Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Sad songs

I've become obsessed by the Sufjan Stevens song, "John Wayne Gacy, Jr." It's so awful and so beautiful. Even if you don't know the song, you can imagine how a song about John Wayne Gacy would be awful. It's sad, too, though -- maybe more sad than awful. It got me thinking about all the sad songs I love.

The Obvious Choices:

Elliott Smith
So many to choose from, but I'm going with "Ballad of Big Nothing" and "Everything Means Nothing to Me." I had to put away his posthumous album, From a Basement on a Hill, because it was just too much, especially considering his recent, mysterious death.

I consider myself lucky to have seen him play at Carnegie Mellon in 2000 with my friend Matt...luckier still to have seen Grandaddy open for him, a band I didn't know at the time and one I've grown to be pleasantly depressed by ever since.

Nick Drake
Again, three albums' worth of melancholy, but "Place to Be" always does me in. Here's the first verse: "When I was younger, younger than before / I never saw the truth hanging from the door / And now Im older see it face to face / And now Im older gotta get up clean the place." Not long after I moved to L.A., I was temping irregularly and in a rather constant state of anxiety. I was dating this sweet indie rock geek, and when I told him I was depressed and listening to Nick Drake, he gave me the advice of a sage: "STOP."

The Smiths
I often find The Smiths too cheeky to be truly depressing ("Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now" is a good example -- even the title's amusing), but "Last Night I Dreamt Somebody Loved Me" just about does it. "No hope, no harm / Just another false alarm...."

Speaking of The Smiths, Morrissey has a gorgeous song on Kill Uncle that gives me chills every time I listen. It also makes his other songs sound like nursery school fodder. Sample line from "There is a Place in Hell for Me and my Friends:" "There is a place / a place in hell / reserved / for me and my friends / and if ever I / wanted to cry / then I will / because I can."

Emily Haines & The Soft Skeleton
I really like her and I like this CD, but I almost threw it out my car window. I don't quite know it well enough yet to choose which does me in most; right now it's just a wash of aching piano ballads that makes me want to turn out all the lights and go fetal.

The Less Obvious:

Speaking of Emily Haines, her band, Metric, has a song on their last album, Live It Out, that I love, but it does get me a little down. It's not really depressing in its sound (they're a punky band, for those who don't know), but I can only listen "Handshakes" up to the final refrain, then I must skip because of the following: "Buy this car to drive to work / drive to work to pay for this car." Considering that I'm usually listening to that CD in traffic, it's just wise to move on to their much more fun "Monster Hospital."

Oh, and in case the refrain from "Handshakes" isn't bad enough, here's the final line: "Say you wanna get in / and you're gonna get out / but you won't / cuz it's a trap." Thanks Emily; that's such a comfort on my commute to my desk job.

The Flaming Lips
I love Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, in part because it's a concept album about a Japanese girl named Yoshimi who battles Pink Robots. It's also a lot of fun, and you get that typical Wayne Coyne sweet-hearted hippy sensibility throughout. It's also really depressing. Heaviest track, "Fight Test:" "I don't know where the sun beams end / and where the star light begins / it's all a mystery / and I don't know how a man decides / what's right for his own life / it's all a mystery." It might not immediately sound like the darkest of lyrics, but Coyne's delivery is so bewildered I immediately go in mini-existential-crisis mode when I hear that song. Add "Do You Realize?" to that and you've got some serious meaning-of-life rock music there.

Rufus Wainwright
I love my Rufus (shut it, Brandy), and he makes for great sing-alongs in the car, but I used to joke that he always manages to release albums during my various gay crossroads. If I described them all they would take their own post, so I'm just going to focus on "Dinner at Eight," which ends his Want One. It's a lovely song about him and his father, but it's not necessarily a heartbreaking song; it actually ends with a sort of comforting resolution. Still, it was all about the tone, the music, some of the lyrics (Somewhere near...the end of the world / Somewhere near...the end of our lives), and a certain brief bout of serious heartbreak made me pull over on the side of the road and blubber every time I heard that damn song. I had to retire the CD after a while.

What are some of your favorite sad songs? They say so much, don't they?


Malachy Walsh said...

Ben Harper's FADED.

Emmylou Harris' WRECKING BALL.


Aram Arslanian's ORPHAN TRANE.

Anonymous said...

Tom Waits' "Tom Traubert's Blues"

frank's wild lunch said...

Malachy: "Car Wheels" is an interesting choice. That song makes me all wistful and nostalgic, though, as it reminds me of growing up in Arkansas going to Grandma and Pop's.

Anonymous: Good choice..."Waltzing Matilda" is another one. And at least half of Tom Waits' gravelly barroom songs.

frank's wild lunch said...

Okay, I'm cracking up, because after I posted that comment it dawned on me that I didn't remember Tom Traubert's Blues, then it dawned on me that it's probably because it's "Waltzing Matilda." Smooth, Wilson. Smooth!