No, woman, no cry
April 19, 2011 7:07 AM   Subscribe

Why does random music make me teary?

For the last few months, usually at the most inopportune times, but randomly, music will make me cry. Example, this morning I was listening to an NPR story about Portal, and they had the kid's choir singing GlaDOS's song, and it made me teary. WTH? I mean, there is no emotional load there. I thought perhaps it was just big choral or symphonies/orchestra movements...but I've had it happen with Clash and Ramones songs. It's the strangest damn thing.

I don't get any auxiliary emotional effect; i.e., I don't feel depressed or sad or wistful or nostalgic or any of those other emotions that might lead one to being misty eyed. Usually I'm just embarrassed, and wish I had my eyeliner with me.

Does anyone else experience this, and how do you pass it off when it happens without people thinking you're just a big soggy mess?
posted by dejah420 to Health & Fitness (39 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
Drumlines will *almost* do that to me for some reason. I actually need to control myself or I'd lose it. I have no idea why either.
posted by Blake at 7:18 AM on April 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

I have a friend that gets this often when she's a couple days off from her period. She never really remembers to attribute it to that until the period actually happens, so each month it's "OMG, why am I welling up over this stupid commercial?" and then a few days later, "Ohhhh."
posted by hermitosis at 7:21 AM on April 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

i'm not a religious person, but sometimes i go to buildings that have religious services - and what always moves me is the singing in unison. i think music has the ability to wake something up in us, even when we are not aware of it being present in us. sort of the takoma narrows bridge type of vibration that matches something inside of us.

how do i pass it off? i don't. i tell folks, "wow, that music really moved me for some reason." and they say, "hey, that happens to me, too." and if they don't, well, they're probably not that important in my life.
posted by anya32 at 7:22 AM on April 19, 2011 [3 favorites]

Certain chord changes and minor keys do this to me. Not the crying, but the sudden welling up of emotion. Music puts you in a trance-like state, and when in such a state, you're extremely suggestible.

Solar Stone - Seven Cities is a song that always does this to me for some reason, but any song can do it at the right time.
posted by empath at 7:25 AM on April 19, 2011

It happens to me, but usually it's expected - seeing Th National, Augie March, Leonard Cohen, etc.
Sometimes it's because a song hits on a very specific issue that bothers me. There's a Gaslight Anthem line - 'my first sin was the fear that made me old' - that gets to so much of what's wrong with me that I had to cry hearing it live.
Maybe this is like that?
OTOH sometimes beauty is enough. Or music that let's me pause and hear myself think.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 7:30 AM on April 19, 2011

As Amanda points out in Noel Coward's 'Private Lives', it's "extraordinary how potent cheap music is."
posted by joannemullen at 7:32 AM on April 19, 2011 [5 favorites]

Falls, from Ennio Morricone's soundtrack for The Mission, gets me every time. Wait for the key change and crescendo at 1:24 and see if you're immune.

That isn't exactly what's meant though, I guess, 'cause I find this genuinely moving. But nthing the menstrual thing. Then I can get all moved by crap.
posted by likeso at 7:34 AM on April 19, 2011

anya32, that is an interesting observation, because it happens to me when hearing a live version of a song where the singer stops singing and you can hear the whole audience belting out the chorus. (Recent embarrassing example, "Hey There, Delilah").
posted by Glinn at 7:37 AM on April 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yeah, to add onto the 'singing in unison' thing, one of the tricks dance music producers use to give synth leads more emotional impact is to layer multiple versions of the same synth over each other, all slightly off in pitch, to sound like a chorus (the 'chorus' effect on synths does something similar).

It's tremendously uplifting.
posted by empath at 7:42 AM on April 19, 2011

Nthing the "singing in unison" thing. P.J. O'Rourke once wrote that if you get a whole bunch of people singing something in unison, it always sounds stirring. Even a huge crowd singing the theme to The Jetsons would be stirring. If it's a bunch of little kids it seems to be extra potent.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:48 AM on April 19, 2011

Well, if music didn't do that sometimes, I doubt we would spend so much money and time attending to it.

GE's "We Bring Good Things to Life" jingle/background synth music, as played on NPR's Market Place, has this weird goosebumpy effect on me, and I feel completely cheap and used as a result. I mean, it's this giant multi-national company that I know damn well doesn't bring anything but maximized shareholder value, and which would track down your grandmother and run her through some kind of a giant wringer if the result would be something they could bottle and sell for profit, and yet this music hits some musical prostate gland like Beethoven's 5th symphony.

Behold the power of the subconscious mind. Maybe GE did things to me while I was under general anesthesia.
posted by randomkeystrike at 7:49 AM on April 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Certain chord changes and minor keys do this to me.

