Listening: Why I Love Sad Music

It doesn’t matter if we all die – One Hundred Years by The Cure

One day I was playing some sad music in class. A student, whose wit is a sharp as a knife, asked me if I go to a this band’s concert is crying required or highly recommended. He doesn’t know this, but he instantly became my favorite student that day. It also made me think about why I often find myself listening to sad music.

If you have been reading this blog, you know that I have started to open up about my issues with anxiety and depression. People that know the kind of music I listen to think often that the music puts me in a depressed mode.

That’s not how it works.

The quote above comes from The Cure’s album Pornography. Many have called it the most depressing record ever made. It may be. The existential angst in that first line is a thesis statement for the album, and that mood goes all the way through the record up until the last lines:

I must fight this sickness
Find a cure
I must fight this sickness

The album always makes me feel better. Not because of those last three lines, even though they have become a motto. It’s because all those thoughts I have when my conditions are extremely cloudy are echoed here. Robert Smith doesn’t hold back in singing the darkest images his psyche can come up with. When I listen to it, I realize I’m not alone. I also understand Smith went on to write Lovesong, Friday I’m in Love, Mint Car, and Untitled. He is not permanently producing morose art.

They told us our gods would outlive us/But they lied – Distant Sky by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.

Nick Cave lost his son. Losing a child is as traumatic an experience as one can have. We all have our stories of trauma, of a loved one taken too soon or too violently. When Cave sings that lyric, you can hear his voice break. It should be painful, but I don’t listen to it that way. I hear a man holding on to his grief because he has to. That grief is what keeps those we love alive when they are gone. In the documentary that went along with the album, Cave explains his rubber band theory. When we lose someone, it does get better. It always does. By getting better, he says we move on and move further away from the grief. However, there are moments – such as birthdays, anniversaries – that snap us back to that moment when the grief comes back. He doesn’t say it in a way that sounds morbid or morose. He says in a way that the sadness we feel comes from the happiness that those people brought to our lives.

I’m sobbing and eating eggs again – Crow Pt 2 by Mount Eerie.

Crow Pt 2 is my favorite song of 2018. It makes me cry, at this particular line, every single time. Phil Elverum lost his wife to cancer not long after the birth of their daughter. He explored his grief on two amazing albums as memoirs, A Crow Looked at Me (2017) and Now Only (2018). Again, if you follow this blog, you might wonder as to why I listen to something that nearly happened to me. God only knows what would have happened if my wife had not said to take her to the ER on the sixth day of our daughter’s life. This album doesn’t make me think about what could have happened. It makes me think about what did happen. It makes my heart full to know my girls are with me. It makes me realize how precious life is and how fortunate I am. When you suffer from depression, this is the reminders you need. Luckily for Elverum, he found happiness again. He secretly married Michelle Williams (who has had her own very public, very traumatic tragedy happen to her) earlier this year. Working through his grief in such a public way probably opened his eyes to the possibilities of life and love again. In fact, while his albums are about his lost love, the details of the records are filled with imagery of the living particularly in nature and in his little girl.

Hopelessly fighting devil futility – Untitled by The Cure

Nothing describes fighting depression better than this lyric from The Cure. Much like my sister’s Type I Diabetes, my depression will probably never be cured. It’s not a mindset. It’s chemical. This line has been my motto for life. No matter how hard it gets, no matter dark my skies become, I will fight. This is why I went public with my depression. If you are in physical pain, you act. You apply ice, take Tylenol, or, if it is bad enough, you see a doctor. The same should be said for mental pain. For me, listening to music is my Tylenol. While happy tunes are okay, listening to sad music is my extra strength painkillers. It becomes a cathartic experience. It reminds me I’m not alone. Not in just the way that singer is going through it as well, but also that there are other fans like me out there listening to these songs feeling the same way.

