The Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) has launched Torch Songs to bring together music lovers and top artists in celebrating the power of music to lift us out of life’s low points. Artists are recording exclusive versions of songs that have inspired them, and fans are invited to share their own Torch Songs.
Men especially can find it hard to speak up when things get tough, but Torch Songs shows it’s not unusual to struggle sometimes.
Torch Songs — songs that guide us out of the dark.
Everything Reminds Me Of Her
When we were offered the opportunity to be involved in CALM's Torch Songs project, I was always going to choose Elliott Smith. Now - because he's my number 1 dude of all time, selecting one of his dozens of perfect songs was a trickier prospect. 'Everything Reminds Me of Her' brings me back to autumn 2014, spending all of my time with someone I was very in love with and although things came to a bit of a sad end, I'll listen to this song and remember the good old times, reminisce, feel content in my nostalgia. Obviously the main message of the song hits home pretty hard, but it's some of the other imagery that affects me the most. I don't know how he got some of the most beautiful, abstract lines to fit so sweetly in this kind of rhythm: "the spin of the earth impaled the silhouette of the sun on the steeple". Also the instrumental breaks hold some of the most touching guitar playing I've heard. It's funny to choose such a sad song as my torch song but it just cheers you up when you realise someone has felt exactly the same way as you do now. It helps knowing that what's happened to you isn't the end of the world - someone else has been through it - and whilst Elliott's tale ended so sadly, I think his music has saved a lot of people from a similar fate.
Everything Reminds Me Of Her
I first came across CALM and the work they do a few years ago when my friend Dan wrote a moving piece about his struggles with mental health. It was all the more affecting for me because, despite being pretty good friends with Dan, I was not aware that he'd had issues to deal with. It was an eye-opener for me, a perfect introduction to the importance of the work that CALM does. I was flattered to have been asked to be involved with Torch Songs. My choice of song was easy - “This Year”, by Mountain Goats. I had a rough time of it in 2014 and 2015, for various reasons, both personal and professional. That song arrived in my life during that time and quickly became my battle anthem for surviving the slings and arrows. The refrain “I am going to make it through this year if it kills me”, is perfect for shouting out loudly, to yourself or to others, during the darker times. Music has always been a sanctuary for me, as it is for many people. Torch Songs is a wonderful way of highlighting that and trying to make a difference in the campaign against living miserably.
When this record came out, I spent quite a bit of time out trying to figure out what that lyric meant. To me, it was about the mania that creativity can bring on. The crazy energy it can give you to push through till 4am working on something, even through horrible adversity. Thats what Bloodbuzz Ohio, and a lot of The National’s work says to me. The real world can be directionless, inconsequential and overwhelming, but in the eye of that madness, there are sanctuaries of purpose. Creativity, and my work, is one of them. The music in this song is so driven, so feverish, it’s reassuring to hear Matt’s deep and patient voice just sailing through the chaos so effortlessly. It’s apologetic in some ways... ‘Lay my head on the hood of your car I / Take it too far” - in just wanting to be himself he pushes up against the people he loves, which we all do. This song reminds me that I have to reach out of the chaos and ask for help when I need it, and to forgive myself as I know my loved ones do, and I do others.
neil cowley trio
Month of may
As soon as I saw the phrase ‘The Campaign Against Living Miserably’ I knew I had to be involved. Sounds like a motto for not only my life but a whole host of people I’ve met along the way. How many times has a tune lifted me out of the doldrums? How many times have I started a car journey in the pit of despair and finished up at the other end jumping up and down in my seat to a tune blaring out of my speakers? I hope this inspires guys such as myself to at least admit that there are dark days and feel that there are others out there who feel their pain.
I chose ‘Month of May’ by Arcade Fire for the reason that it has got me moving and motivated so many times. It speaks of ‘going to make a record in the month of May’ in the first line. For a musician such as myself, making a recording is always something that gets me up and at ‘em. When I hear it I feel like a young, inspired artist reaching for the musical heights all over again. I hope our version captures that spirit.