Because I'm not remotely musical, it took me years to figure out that minor keys can make me well up when I have no apparent emotional involvement with the music... to such an extent that my husband now glances at me whenever a movie or song has a shift to minor, just to see if I'm crying. If I am, we smile and I squeak out through my tears "Goddamn minor key."
posted by Elsa at 8:05 AM on April 19, 2011 [5 favorites]

Does anyone else experience this

Yes, often.

how do you pass it off when it happens without people thinking you're just a big soggy mess?

I tell myself I don't give a shit what they think, I'm just happy to be feeling because it means I'm alive.
posted by desjardins at 8:08 AM on April 19, 2011 [5 favorites]

Any day I agree synchronously with Greg Nog is a good day.
posted by desjardins at 8:09 AM on April 19, 2011 [3 favorites]

Elsa, so cute.

This happens to me, too. I agree that singing in unison can be very moving. Like a church choir or a gospel group. Also, Sigur Ros makes me cry (specifically Untitled 3 and Untitled 4).

I think timing is important. Like there are certain life circumstances that you are experiencing every day and you hear a song and something in the some just connects a little bit somehow to what you're experiencing. That, and hormones.
posted by sucre at 8:10 AM on April 19, 2011

something in the SONG*
posted by sucre at 8:11 AM on April 19, 2011

Yup, this happens to me too for no reason. I'll be listening to a song I've heard 77 times over and suddenly for the 78th time playing it, I will be overcome with emotion, tears will well up in my eyes and I'll go: why in the world is this making me want to cry?!

I've never been put in a position where I had to explain my tears.
posted by royalsong at 8:12 AM on April 19, 2011

Oh, and I just listened to the song you mentioned, and I think I would have cried, too, if I was in the right frame of mind. This little kid singing the Beatles gets me too. Must be the kids!
posted by sucre at 8:14 AM on April 19, 2011

Hormones make me cry completely without "emotional load", as you call it. Music can trigger it, but really everything can if I'm in that hormonal state (random TV ads for cars!!!). Very hard to explain to people who don't experience it - I do not get "over-emotional", irritable, irrational or anything like that. My body just starts to cry.
posted by The Toad at 8:41 AM on April 19, 2011

Best answer: There's an article in the NY times today about emotions and music you might find interesting.
posted by ljesse at 8:42 AM on April 19, 2011 [3 favorites]

It happens all the time. Don't be embarrassed to be a big soggy mess. Emotions should be shared!

Nthing the responses about group singing. One of my warmest, fuzziest, left-me-in-a-puddle-of-tears memories is of a solo show that Neil Finn did in the late 90s.

During this particular gig, which took place in a TINY club, he started playing an acoustic version of "Don't Dream It's Over". The song sounded more melancholy than usual, because of the lack of a full band accompaniment and the intimate venue.

Then, at no behest from Finn, everyone in the club, myself included, sang/hummed the organ solo (at 2:00 in the clip above).

It was spontaneous and (bitter)sweet. That's when I lost it.
posted by methroach at 8:56 AM on April 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Another vote here for emotional effect having more to do with the music itself, as things that have and do make me well up include Cartman's "O Holy Night" from South Park and this one particular bit in Electrelane's cover of Springsteen's "I'm On Fire" - but only when it's slowed/pitched down, which I realized when while trying to remix it I found my eyes tearing up.

I just kinda figured it was analogous to the closed eye hallucinations you can get when a strobe set to a certain frequency is placed in front of you, or when you get dizzy walking down the street because of the flashing created by the sun shining between gaps in a fence.
posted by jtron at 9:39 AM on April 19, 2011

Response by poster: Ok, cool. Glad to know it's not just me. :) I was feeling all solo weirdly weepy...and now we can all be weirdly weepy together. Yay team! :) Thanks for the heads up on the article ljesse, two of my fave things: neuroscience and music.
posted by dejah420 at 9:39 AM on April 19, 2011

Happens to me all the time too.

For some reason every time I hear Don McLean's "American Pie" it makes me super nostalgic about going on long roadtrips with my brother when we were teenagers, and I always starts to cry. I have no idea why though, because those are all happy memories!

Also the Sarah McLachlan song that plays on the SPCA commercial about abused animals gets me every time.
posted by Idafolk at 9:41 AM on April 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Within 5 seconds of "O mio babbino caro" I will always break down into gut wrenching sobs.

And I have no idea why. I've never seen Gianni Schicchi, I am not an opera fan, and I have no emotional tie or memory to that song. But there's something about it that makes me immediately start sobbing. And it SUCKS when it's randomly inserted into films or tv because I feel a bit dumb trying to explain why I'm crying so hard for absolutely no reason.
posted by elsietheeel at 10:26 AM on April 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

It's part of a trilogy, a musical trilogy I'm working on in D minor which is the saddest of all keys, I find. People weep instantly when they hear it and I don't know why.

