Last week a friend of my friends, Scott Hutchinson, took his own life. He was found by the waterfront, in a town just outside of Edinburgh, Scotland. Scott was part of my music community. One friend produced the last record by his band, Frightened Rabbit, released in 2016. Scott was also a tourmate to more allies & colleagues than I can count —- and by all accounts, he was a warm & generous one. After he died, someone posted a backstage picture of him spelling out the name of a fan in Cheetos, a virtual gift to be passed along by cell phone pic.
I've been close to more than one of these kinds of pointless deaths this year — and more still in the timeline that is a life. My own father, maybe. (No one is certain.) When I was a journalist a lifetime ago, the subject of my first cover story — my 'big break' — was Elliott Smith.
"I never think of [my songs] as being particularly dark," Elliott told me, unpacking people's impressions of his music. "I just think of them as being real. I look for songs that are sort of happy and sad at the same time, that have conflicting feelings coexisting." He went on to explain his understanding of the term 'melancholy' — a hint of happiness mixed into a field of sad. "What's the point in a one-dimensional song? There's gotta be a certain amount of darkness so the happy parts pop out. It's like a bright color. It won't look so bright surrounded only by other bright colors. It would just sort of be hard on the eye."
I've been told I like sad songs. But it's that mix of colors that I hope you take from the ones I've collected here. Because I believe music itself is a color. And I think of sad songs as a way to illuminate one's darkest feelings with a brighter shade of expression.
-Alec Hanley Bemis
Alec Hanley Bemis is a manager and creative producer who lives in Brooklyn, New York — and, in 2001, co-founded the Brassland label with Aaron and Bryce Dessner of The National. For these projects he has been covered by The Irish Times, The Guardian, Print Magazine, and The Wall Street Journal. In his first career as a writer & journalist, he was published in The New Yorker, The New York Times, Bookforum and LA Weekly on topics ranging from Beck to backyard wrestling.