Shall we beat this or celebrate it? “All of Me Wants All of You” by Sufjan Stevens

When people form a community of sadness, we often end up smiling just as much as we cry. Nick Cave and Mount Eerie both toured on the albums in which they worked out their grief. Both were successful tours. Same with Sufjan Steven’s Carrie and Lowell album and tour in which explored the loss of his estranged mother. I was at the Sufjan show in New Orleans for that tour. The audience all sat and inhaled the show. We weren’t truly observers. We were participants all dealing with our own trauma. The rubber band brought us back; however, because it was communal, the snap was not as tight and jolting. We knew we were all suffering, but at the same time we were celebrating. We were celebrating the fact that we are here. We can tell our stories and the stories of our loved ones.

We didn’t know each other, but we were there for each other.

That’s what the power of art is.


Fandom-ing: Meeting my Rock’n’Roll Heroes

On December 27, 1990, at approximately 8:47 pm, I purchased a record that would change my life.  The Replacements’ All Shook Down was coming home with me. I was immediately obsessed.  I listened to them every single day until probably fall of 1997 when I had my first real job, and I probably came home too late and too tired to listen to anything. Yet, I have never traveled far without the Mats.

(You can read previous posts about how much I love the Replacements here, here, here. here, here, and  here)

Luckily, I’ve gotten to meet two of the members of the band.

Paul Westerberg was the lead singer and songwriter of the Replacements.  If you like rock biographies, I highly encourage you to read Trouble Boys by Bob Mehr.  Paul is a strange, captivating figure.  His songs made the strange kid who never felt like he belonged, even when he was with his friends, belong.  He wrote songs about teenage boys struggling with sexual identity, something I identified with since I never had luck in my younger days with girls.  Looking back it was I had a shyness that crippled me, but I really didn’t know if it was something more than that.  He wrote songs about loudmouths and the guys that aren’t.  In college, most of my close friends dropped out, and since it was a commuter school, I only made a one close friend during that time.  Westerberg’s music filled in the gap that my friends left.  In 2005, Westerberg played at the House of Blues in New Orleans. He hurt his leg earlier on tour, so he was in pain, but he stayed and met the fans who wanted to meet him.  He made chit-chat, and luckily, a guy in front had a camera.  He also signed my shirt which Mrs. Nola Nerd framed years later and now is the centerpiece of our artwork leading up our staircase.

The Replacements at the Hollywood Palladium

The Replacements at the Hollywood Palladium

My wife has been very supportive of my obsession with the band. When they were playing in Hollywood, we were in Anaheim due to Star Wars Celebration 2015. Now, my wife is a huge Star Wars fan (bigger than me), and Celebration is the biggest fan event for Star Wars.  She was ok with us leaving early and going see them.

The Replacements at the Hollywood Palladium

The Replacements at the Hollywood Palladium


In March of this year, she sent me a Facebook post from one of our favorite record stores in Orlando, Park Ave CDs.  Tommy Stinson, the bass player and, arguably, the soul of the Replacements, would be playing there.  I almost sent my brother in law to tape it. She decided to look up his tour dates, and that day a show was added to Siberia Lounge in New Orleans…and there was a meet and greet! She said spend the money! Only two other people did the meet and greet.  It was the most surreal experience of my life. Here is a guy who’s life’s work has meant so much to me, coming to shake my hand and saying thanks for coming (the bar owner told I was one of the VIPs).  We went to hang out in the restaurant part and talked about life and other things like a bunch of friends having a drink.  Remember that line I wrote earlier, about the Replacements filling in the gaps of friends I didn’t hang out as much with….here we were hanging out!


Tommy at Siberia New Orleans.


Signed Bash & Pop by Tommy

After the show, he signed a poster for me and recorded a message for the Nola Nerd Baby who wasn’t even a month old yet.

I won’t ever post that on here or social media.

That’s just for us.


Listening: The Cars

This will be a semi-regular feature where I pick a band I haven’t listened to more than what has played on the radio. I was going to try to make it weekly, but I quickly realized that was too lofty of a goal since I really want to listen to the entire band’s discography.

The Cars are a great singles band.  There is no denying it.  But here is the thing, a lot of those “singles” actually aren’t.

Look at their first album. “Just What I Needed,” My Best Friend’s Girl” and “Good Times Roll” are actual singles. However, side two has three songs that have extended radio airplay.  “Moving in Stereo’ especially has a special place in most men’s brains because of a certain movie scene.

