Sad Ass Songs: Seth Landman
Sad Ass Songs is a weekly column where I ask some of my favorite writers to tell me about their favorite sad songs. They send me songs, and then I send them questions, and then I post their answers here, and then we all cry a little bit.
Our first interview is with Seth Landman, the author of Sign You Were Mistaken (Factory Hollow, 2013). Seth had to be the first person I interviewed for this series, because Seth is the person who taught me that it’s OK to be sad.
The Song: “Idiot Wind” by Bob Dylan
Mark Cugini: Why is this sad ass song resonating with you right now?
Seth Landman: It has been resonating for as long as I can remember. Different parts of the song hit harder at different times. A couple things come to mind as I’m listening to it and writing this. I love how pissed off the song is, but I love even more that the speaker can’t avoid implicating himself. You can be just completely ripped apart by a person, but you can’t help but reserve some of the venom for yourself.
MC: What lyric sealed the deal for you here, and why?
SL: “I can’t feel you anymore, / I can’t even touch the books you’ve read.” Every line of this song is amazing, but this describes a particular feeling in a way that is so perfect. I mean, to be unable to touch a book, never mind read the fucking thing. If you haven’t felt that before, I don’t know what to tell you.
MC: The last time I asked you to send me a sad song, you picked another Dylan song—”Sign on the Window.” Is Dylan a go-to artist for you when you’re feeling down?
SL: Absolutely. I thought about a lot of other songs when you asked me about this, but I knew it had to be Dylan. When I was 20, I drove from California to Massachusetts with my dad, and I remember driving through Oklahoma City in the dark and listening to “Idiot Wind,” and when it was over we both paused for a second and then my dad said, dripping with sarcasm, “Another nice Dylan love song.” We still make that joke sometimes. I mean, listen, I have been “feeling down” for just about as long as I can remember. To be honest, it has been particularly bad lately, and I guess I go to Dylan because his songs aren’t afraid of that shit. When you’re sad, everyone wants to tell you it’s going to be okay, or to hold up “being okay” as some sort of worthy end goal. Dylan (and plenty of other artists, by the way) can serve as the friend who in a moment of crisis is not afraid to respond by saying, “We’re idiots, babe. It’s a wonder we can even feed ourselves.” Dylan songs provide a wild, sad sympathy that bears my scrutiny.
MC: I can’t help but make comparisons between this song and some of the longer poems you’ve been publishing lately—like “Idiot Wind,” they’re heart-wrenching and layered and complicated and terrified. And long! Maybe this is barely related, but what draws you to longer forms?
SL: Maybe a long form forces a more honest kind of revelation, or else it manages to get you closer to the things you’re afraid to look at about yourself. I just wanted to do something that I didn’t know how to do. So for a while I stopped giving myself the gift of ending a poem and slapping a title on it and being done. I would write what might normally be a poem, and then I’d just skip a line and force myself to write something else. I ended up uncovering parts of myself that I hadn’t really looked at head-on before. I’ve been obsessed for a while with some of the longer songs of Dylan and Van Morrison. There’s this Van Morrison song, “Listen to the Lion,” that’s extremely long, and at some point he actually starts growling like a lion. It’s interesting what happens to us if we give up on the idea of concision and just let our minds go where they go. I’m frustrated lately by logical thinking, and by the way we all seem to be willing to let small, piddly concerns take the place of big, terrifying mysteries. Love, for example. I feel like when I start growling is when I know I’m getting somewhere.
MC: When was the last time you cried? What were you crying about? Do I even wanna know?
SL: I just cried yesterday, driving around the Quabbin Reservoir. Honestly, Mark, I just feel really lonely and like time is flying by. I also feel like time is not moving at all. A few months ago, towards the end of the summer, I had the experience for the first time of crying because I was happy, and it took me about two seconds to realize that what I was actually crying about was something like relief. Life is really hard, and you have to keep your guard up, and it’s fucking exhausting, and then once in a blue moon you have a moment where you can finally let yourself relax, and it can feel, oh, I don’t know, just overwhelming. It’s like realizing that you are breathing, and then realizing that you’ve been holding your breath for a long, long time. Dylan’s got this insane, 14-minute song about the Titanic. It’s called “Tempest,” and the chorus keeps referring back to the ship’s watchman, dreaming about the ship sinking, letting the ship sink. At one point, it goes, “The watchman, he lay dreaming / The damage had been done / He dreamed the Titanic was sinking / And he tried to tell someone.” The first time I listened to the song, that line made me weep. Trying to tell someone, in a dream, about the disaster that’s coming. It seems to me that one of the conditions of being a person is that you are going to run into moments when you absolutely can’t say the thing you need to say. There’s just no way to say it. So we try to say it. It’s pathetic, in a way, but that’s exactly why it is amazing.
MC: Ugh, Seth. You are exactly the reason why it feels so amazing. Thank you for this <3
Listen to the whole playlist right here: