By The Landlord
“Success is getting what you want. Happiness is wanting what you get.” – Dale Carnegie
Ahh. Welcome. Take a seat in a comfy chair here at the Song Bar. Pour yourself a drink. And so then, what is contentment, tranquility, stillness and calm, and how do you find it? Is it sitting in sunshine by a nice willow? Or the cool underside of a turned over pillow? The joys of nature, the stillness of lake? Or the sight of a coffee and big slice of cheesecake? Touching a beautiful piece of wood with deep grain, dealing with life’s pains with pleasure, and pleasures with healthy pain?
Recalling names instantly, with pinpoint memory? Found lost fivers in pocket, rare, good mistakes in salary? Matching your aims with all of your fears, putting in harmony both hemispheres? Liking someone when they like you? The smell of the perfect, bubbling stew? Sitting with friends and family eating fine food? Matching mood to occasion and occasion to mood? The first cool pint? The tinkle of teacups, the plop of hot pouring? Sleeping just right without chuffing or snoring? Stretching, rippling? Laughing, giggling? Enjoying the absurd, the joy of lost words? Hearing supremely timed precise rhetoric? Feeling your back relax with a perfect click? Getting just the right haircut, by chance, more than design? Contentment? It’s all a fine line. Seeing the cycle in nature's vast rings, glimpsing huge meaning in tiniest things …
There are many ways to find contentment, but often they do indeed come often more by chance than design, brief moments in the chaos, when the minute hand meets the aeon hand. Or perhaps, hearing the sound of leather on willow, or the clack of bowling balls that move in just the right direction. And while far more often, in any artform, discontent and unhappiness is a bigger driving force for creativity than the opposite, nevertheless there are many songs that do express and capture this form of happiness both in style and content.
So this week, there’s a very chilled out atmosphere at the bar, with a host of distinguished international guests sipping peppermint tea, hot toddies and playing a little gentle chess. Still, they are all eager to discuss what contentment means. We’ve heard what Dale Carnegie, author of How to Win Friends and Influence People, has said, but some even bigger heavyweights are here. “Contentment is natural wealth, luxury is artificial poverty, says Socrates, opening the bowling. “Yes,” says Alfred Nobel, “contentment is the only real wealth.” Lao Tzu, the ancient Chinese philosopher, strokes his beard, pours some more green tea, and satisfying adds the timeless truth that: “Health is the greatest possession. Contentment is the greatest treasure. Confidence is the greatest friend.”
And now some writers and poets add their views. “The world is full of people looking for spectacular happiness while they snub contentment,” says Doug Larson. The poet Donald Hall says to be content, you don’t have to be relaxing. “Contentment is work so engrossing that you do not know that you are working.” Sounds a bit like working at the Song Bar. And where does that work come from? Here’s William Wordsworth, no doubt glancing, in his mind’s eye, a few daffodils in spring when he says: “Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility.” So for him, creativity may come out of chaos, but it is cemented in a moment of calm.
But what about the chaos and calm within humour, and writing jokes? James Thurber has an answer which certainly strikes a chord, grinning knowingly and saying: “Humour is emotional chaos remembered in tranquility.”
But contentment is not always a source of, well, contentment. Some see it has the enemy of getting things done. The 19th-century Nova Scotia politician and writer, Thomas Chandler Haliburton , and no doubt something of a forthright frontierist, reckoned that: “Contentment is, after all, simply refined indolence.” And Florence Welch, of the hugely hyped music industry Machine, is still not a happy bunny. She’s waltzed into the bar too, turning a few heads, ordering all sorts, and is no doubt worried how to do the next album. She announces to everyone: “When you're heartbroken, you're at your most creative - you have to channel all your energies into something else to not think about it. Contentment is a creativity killer, but don't worry - I'm very capable of making myself discontented.”
We’re not worried, Florence. This week we’re content. And rounding off perspectives on the topic at the bar discussion comes the calm delivery of Buzz Aldrin, recalling a vision he first had in 1969: “Whenever I gaze up at the moon, I feel like I'm on a time machine. I am back to that precious pinpoint of time, standing on the foreboding – yet beautiful – Sea of Tranquility. I could see our shining blue planet Earth poised in the darkness of space.”
So with that profound, time-transcendent view, let’s sample a little bit of tranquil music. The industry is awash with ‘chillout music”, tranquility music, whale sounds, oceans, forests and so on, but of course crafted music is far more satisfying. Can it be tinged with melancholy? Perhaps. But the effect undoubtedly brings contentment. It’s Claude Debussy’s Clair De Lune:
And equally beautiful, another example, that is also a favourite of my pianist mum, is Chopin’s Nocturne No 9:
Or of course, best known of the three, there’s Erik Satie’s Gymnopédie No.1:
All of these are worthy of nomination, but of course lyrics and feelings within popular songs of all genres, jazz to reggae, soul to pop, will also play a big part this week. Contentment is as much something yearned for, as attained, and here Sarah Vaughan imagines that it will lie in the arms of her lover. “You're All I Need, for you're heaven sent. You're All I Need to bring me contentment. The world is mine for you are mine. I'm rich indeed.You’re All I Need.”
Contentment can also come in a sense of belonging. Johnny Greenwood from Radiohead penned the soundtrack to the feature film The Master, a story of misguided search for contentment in the early days of the Scientology movement, but this rather beautiful song, here performed by Jo Stafford, shows what is believed to find it in some form. “No other love can warm my heart. Now that I've known the comfort of your arms. No other love. Oh the sweet contentment that I find with you every time.”
Religion and community of course have a huge role in music’s search for contentment, in gospel, soul and other forms. This song has been sung by various artists, written Artie Glenn for his son Darrell to sing in 1953, but perhaps most famously rendered by that least content, and most famous singers of all, Elvis Presley. “You saw me crying in the chapel. The tears I shed were tears of joy. I know the meaning of contentment. Now I am happy with the Lord.”
And so then, this week’s curator of contentment and calm, overseer of serenity, and tender hand of tranquility comes all in the form of the brilliant Barbryn. Calmly put your contentment songs in comments below for last orders called on Monday evening UK time, for playlists published next Wednesday. And relax.
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Fancy a turn behind the pumps at The Song Bar? Care to choose a playlist from songs nominated and write something about it? Then feel free to contact The Song Bar here, or try the usual email address.