Monday, January 27, 2014

Sad is Happy for Deep People

So...I love this weird little song.

The lyrics refer to the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. It's one of my favorite kinds of songs--the kind where the upbeat music contradicts the serious subject matter. It's the language arts lover in me...she thrives on oxymorons and juxtapositions and irony. In this case, you have your protagonist in the song (do songs have protagonists?) trying to find some inner-optimism in the midst of an unfathomable calamity. Even when he's singing about the doom-ridden gray clouds rolling in, he does so with almost a cheery demeanor.

But I think I like the song even more because of a Doctor Who episode I watched awhile back called the "Fires of Pompeii."

In the episode, the doctor and his companion, Donna, travel back in time to Rome the day before Mount Vesuvius erupts. Here the doctor faces a huge moral dilemma. The eruption of the volcano is considered a fixed point in time, thus, he can not alter the course of history by warning or evacuating the citizens of Pompeii. But while there, he and Donna bond with a specific family--heightening their dilemma.

The family awaiting their impending doom

The Doctor agonizing over this dilemma

In the end (spoilers ahead) the doctor, in the spirit of cold logic, decides to leave the family behind to die. Donna pleads with him, and at the last possible second he saves the family and drops them off on the outskirts of the town to watch their city burn. I loved the underlying theme...the idea that some things can never be changed, but once in awhile being human means breaking the rules. It's like a friend of mine once said...sometimes you just want to look up into the sky and say, "Hey, it's not always easy down here in human land."

It's interesting because there are so many parallelisms between the song Pompeii and the episode "Fires of Pompeii," you would swear that the song was written for this episode, even though the two were released five years apart. Still, every time I hear this song now, I see that family standing up on the hillside, watching fire and ash rain down upon their beloved town. I see them closing their eyes, imagining that "nothing's changed at all...."

I guess that seems depressing, but it's not. I can explain this through a brilliant quote I heard several months ago. Okay, I have to admit that this one also comes from Doctor Who. I can't help it--for such a silly, un-logical show, it has a ton of great observations about life. Anyway, in the episode "Blink" (one of my favorites), a young woman, Sally Sparrow, is asked by her best friend why she is so attracted to a yard full of crumbled, weeping angel statues:

It's happy for deep people. I get this. It's not that emotionally-charged books or gut-wrenching music appeals to some inner-sad person in me--"happy" is actually my default personality. I think (as I've mentioned in the past) it's because the writer/artist in me likes to explore the highs and lows of the human emotional spectrum.

The song below, for example, is one of the most beautiful  "happy for deep people" songs I've heard in the recent months (you can breathe a sigh of relief that this one isn't Whovian). When I listen to it, it doesn't make me feel sad at all. It just moves me and scratches some little emotional itch.

Oh, one more thing I left out about the Fires of Pompeii episode....

Yes, that is indeed the Doctor fighting off lava monsters with a bad ass...squirt gun. Hey, I never claimed it was a DEEP episode.


  1. I have loved this song since I first heard it! I had no idea it was about a volcanic eruption, which makes me love it even more (I love songs that tell a story). So I actually looked up the eruption of Vesuvius after I read your post, and it gets more interesting. According to what I read, an earthquake which triggered volcanic activity actually caused serious damage to Pompeii in 62 AD. The people rebuilt in the rubble, and then Pompeii was destroyed in 79 AD by the same volcano. If the people had learned from the first catastrophe, they could have avoided their own destruction. This makes the song even more awesome, because it may not just be referring to a volcano, but rather humans' self destructive tendency to pay no heed to the lessons from the past, and repeat the same mistakes. No wonder it says, "And if you close your eyes, does it almost feel like you have been here before?"

    1. WOW Shan. I didn't know about the earthquake 17 years prior. That REALLY contextualizes the deja vu the 'narrator' seems to be experiencing. You're right, I love the song even more now. I'm sure it's not meant to be taken literally--that is, the singer is likely using Pompeii as a metaphor that can be applied to other avenues of life--but I love his use of story-telling to get his message across.

    2. Oooh, Clint just brought up a good point. The people in ancient Rome believed that calamities such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions were the byproduct of angry gods. Thus the residents of Pompeii would have no reason to move--fleeing would accomplish nothing if a bunch of pissed off deities are out for your head. The only course of action would be to rebuild in the rubble and vow to change your evil ways...a theory that also explains the line, "Where do we begin...the rubble or our sin?" That sounds like a reference to the first calamity in 62 AD, in which the people were likely trying to decide what to do first: Clean up the destruction or clean up themselves.

    3. That is just so interesting!!!

    4. Oh wow! So much amazing history here! Made me enjoy the song more. And I love the line--- "Where do we begin...the rubble or our sin?"

      And Amanda shared the second song on Twitter last month, so I think there might be a pattern here...

      In terms of the context (since well, I'm not a Doctor Who fan *hides*), would it be right to say sad is the happy for deep, happy people?
      Not sure there's any depth to sadness for already-sad people. You know, the depressed kind of sad. What do you think? :)

    5. I guess it depends on how you define 'happy.' If something thrills us or feeds some kind of craving, does that equal happiness? If so, then here's our equation: fulfilled craving = happy; sad things = fulfills craving (for sad people), thus sad people = happy.

      Okay, I think that went over even MY head. ;)

      Let's just say your second statement is the truest: Sad is the happy for deep, happy people.

    6. Sad things = fulfills craving (for sad people)

      That's equally true.
      I'm reading The Fault In Our Stars...and I get it.
      Oh wait, that makes me a sad person, I guess....

    7. I think a person can be both sad and cheery/optimistic at the same time, if that makes any sense.

  2. I wonder what it says about me that I avoid sad at all costs? I really, really can't deal with being sad, so I don't watch sad movies, or listen to closely to sad music, and I certainly don't seek out sad books (though the sad ones are the ones that stick with me until the bitter end--freaking Kafka). But then, I'm pretty seriously depressed and sad just kicks me where it already hurts.

    That said, I love to read/watch about Pompeii. I watched a docudrama about the whole mess on some history-like channel (maybe the actually History Channel, I don't recall) and it made me cry like a baby. When the family dies (either from the ash or from suicide, I bawled like a little girl). The absolute horror those people must have suffered. And seeing, on documentries, that they found the shapes of women curled up with their children as they died. I just can't. But, then, when I watch stuff about modern day disasters, I have trouble feeling much (mostly). I'm clearly seriously messed up.

    1. I can relate with your first paragraph, Kristyn. I try to avoid being sad at all costs too, since all it takes is just a little trigger...

    2. I'm messed up too Kristyn, because watching mass-destruction movies or docudramas is sort of a shameless love of mine. I don't know what it is, but I get absolutely riveted by story lines showing humans coping in the face of a calamity. I find them heartbreaking and inspiring.

      As far as you avoiding sad at all costs, well...I'd defer to your blog title for an explanation for that. ;)


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