Northern melancholy

Freebird Records in Dublin’s Wicklow Street has the force of a whirlpool or a vortex, one can be passing peacefully down the street and suddenly find oneself drawn down the corridor that leads to The Secret Book Store and Freebird.

Having been drawn into the space, it would have seemed rude not to have bought something from the racks and racks of music. So it was that I bought second hand CD recordings of Elbow’s The Seldom Seen Kid and First Aid Kit’s Stay Gold.

Elbow may have downbeat moments in their songs, but there are many more that are upbeat. Guy Garvey is an exuberant sort of person.

The Söderberg sisters from First Aid Kit sing some of the most haunting songs of our time; their voices cutting through the air, their lyrics poetic, their music inveigling its way into one’s consciousness; but it is relentlessly melancholic. The song Stay Gold is a powerful lament to love lost that has the capacity to dampen the most upbeat of moods.

Why are Swedes so melancholic? In fact, why are the Nordic countries so melancholic?

Watch the sort of Nordic detective series that screen on channels like BBC 4 on Saturday nights and there is a pervasive mood of low level depression. Nor is it just the Nordic countries, across the Atlantic, there are Canadians who could rival the Nordic characters in a moody despondency.

Though they might occupy similar latitudes, the Nordic countries and Canada are very diverse countries, why such a similarity in outlook?

Perhaps it is the latitude, and the climate associated with that latitude.

In the extreme cold of the long months of the Nordic and Canadian winters, life can be a struggle for existence. When temperatures can drop to minus forty or so, and when frostbite and hypothermia are constant threats, casual behaviour can endanger one’s life.

Not ensuring that one’s car is properly maintained, not dressing with the appropriate winter clothing and footwear, not planning journeys with proper regard for the conditions; these can threaten one’s life. It is behaviour that might also endanger the lives of those who have to drive though ice and blizzards in search of a stranded vehicle or frostbitten driver.

If a concern for survival lurks at the back of the mind of every person living in those latitudes; if there is a requirement to be serious and studied in one’s approach to daily existence; if, in particular circumstances, light-heartedness can become something dangerous; then one can perhaps understand how it is that even popular culture can become something of gravitas and melancholy.

Whether it is television detective series or beautiful singers, the life they reflect seems to be a life of seriousness.

Stay Gold is a good song, but not one to be played too often.

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