Saturday, 19 April 2014

Lightness and melancholy

Today, I'm going to take one of my regular little excursions into the world of music.

I know - for someone who is supposed to be a writer, I seem to veer off into musical territory quite a bit. Truth is, I'd really love to be a muso. Unfortunately, a fairly complete lack of musical talent, coupled with a (supposed) talent in the writing area pushed me this way instead. Still, in my writing, I like to take inspiration from the musical side.

Anyway, the subject for this post was inspired by a music review a read in a newspaper a few years back. Can't remember what paper. Can't even remember what album (or band) was being reviewed. But it did make a point that has kind of stuck with me.

It talked about the idea of mixing lightness and melancholy to create music that was both engaging and bright while having a kind of inner depth. And it got me thinking about the kind of music I like, and how that is something I could say for a lot of it. Bands like Crowded House or R.E.M. (I know, I'm definitely showing my age and era) seemed to be masters of this style, making their music so engaging on so many levels. Even a supposedly hard rock band like Cold Chisel had an under-appreciated talent for mixing these two modes in a lot of their most enduring material.

Which leads back to the writing. I'm not sure it's particularly conscious but I can see how the lightness and melancholy thing fits a lot of my writing. Even though most of my writing could be broadly cast as humour, there is that somewhat melancholy thread to it.

I think particularly of the adventures of my good friend, Neville Lansdowne. He has odd adventures and meets very peculiar people. But there is another side to these stories as well. He's often alone, in strange and unfamiliar circumstances, particularly at the beginning. I think it's this touch of melancholy that adds a bit of depth and (dare I say) humanity to what would otherwise be strange and whacky stories.

I could apply this to other stories, such as Magnus Opum, where Magnus is struggling to understand the world he lives in, and who are and aren't his friends. He often feels sad and alone as he negotiates his adventure. And it's also there in my new picture book (out in just a few weeks) Thomas and the Tiger-Turtle. The turtle is both a comic figure but also at times a sad one too.

So there you have another one of my theories. Lightness and melancholy. It works a treat in music. And it's a really effective thing to include in a story as well. 


  1. Neville Lansdowne, like Arthur Dent, is one of those characters who gets thrust into situations where he’s out of his depth and has to sink or swim. They’re both something of an everyman but every man is not like Neville or Arthur. They both have the potential to be a loser and we do love an underdog. It’s easier to be a loser than a winner and the fact is that most of us have lost something—probably more things than we care to think about—and our wins have not exactly been of the spectacular variety. Melancholy comes easily to most people. It’s an odd word. Not quite sadness, not quite unhappiness, not simply regret under another name. It is one of the gentler emotions unlike love or anger. It’s also more private. We need someone to love or someone to be angry with. We’re mostly melancholic on our own. Melancholia usually makes us more receptive to honesty too. Music in a minor key isn’t always sad. A good example is ‘Sunday Afternoon’ by The Kinks. The song briefly modulates into D major but most of it’s in D minor. The song has a sing-along quality that makes it, ultimately, upbeat. There are others too, like ‘And I Love Her’ by The Beatles. You might find this article interesting.

    1. Thanks Jim. Always nice to get some musical tips.