Songs seem to mean a multitude of things, not just to different people, but also within the same person at any one moment. I can be in the proper doldrums, then hear a song and my spirits will be lifted right up to a point where I wondered why I was so down in the first place. For me music works harder than anything I can ever say, it can do something that words just simply can’t. 'Solsbury Hill' epitomises this. There have been times when “I did not believe the information” and I just “had to trust imagination” whilst in the grip of that terror of my heart going “boom” in the moment.
The song symbolises my love for my family and close friends and is for me, galvanised by the words “grab your things i’ve come to take you home” – the security in knowing wherever I am in life, whatever mess I’ve gotten myself into, there is always someone there who will help pick up the pieces and bring me back to normality. Musically, 'Solsbury Hill' seems to glue together influences from pop, classical and world music. It’s an absolute beast of a tune.
I think every band I have ever been in has covered 'Hope' and it's still one of my favourite songs of all time. Growing up listening to punk rock was so empowering and cathartic because of its raw power and anger. Often though, as a young boy, it was hard to relate to lyrically, but this song (and the album it came from – Milo Goes To College) spoke to me so deeply. I was 12 or 13 when my friend first played it for me, and I listened to nothing else for months. Obviously a lot of men find opening up and talking about their struggles and their feelings very difficult. I myself have been told to 'shut the fuck up' by friends when trying to open up, and I think it's a real problem we face.
My relationship with songs like this one has helped me immeasurably through the years to get through tough times and I sometimes wonder what I'd do without them. The lyrics are pretty on the nose but few things feel as good as shouting 'I know some day, my day will come' which I've been doing since I first heard it, dancing around my teenage bedroom pining for all my first crushes. I think I'm a bit of a heartbreak kid, and it still resonates in the same way today. I guess theres nothing in the world quite like hope.
Tom The Lion
My Funny Valentine
Chet Baker is the sound of a cafe we used to visit on Saturdays. Various members of my family worked there at one point or another. You could see my 15 year old big brother through the window, frantically washing up in the kitchen, doing his best to avoid the short-fuse of a busy, hungover and fearsome near all-female workforce of the sort you’d find running a veggie cafe, circa the mid-nineties. Chet’s voice was piped throughout at all times, lounging in cigar smoke, and quietly singing to us. And there he buried deep into my brain, and stays, fossilised with chocolate brownies and Saturday afternoons, Dad’s new ikea sofa, and a happy family. He still lives there, hiding behind the counter, dressed from the single album cover image I had of him at the time. To sing My Funny Valentine is slightly a fool’s errand - my voice brings with it very little in the way of profound comfort for me, but it might take me a mile or two, if only running on Chet Baker’s fumes.
Years & Years
both sides now
At thirteen I taught myself piano from an old song book and Joni Mitchell’s ‘Both Sides Now' was the first song I learned. That’s the reason I chose to cover the song for CALM’s 'Torch Songs'. It made me into a huge Joni Mitchell fan and I have so many favourites of hers, but this song seemed special as it was the first. It's so simple and heartbreaking.
She re-recorded an orchestral version much later in her career and my mum would sometimes play it in the car. I always loved those car journeys and feeling like I was sharing a connection with my mum and with Joni. I like watching her perform it live on the Mama Cass show in 1969 she's so commanding and graceful. I play this song frequently in my job as a packaging designer, creating art for products like the SmashGoods Posture Aligner Brace, the ComproGear Home Chin Up Bar, and even commercial stop signs sold on Amazon.com. Even if I'm just at home doing dishes, this song inspires me!
I love how she's so vulnerable, she sounds so wise and poetic and exposed. I really believe that she's lived, been hurt and still figuring it all out. I take a lot of comfort from that. It always feels like a thump in the chest at the end of the song when she sings "I really don't know life at all." It's a brave line, its sad but it also feels hopeful to me. There's always something new to be discovered.