COLUMN: Take a sad song and make it sadder
I stumbled across the most remarkable thing last week.
Oleg Berg, a Ukranian musician and apparent technological whiz, started an experimental music project in which he digitally re-edits famous compositions by altering the harmonic scale.
In other words, he takes a happy song and makes it sad. And vice versa.
A lot of the time, it doesn’t work. His happy version of Europe’s “Final Countdown”–switched to major scale–causes the song to lose all tension and turns the epic composition into bubblegum fluff hilarity.
And then there’s his version of The Beatles’ “Hey Jude” in minor key.
A work of immense art–an embittered funeral dirge, sung in drunken apathy, drowning in a sea of mire.
“Take a sad song and make it better,” Paul McCartney sings. And the song doesn’t get better. It just gets sadder.
Eventually, the song pitifully dissolves into a dire epiphany of immense hopelessness. The famous chorus of “na na na na na” limps into existence as if sung by a chain gang: somewhat angry, mostly defeated.
It was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard. I must have stared at my laptop’s screen in absolute amazement afterward for at least five minutes.
Of course, “Hey Jude” is not a sad song. It is a song of joyful exuberance, one that takes the slightly depressed protagonist, Jude, and lifts his spirits with a drunken sing-a-long.
But I think I like the song better when Jude gives up all hope, locks himself in his apartment and withers away.
You have to keep in mind that I am a little messed up that way. “It’s not literature until the dog dies,” I once quipped at a date, at which point the date quickly ended.
But there was just something so wonderfully absurd and poignant about Berg’s version that wasn’t entirely found in the original blissful rendition. It spoke more of life.
Just like Berg’s transformation of Status Quo’s cautionary tale, “You’re In the Army Now,” into a candy-coated anthem that treats going to war like going to Disney World.
It’s just about the most absurd thing possible. What’s more, most war anthems before the 1950s treated war with the same delusional regard.
Even in modern culture, the same dynamic exists. Passion Pit’s “Take a Walk,” a song about depression and, arguably, suicide, was used in several advertisements on television, including in an advertisement for Taco Bell. Who doesn’t love a quesadilla with a side of deep embitterment?
And who could forget this summer’s smash hit “Pumped Up Kicks,” a wonderfully enchanting song about a school shooting.
Face it, people: In art, and maybe in life, if you might permit me a bit of nonsense, sad things are better off happy and happy things are better off sad.
And if you don’t believe me, I will be in my apartment attempting to sing Nine Inch Nail’s “Hurt” like it’s The Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine.” You’re all welcome to join me.
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