Again, that song is not a single, but it’s no longer a deep cut.  And that’s the great thing about The Cars: almost every song sounds like a single.

The Cars are a new wave band and sometimes it shows and dates their music.  Surprisingly, though, it’s mostly on the most experimental tracks. Yet, none derail any of their albums.

One of the strongest aspects of The Cars sound was that main songwriter Ric Ocasek knew when a song wasn’t right for his voice.  While he may have been able to pull off “Just What I Needed,” he knew that Benjamin Orr was the one to sing their best song, “Drive.”

I hadn’t listened to “Drive” in years.  I thought it might sound dated when I came upon it again.  God, was I wrong. It has a beautiful melody that shows a synthesizer can be an emotional instrument, but it’s Orr that’s the star on this song. He does the remarkable feat of sounding emotionally vested and, yet, somewhat detached.  His phrasing is sometimes not where you expect it causing the listener to get caught up in the drama in the song. If this was the only song The Cars ever recording, they would belong in the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame.

What really surprised me was how much I liked Panorama, the album with the fewest charting tracks. While it doesn’t really have any songs that stick out from the others, it is a great album through and through.  There is no filler.

Actually, The Cars whole discography is strong. For a band known for its many singles, their albums are mostly great from the first song to last.  A lot the credit needs to go to producers Roy Thomas Baker and Mutt Lange. This, in turn, led to Ric Ocasek being a great producer in his own right with credits such as Weezer’s Blue and Green albums along with Everything Will Be Alright in the End.  The Cars was a band with a gifted songwriter who knew and played to the strengths of his bandmates.

Next up: Dio


Listening: The Band

This will be a semi-regular feature where I pick a band I haven’t listened to more than what has played on the radio. I was going to try to make it weekly, but I quickly realized that was too lofty of a goal since I really want to listen to the entire band’s discography. 


I’ll say it even though most of my friends will argue for Rush – The Band is the greatest band to ever come out of Canada.  Hell, it would be hard to argue if you wanted to expand that to all of North America.

The Band is actually the group that made want to start this project. The only song I really knew by them was “The Weight” even though I had heard others. I never actually dug into their albums.

I started with Music from Big Pink, which just had its fiftieth anniversary.  The first song just hit me in the gut. “Tears of Rage” song by Richard Manuel with such raging agony may be the greatest first song in any band’s discography. The rest of the album was just as good. I always though Helm was an amazing singer but really the three main singers – Helm, Manuel, and Rick Danko – keep making me switch my allegiance with all three.

That’s the great thing about The Band – they were more than the sum of their parts but each part is needed to make the machine work. Helm has that southern Shelby Foote type of voice that can transport you to the time his story is being told as he does on their second album standout “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” Manuel, to me, sounds like Cat Stevens if all Cat Stevens listened to was soul and blues. Danko, who along with Helm, could find a groove and work the hell out of it.  And when he sings, he emotes in a way that elevates the song.  Then you have Robbie Robertson who wrote most of the songs and is a great guitar player in his own right. Finally, you had Garth Hudson who could probably play any instrument you placed in front of him.

While Music from Big Pink and The Band get most of the press, the rest of the albums they recorded together are some of the best of any rock band. Stage Fright, in particular, is a favorite mainly because I like songs from bands that are about themselves.

I finally watched The Last Waltz for the first time. After spending two weeks listening only to The Band, I was fascinated and disappointed. It is a great rock documentary (probably top two or three ever made), but I actually wished it would have just been them and maybe Bob Dylan (who did write a few of their songs). In my mind, they were the main attraction, they didn’t need any help.

Now, I need to make room in the Bs in my record collection.

Next up: The Cars



Listening: Music Education starting with A for At The Drive In

Recently we had to make a surprise trip to Florida to be with an ailing family member. While there is a lot of stuff to do, there is plenty of downtime as well when a trip is unplanned. Plus there is the drive. I started to think about music. I realized that while my music listening is varied, I was beginning to stick to the same 30-40 bands. This came painfully apparent when I started to make a playlist with my new Apple music streaming account.  I was trying to put a list together for the trip of my favorite artists from their essentials series. My playlist is up to 1750 something songs.

