The National have been a staple of my depressed, and regretful existence. I love the music, and it’s been around for deaths, and breakups, and loss. Anyway, have a profile in The New Yorker.
Last fall, the National débuted a new piece of merchandise: a black zippered sweatshirt featuring the words “sad dads” in block letters. The band—which formed in 1999, in Brooklyn—was lampooning its reputation as a font of midlife ennui, the sort of rudderless melancholy that takes hold when a person realizes that the dusty hallmarks of American happiness (marriage, children, a job in an office) aren’t a guarantee against despair. For more than two decades, this has been the National’s grist: not the major devastations but the strange little ache that feels like a precondition to being human. No amount of Transcendental Meditation, Pilates, turmeric, rose quartz, direct sunlight, jogging, oat milk, sleep hygiene, or psychoanalysis can fully alleviate that ambient sadness. Part of it is surely existential—our lives are temporary and inscrutable; death is compulsory and forever—but another part feels more quotidian and incremental, the slow accumulation of ordinary losses. Maybe there’s a person you once loved but lost touch with. A friend who moved to a new town. An apple tree that stood outside your bedroom window, levelled to make way for broadband cable. An old dog. A former colleague. We are always losing, or leaving, or being left, in ways both minor and vast. “The grief it gets me, the weird goodbyes,” Matt Berninger, the band’s vocalist, sings on “Weird Goodbyes,” a recent song featuring Justin Vernon, of Bon Iver. Berninger steels himself to confront the next loss: “Memorize the bathwater, memorize the air / There’ll come a time I’ll wanna know I was here.”