Finding joy in depressing musicWritten by Michael Miller | Editor in Chief Emeritus | firstname.lastname@example.org
No one contests the value of a sad song. Not every record can be “Walking on Sunshine” or “In Da Club.”
But there is a category of pop music that aims for an emotion of such deep sadness, it wallows in lifelessness and depression. Former disc jockey Tom Reynolds has spent a lot of time sifting through the Prozac bin for his new book,
“I Hate Myself and Want to Die: The 52 Most Depressing Songs You’ve Ever Heard.”
The collection of brief essays ties a noose with some of the most somber, downbeat, head-in-the-oven records ever made. Divided into such categories as “I Was a Teenage Car Crash,” “I’m Trying to Be Profound and Touching, But Really Suck at It,” “I Mope, Therefore I am” and “Horrifying Remakes of Already Depressing Songs,” the book is a clever, often laugh-out-loud funny skewering of some of pop music’s biggest names.
On The Cure’s “Prayers for Rain”: “Selecting the most depressing Cure song is like choosing your favorite locust in a locust swarm: You pretty much have your pick, but does it really make any difference?”
On Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb”: “The most appropriately titled song ever written. If there was ever a recording that could substitute for Demerol, this is the one.”
On The Doors’ “The End”: “Listening to ‘The End’ is like staring at a whale-sized Rorschach ink blot: People may have different reactions to what it means, but they’ll all agree there’s an awful lot of black space.”
On Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart”: “If you cross Brian Wilson with Bram Stoker and add more voices in the head, you’d have this song.”
On Neil Diamond and Barbara Streisand’s “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers”: “Never have two musical egos traded verses so frequently on such a laborious song. It’s like watching a Ping-Pong match played in zero gravity.”
On Evanescence’s “My Immortal”: “Amy Lee’s signature is a piercing vocal that would make a knock-knock joke sound like a Sylvia Plath poem.”
Before he’s through, Reynolds contemplates slicing his wrists to songs by Phil Collins, Nine Inch Nails, Dan Fogelberg, Counting Crows, The Verve Pipe and Newsong, the band responsible for his No. 1 most depressing song, “The Christmas Shoes.”
That song, the apocryphal story of a young, raggedy boy trying to buy shoes for his dying mother on Christmas Eve, inspires some of Reynolds’ most slashing prose: “It makes Bobby Goldsboro’s ‘Honey’ sound like The Red Hot Chili Peppers. It’s more depressing than Jim Morrison puking in front of a naked Indian in a Paris hotel room. It’s more depressing than Trent Reznor and Marilyn Manson singing a duet of ‘Danny Boy’ while jamming syringes in each other’s eyes. It’s more depressing than The Cure’s entire career. It’s the most depressing song ever written because it’s long, criminally insufferable, and, worst of all, Christmas themed, which means we will always hear it during the Yuletide season, year after year.”
There are, of course, a few candidates I could add. “The Ballad of Ira Hayes,” a Johnny Cash song about a Native American Iwo Jima vet who dies drunken in a roadside ditch; “A Wedding in Cherokee County,” Randy Newman’s epic about an impotent redneck’s wedding night; REM’s “Everybody Hurts,” which is supposed to be reaffirming but makes me want to walk down I-75 every time it comes on the radio; “Once Upon a Daydream,” a rare track by The Police in which the singer’s pregnant girlfriend gets pushed down the stairs by her enraged father and the singer murders him to get revenge; and “Please, Mr. Gravedigger,” an ultra-bummer by David Bowie in which a gravedigger steals the locket from the body of the child he is burying, only to be murdered by the maniac who killed the girl.
Although Reynolds misses a few facts and needs to take a closer look at the value of early 1960s American pop music, his humor and insight provide great accompaniment to an evening of bathing with an electric radio balanced on the side of the tub.