Friday, January 30, 2015

Happiness in Melancholy Music (by Andrew Gladwin)

Guest Post: Andrew Gladwin

Andrew has a deep interest in mentoring and has given a lot of time to the Actuarial Society of South Africa focused on education and continual professional development. Andrew and I were colleagues when I first started work. One of the events where the wiser ones in the crowd got to know the youngsters was an annual quiz. It didn't take long to see that if you had Andrew on your side, you had the music section nailed. When I asked Andrew to write a guest post, it turned out he had a blog I didn't know about called 'Cabin Essence', so if you enjoy this reflection on a couple of his favourite albums, check it out.


Happiness in Melancholy Music
by Andrew Gladwin

My two favourite records are the Beach Boys classic Pet Sounds and the obscure Paddy McAloon record I Trawl The Megahertz. A quarter of a century and an ocean separate these records, but what links them? And why do they make me happy?

Both records could officially be filed under pop rock, but they are far more genre spanning than that, with dense, intricate arrangements, suing a wide variety of conventional and unconventional musical instruments. They don't conventionally "rock" and they could be described as lush and beautiful. But lyrically, they are not "easy listening."

Both of them could indeed be seen as lyrically reflective, even sad. Pet Sounds starts with the exuberance of Wouldn't It Be Nice, but ends with the downer of Caroline No, and the last five songs are all reflective, restless, and down on love and life. The title track and centrepiece of I Trawl The Megahertz is a twenty-two minute of an all-consuming love gone wrong and almost breaking the narrator. Indeed, the breakdown of love in I Trawl The Megahertz and Caroline No can be seen as far deeper than just passing teenage fancies. These losses are akin to betrayal - just about the harshest act one can do to a living human.

In Caroline No, the betrayal may seem superficial (where did your long hair go, where is the girl I used to know?) but you only have to listen to the song to know that it is a hurt deeply felt. Betrayal is all over I Trawl The Megahertz, especially in the deeply felt lines
Your daddy loves you;I said 'Your daddy loves you very much;He doesn't want to live with us anymore.
Betrayal, sadness, lost love - so you may ask me how can you find happiness in these albums. I would like to suggest three reasons, which are all very much part of the greatness of these records. Firstly, there is the simple beauty and brilliance of the music alluded to above - the power of melody, and in the Beach Boys' case, the loveliness of harmony.

Secondly, there is the joy, relief, catharsis - call it what you want - in the sense that just about all of us have been through the emotional storms suggested by these records. Very few people will live a lifetime without lost love, and indeed, a lost love felt so deeply that it feels like betrayal. Even if we contributed our fair share to the demise of the love, sometimes it just feels better to feel the hurt, anger and betrayal from someone else and say "this is me as well."

And finally, because these are ultimately hopeful records. Caroline No ends with the sound of a train leaving, symbolic of moving on. Change. The change may be difficult, but there is a move on to something new, and hopefully eventually, something better. At the end of I Trawl The Megahertz, the narrator says hopefully
By day and night, fancy electronic dishes are trained on the heavens.They are listening for smudged echoes of the moment of creation.They are listening for the ghost of a chance.They may help us make sense of who we are and where we came fromAnd, as a compassionate side effect, teach us that nothing is ever lost.
Ultimately, the way these records make me feel is hard to describe in words - I've tried to capture a it a bit in the above, but the overall impact is almost ineffable. And - not so coincidentally - Ineffable is the title of a wordless track on I Trawl The Megahertz, a beautiful example of how music can paint brilliant pictures and capture emotions without any words. Both of these records have their fair share of instrumentals which pull at the heartstrings as much as the songs with words. Both have so much more I could say about them. And they both make me happy.


In writing a blog about several topics in which I admit to being a complete beginner, I am going to have to rely heavily on the people I am writing for who cumulatively know most of what I am likely to learn already. I would love it if some of you found the time to write a guest post on the subject of happiness or learning. The framework I use for thinking about these things is what I call the '5 + 2 points' which includes proper (1) exercise, (2) breathing, (3) diet, (4) relaxation, (5) positive thinking & meditation, (+1) relationships, (+2) flow. Naturally if you would like to write about something that you think I have missed, I would love to include that too. If you are up to doing something more practical, it would be awesome if you did a 100 hour project and I am happy to do the writing based on our chats if that is how you roll. Email me at 

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