all the peacemakers, I admire a great deal, and I was sad when they lost their last UK parliamentary seat in the election. I see he turned 80 in January, and I hope he was able to understand the tributes in spite of his living with dementia.

        • I’ve read The Rotter’s Club, but I don’t remember that scene – it was a while ago. I’m going to need to remind myself. Interesting isn’t it how your opinions of artists change as you learn about them as an individual? When their politics or morals differ so much from your own, it can have a lasting affect on how you feel about their music despite the fact that the music itself hasn’t changed from one day to the next…especially when you start reading things into the lyrics which you perhaps didn’t notice previously…

          • There’s a scene in a Seamus Heany poem in which a republican figure asks “when the fuck / are you going to write something for us”. That’s now understood to have been Danny Morrison, and whilst Heaney admitted that they were ‘t the words used, he said that the sense of entitlement was palpable, that a writer should serve the movement.

            Well, I think Christy Moore was that kind of writer, around the time of the hunger strikes when there was a republican romanticism that held sway. It has truth in it (“Only our rivers run free”) but it chose to ignore many a violent and unjustifiable deed. It’s not what the lyrics contain, it’s what they omitted….

            It’s up to the artist what he does, and it might be that I’ve got him completely wrong, but those songs are a difficult listen for me because of the sense of shame that floods back, that I once fell for that murderous narrative.

            No need to reply, but I should re-read The Rotters Club as well. Probably most readers knew what was happening in that scene, but I was utterly shocked by it.

      • That was me, but on reflection I can’t actually think of a song that I am unable to listen to without breaking up.
        The nearest is the one I just mentioned on Song Bar. That’s Brian Eno’s “By This River” and it’s not to do with any personal circumstances. Just its use in the film “The Son’s Room”.

  9. Mike & the Mechanics “Living Years” was out at the time my dad died (1989) & for years I couldn’t get through listening to it, but I saw Paul Carrack live a couple of years ago – on my own – (*so brave*) and I didn’t blub at all. Phew – how embarrassing would that have been?! Similarly Kirsty MacColl’s version of “Days”. I could never get through any of Sam’s school services at the church – Easter, Christmas, whatever, and I don’t like children and I’m not religious. So go figure. Now I’m a mean b*tch and don’t blub through anything. (Just don’t play Diana Jones (tfd I mean you) “Pony”, or Johnny Cash “Hurt”!!)
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uGDA0Hecw1k – Mike & the Mechanics
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lOKWqtocXWs – Kirsty MacColl
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5xzwMuh4vck – Diana Jones
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vt1Pwfnh5pc – Johnny Cash

    • I’m sure you’re not really a mean b*tch at all Ali! I don’t get embarrassed about crying any more. I cried on the tube recently and I really didn’t give a monkeys. People kept looking at me and I just didn’t care. Something had upset me and I needed to get it out there and then! Interestingly noone checked if I was ok…
      Hurt is a very powerful song and totally fine to blub away at!

  10. My ex had a miscarriage in . 2009. The news came almost out of the blue and for the first time in ages something had gone against us, They showed us the ultrasound images just indistinct clouds. The first time I tried to play music in the car after that I pressed play and this Compilation called Brit Box was in the deck. Ride#s “Vapour Trail” started to play. I hit pause but it was too late “First you look so strong, then you fade away”. The words were already in my head. “You are a vapour trail in a deep blue sky”. I had to pull over to he side of the road and bawl.

    It can still put me in that mood where everything is lost. In fact, I couldn’t suggest it for songs about impermanence, even though I knew it was a perfect fit and RR was an escape world. I tried to get others to suggest it but I couldn’t do it myself – totally irrational.

  11. I have songs that i associate with trauma, but they don’t really seem to bother me much after the fact and i have no problem listening to them at a later date. One is Faith Hill’s Breathe, which came quietly out of nowhere during a traumatic period of life. I think i actually like it in a way now that i might not have if i hadn’t heard it at the time.

    A few days after 9/11, i was wandering around a convenience store in NYC when James Taylor’s Fira and Rain came on. I pretty much lost it. My housemate now plays a lot of James Taylor which is more than fine with me, and it’s not what i really associate the song with.

  12. It’s good that the songs don’t bother you after the fact. I think for me, it’s the fact that it came without warning. I wasn’t prepared to hear it. Your experience in the convenience store sounds rough. That must have been a tough time.

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