Music is supposed to cause emotions. You are not a broken robot. You're connecting with a different language that causes a response you.
posted by zephyr_words at 11:38 AM on April 19, 2011

Response by poster: zephyr_words: "a musical trilogy I'm working on" I would love for you to ping me when it's ready for a listen. I don't understand music, and so couldn't give any valuable critique, but I love music, especially music I've never heard before.
posted by dejah420 at 11:51 AM on April 19, 2011

Sorry, that was a quote from the movie Spinal Tap. I am working on a musical trilogy but it isn't in D minor.
posted by zephyr_words at 12:25 PM on April 19, 2011

Happens to me too, no particular rhyme or reason as to what makes it happen except that it's always music I find appealing.
posted by rollbiz at 12:29 PM on April 19, 2011

I do this like clockwork, every single time I go to a Nationals game. It's super embarrassing, because my husband's a season ticket holder and we go to a ton of games - the culprit is the team's intro video that comes on before the national anthem. I'm guessing it's the combo of schmaltzy music and neat old baseball videos (although it could be my deep and abiding love for my Nats and/or Ryan Zimmerman's adorable face).
posted by timetoevolve at 12:45 PM on April 19, 2011

Yep, count me in! I love it when music hits me like that, which is alllll the time. Especially a ton of stuff by Yann Tiersen...ooooooh
posted by foxhat10 at 12:49 PM on April 19, 2011

It used to happen to me every time I listened to "Whale and Wasp" by Alice in Chains. And I was always like, WTF? Turns out that I had clinical depression caused by some off-kilter neurochemistry, and that wasn't the only symptom. Zoloft helps a lot. The song still tickles my emotional association nets, but I no longer get teary, so yay for that?
posted by babbageboole at 1:20 PM on April 19, 2011

Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barber is the ultimate piece of music for stimulating what you're talking about, IMO. It's pretty well known, and used in movies a lot for this very effect.
I'm not really the welling-up-with-tears type, but I think I have a pretty equivalent sort of phenomenon. Mostly it's chills, and a kind of warm heavy feeling all over, with a little butterflies-in-the-stomach thrown in. When I last saw The National and they played "Vanderlyle Cry Baby Geeks" acoustic and unamplified, this happened to me -- hardcore. Amazing.
posted by doogan nash at 3:57 PM on April 19, 2011

Correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems like a lot of the answers here are disregarding this part of your question:
I don't get any auxiliary emotional effect; i.e., I don't feel depressed or sad or wistful or nostalgic or any of those other emotions that might lead one to being misty eyed.
I've only ever felt an inkling of teary-ness when the music is already doing something pretty emotional. My friend, on the other hand, has burst into tears randomly with no apparent emotional load, and later correlated it with her period, so I can vouch for hermitosis' comment.
posted by hot soup at 4:51 PM on April 19, 2011

Just chiming in on the in unison thing. A song that gets me every time, without fail, no matter how it's being sung is It Is Well With My Soul. I'm not religious, but damn, that song pulls on my heart strings.
posted by ThaBombShelterSmith at 8:12 PM on April 19, 2011

Yup, alllll the time. I've been this way pretty much since I hit puberty. No specific time of the month is associated, nor any specific style, although singing in unison is definitely a trigger. As a teenager I created a mix CD of a bunch of songs that could reliably make me cry, and would sit in my room and cry for hours listening to it. The only songs I remember from it now were "Trail of Time" by the Knitters, and "The Passenger" by Iggy Pop. I don't think these songs would make me cry now. (Alternately, I could just listen to Beethoven's 7th which had basically the same effect on me, and still does.) I would say the most reliable song now for provoking this effect is the opening song from Lilo and Stitch, "He Mele No Lilo", which I believe I have never managed to hear without welling up. Try it out: it's a sweet, mellow melody, with a children's chorus, and as a bonus if you watch it on YouTube you get to see Lilo being adorable as you weep like a baby. Impossible.

Music just strums my strings, man. What can you do?
posted by troublesome at 10:52 PM on April 19, 2011

I thought I was the only one who cried to Ramones songs! And Cars songs. Oh man, and don't get me started on the Groovie Ghoulies. "Ghoulies Are Go!" brings on waterfalls. I couldn't find a good version online, so I'm listening to Devo's "Gates of Steel" and trying to keep down the lump in my throat.

I always thought there was some magical alchemy of 5ths and 7ths that brought up the tears. Whatever it is,there are plenty of songs that choke me up, including a Mario Paint cover of "I get around".
posted by ladypants at 11:41 PM on April 19, 2011

Response by poster: ladypants: "Oh man, and don't get me started on the Groovie Ghoulies. "

You're one of my evil twins, aren't you? Hey, if you like the Ghoulies for their kitchy fusion of pop and punk, you might really dig The Necrotonz. Lounge/jazz/punk fusion...they were fabulous. Plus, all their shows gave me a chance to wear a tiara. I love wearing tiaras in public. It confuses people.
posted by dejah420 at 6:48 AM on April 20, 2011

Cheesy country music does it to me, and has since I was a child. While driving with my father after college graduation, a song came on the radio and I started leaking. He noticed and said, "Still?"
posted by domo at 1:55 PM on August 9, 2011

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