But let’s face it.  That is a drop in the bucket of the music that is out there. One night I thought of a new idea for the blog. Every week I would use my Apple Music account to dig into an artist/band I haven’t heard anything beyond the singles. I’ve always been an album person so this a good way to have the soundtrack for the week.

Then I realized there were 28 weeks left for the year.  How about making this more of a novelty project and work my way through the alphabet while taking a break for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

So I was confronted with choosing a band that started with the letter A. So I decided to start with At the Drive-In.


At the Drive-In, live at Lollapalooza in 2012. From left to right, Omar Rodríguez-López, Cedric Bixler-Zavala, Jim Ward, Tony Hajjar (partially obscured), and Paul Hinojos Credit: Shane Hirschman

For some of you, you will be head scratching.  Others, you will be thinking how haven’t you listened to them.


For the first group, they are often described as post-hardcore whatever that means.  I really can’t explain them. They rock, that’s all you need to know. For the second group, they were around at a time when I really couldn’t afford music, and my dial-up was too slow for Napster.  In fact, I didn’t know they existed until I got a work computer from New Orleans Parish Schools that hadn’t been wiped from the previous year. The person’s mom was dean of NYU Student Life, so the former teacher went and ripped a bunch of their CDs to the computer.  One that struck me was the Mars Volta’s Frances the Mute. It’s a prog album, and it became one of my soundtrack albums for my post-Katrina year.

The Mars Volta features Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and Cedric Bilxer-Zavala from At the Drive-In. I’ve always been one of those people that when they discover an artist, they like they want to learn everything about that artist. So I’ve wanted to listen to At The Drive-In for some time.

They didn’t disappoint.

Brief history, they made three albums and various eps in the late 90s ending with Relationship of Command.  They split into the aforementioned prog Mars Volta and the more alternative-rock Sparta.  We saw Sparta live about a decade ago opening for Old 97s.  The reunited for a few shows in 2012 and then came back together around 2015 minus only one member, Jim Ward. They have recorded one album in the new newly reformed lineup.

They rock very hard, and these albums contain some of the most vivid imagery in their lyrics (Tease this amputation/Splintered larynx) even if they are always cryptic. Bilxer-Zavala also has one of those voices that only about one percent of humans have and he can’t take it almost anywhere he wants. Musically, they sound as if their songs are well planned out, scripted even, and the result of jam at the same time. However, after listening to their albums and watching some live performances, I’m not sure they have ever been adequately captured in the studio. They are not a band that can be contained well.  They are a band that when they are together, they can make a glorious noise.

Next up: The Band

Concert-ing: Exile on Bourbon Street

Exile on Main Street by the Rolling Stones is a mess of a record. Mick Jagger has never actually warmed up to it. Keith Richards was intoxicated most of the time. The mix isn’t muddy and could be so much better. They just run with the mistakes throughout the album.

By Source, Fair use,

By Source, Fair use, Link

In other words, it’s a perfect rock’n’roll album.

Over the years, it has always gone up in stature. It continually appears on the multitudes of best rock albums of all time and usually quite high on the list.

It’s a monolith of an album that can intimidate anyone trying to cover any of the songs off of it. Someone would have to be crazy to cover all of it.

Enter Ryan Adams.

Ryan Adams is one of the Nola Nerd Couple’s favorite musical artists. He is the rare artist that we both love equally. He can rub people the wrong way, but he doesn’t say things that are genuinely insane like some other more famous artists in the news today. He has always had a prolific output, and he is consistently good and sometimes reaches the heights of his idols. He has done the cover the entire album thing before with his intriguing cover of Taylor Swift’s 1989. He found his truths in the songs.

But that was in a studio. On May 5, 2018, he will cover Exile on Main St. live at the Saenger Theater in New Orleans (tickets). He will be joined by Cyril Neville, John Medeski, Mark Mullins, Terence Higgins, and more are promised. Don Was will be the musical director.

Ryan is readying himself for the challenge.


We will be there, thanking California for its bitter fruit along with Mr. Adams and company.