Nyla Matuk

I’ve Looked At Clouds That Way

James Taylor, “Fire and Rain” (1971)

I guess it’s true, as Elton John says, that “when all hope is gone, sad songs say so much.” When I was in my 20s, if I heard a song like James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain” or Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s in the Cradle” — even muzak versions in a department store or public transportation hallway — a heavy, intense melancholy would cover me. I’d get a lump in my throat and be on the verge of tears. I’d have to get away from the music.

Although I’m a lot less sensitive to sad music these days, I have to admit these are pretty sad songs. Sad enough that they could still, on occasion, throw me into a brooding gloom!

Back then, my companion would laugh and tell me that if a song is sad, melancholy, or otherwise mood-altering, it ought to be embraced until it becomes comforting. With a measure of distance, the music could bring on needed catharsis.

Yet it only made me feel terrible. If I wasn’t already in a melancholy mood, I’d quickly step down into one.

Harry Chapin, “Cat’s in the Cradle” (1977)

Since then I have grown more accustomed to and less fearful of hearing sad music. Over many years I have cultivated tolerance and appreciation. A middle, semi-blue period saw me able to listen to Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now.” Still, even then I couldn’t brave songs from the “Blue” album.

Joni Mitchell, “Both Sides Now” (1970)

Now I find some music sad but not intolerably so, like Jackson Browne’s “Running on Empty” album. I believe I’ve achieved the level of cool aesthetic appreciation for the sad that my long-ago companion kept trying to encourage.

Jackson Browne, “Love Needs a Heart” (1978)

I never understood it then, but now listening to Browne’s “Love Needs a Heart” and “Rosie” I realize I’ve made peace with poignancy. I can even manage to listen to these songs of love and loss from beginning to end.

Jackson Browne, “Rosie” (2011)

Whatever’s in my heart — pathos, longing, hurt, despair, regret — these songs bring it out.

Maybe they’d be good for what ails you, too.

- Nyla Matuk

  • henry higgins


    This version should bring forth some regret, longing, and hurt. I can’t get through it without tears. She is so masterful and at the same time vulnerable.

    • http://ryeberg.com/author/nyla-matuk/ Nyla Matuk

      That is much, much sadder than the version I posted. It makes the one I used sound monotonous and zombie-like in comparison.

  • Shawn Micallef

    The “adult” version of Both Sides Now looses the Yorkville-ness and becomes so heavy/great. The way it was used in the Van2010 opening was stunning and for weeks (now, even) that version of the song is never far away, nor the kid flying over the fields of wheat.

  • http://ryeberg.com/author/nyla-matuk/ Nyla Matuk

    It’s a complete coincidence that I am posting this almost a year after this curated video went up, but this Sandy Denny song (Fairport Convention) should have been included. It’s definitely of a piece with these others, and in my view the most melancholy refrain in all of folk rock. For reals.


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Nyla Matuk is the author of "Sumptuary Laws." Her poetry has also appeared in several literary journals in Canada, online at the Incongruous Quarterly and in the Archive of Poets at Greenboathouse Books. Nyla has published short fiction and essays in various literary journals including Event, Room of One's Own, Descant and Alphabet City's "Food and Trash" issues. She has also contributed journalism on architecture and literary topics as a freelancer to the Globe and Mail and numerous magazines. For more Nyla Matuk, go here.