It was Tuesday. Hopes of a partly sunny afternoon broke down when a grey, cloudy blanket settled in over Corolla, NC. With the beach looking less than tempting and my head cold doing a fantastic job of ruining my favorite week of the year, I joined Mrs. YHT and her parents on a walk to a nearby cluster of stores. The sky opened up about an hour later, and we hurried into an Island Bookstore, hoping that a little literary browsing would chase the rain away. It didn’t. That was the bad news. The good news was that a book was waiting there, destined to be found and bought by a sick, cranky vacationer who’d been caught in the rain. And really, could This Will End in Tears: The Miserablist Guide to Music have found a better home?
I have to admit, while I’m excited to share a little about Adam Brent Houghtaling’s Miserablist Guide — a reference guide and tribute to the best of bummer music — I’m only a few dozen pages in. I could wait until I’m finished to tell you about it, but I have a feeling I won’t be done for a long, long time. This book is packed with artist profiles, song essays, lists and more, and it’s hard for me to read two pages in a row without stopping to sample the goods. This tends to be a problem for me when reading books about music. I want to plow through them and learn as much as I can as quickly as I can, but I’m constantly looking things up on Spotify, pulling up artists’ Wikipedia pages, linking to other Wikipedia pages… My short attention span and curiosity team up like a pair of over-hydrated siblings who are determined to make the family’s road trip to the Grand Canyon proceed glacially.
Despite the slow going, I’m already reaping some pretty lucrative rewards. The book’s first song-focused essay is about “Lush Life,” a complicated autobiographical tune written by composer Billy Strayhorn in the early 1930’s. Started when its writer was just 16, “Lush Life” conjures an aching loneliness, pessimistically looking to a future devoid of love and soaked in alcohol. While John Coltrane went on to record a more famous instrumental version — it ended up being Strayhorn’s favorite — you can listen below to Strayhorn himself singing his beautiful, resigned lyrics.