Friday, September 20, 2013

Suicide Symphonies: Music for the End.

Introduction: Perhaps, at some time in your life, you may have contemplated ending it all. In that case, you probably shouldn't continue reading. Hit the back button on your browser, then look up the number of a local, quality therapist or perhaps go to your doctor and get some vitamin D supplements or a prescription for more sunshine, plant-life in your house and surroundings, and cheerful friends which will fill you with enthusiasm. Think of many good things and don't focus on the bad, while avoiding spending too much time in the basement listening to songs such as these...

Alternate introduction: Perhaps at some time in your life, you may have contemplated ending it all, but couldn't take the plunge, the pills, the shot, the swing or pull the trigger because dammit, you just didn't have the right music playing to push you past the nervous nellies and into the 'neverending void'. Well, unfortunately, you've come to the wrong place, because the music that you need is made by Leonard Cohen, and I don't intend to assist in a needless death by making a list of terrible music that will make you literally want to kill yourself for fear of having to listen to it. Neither do I want to make a hokey-jokey list of songs that contemplate suicide in a ridiculous sort of way. This is a blog about good music that contains witihin it the subject of suicide and/or the contemplation of it. However, if you're generally feeling far too cheery and happy and need an excuse to start drinking at two in the afternoon..... then feel free to stick around and enjoy the heart-wrenching sounds of anxiety and despair....

Sometimes thoughts of suicide arise from the loss of love. Though he is hated by friends and family, the female lead of the story insists The Leader of the Pack is not bad, he's sad. But she is forced by society to break up with him, nonetheless. And as a result the first song in this rather grim genre of music raises the question 'did he or didn't he?'. According to the song, it could easily have been an accident, riding a motorcycle too fast on a rainy evening, ignoring or perhaps not hearing his girl's shouts to 'slow down'. But those surviving will never know for certain.

In another vein, there's the 'fall from the top' sort of depression. The inevitable realization that no star burns forever and no rock band or musician stays at number one, they just rent the position for a while. While beginning the descent from the top of the charts, Ziggy Stardust, (played by David Bowie) realises he's no longer the songwriter he once was during a bout of writer's block in the song Rock and Roll Suicide. This particular 1973 video, ironically signified the 'death' of Ziggy/Bowie's fictional band 'The Spiders'  and the last show of one of the most famous, successful and perhaps best tours of his whole career.

And sometimes suicide can be used as a step up the ladder of fame, instead of a consequence of coming down the other side. The sort of desperation and despair that comes from a terrible financial situation and a broken home could lead to the idea of seeing suicide as a way out of poverty and a downward-spiralling lifestyle. Alluding to such fame-after-death celebrities like James Dean, Buddy Holly & the Big Bopper Goodbye, Eddie, Goodbye is a song that cruelly asserts the music-buying public is more interested in a shocking story than the music itself. However, rather than 'twerking' his way into the hearts of the music buying public, our lead character, Eddie, makes the ultimate sacrifice to send his 'memorial' album to the top of the charts, making himself a star (post mortem), and at the same time paying for his little sister's medical needs.

Ozzy Ozbourne's Suicide Solution is likely the most famous of all music/songs about suicide and to be honest, it isn't because it's lyrics or music are darker or more emotional than other songs. Instead, the reason the song is so famous, or infamous, is because of a law-suit launched against Ozzy in 1986 by a parent whose son had committed suicide and whom the parents believed had much to do with with listening to Ozzy's music, specifically the Blizzard of Ozz album. The lawsuit failed, but it generated great publicity for a song that was perhaps not the most catchy & uplifting tune on the album.  However, although suicide seems to be presented as the 'only way out', a straight-forward reading of the lyrics of 'Suicide Solution' would lead the reader to think the song has more to do with alcohol, and the idea that alcohol-abuse is not an effective remedy for feelings of depression and isolation.

Some songs about suicide are far more concerned with emotions leading to the act itself, rather than the background story that leads to the contemplation of the idea of suicide. Environmental, financial, political or sociological interference isn't always the motivating reason for suicide and Metallica's Fade to Black is a song that suggests it's the internal mental workings, the sort of feelings that we all share, now taken to extreme, that are the main reason for thoughts of suicide. Like most of Metallica's music, Fade to Black is powerful and concentrated. Focusing on the internal mix-up of feelings, to the exclusion of all external factors, that lead to the strange desire to end it all.

For the longest time, I simply didn't understand the song Like Suicide on Soundgarden's famous Superunkown album. To be honest, I just couldn't make sense of it until sometime last year when I ran across an internet video of one of Soundgarden's concerts in which Chris Cornell introduces the song by saying: "This song is about a bird." After which, i promptly went to look at the written lyrics.  Sure enough, it IS about a bird. One had apparently attempted to kill itself by crashing headlong into Cornell's house one morning. Unfortunately, the bird fell into the garden having only succeeded in breaking it's own neck, thereby paralyzing itself, still very much alive. The song lyrics then suggest that Mr Cornell himself had to take part in the world's first musician-assisted suicide. And so he did aid in the bird's attempt to end it all, finishing off the poor birdy with a swing of a brick. At this point, you're thinking 'But  that's just ridiculous. It had to be an accident. Animals don't commit suicide.' To which I would respond: "How could you possibly know that for certain?"

Without trying to make another joke, I realize that this might not seem something appropriate to blog about. To someone who is a relatively happy and satisfied soul or has never actually thought about it, then this blog might seem very depressing and unnecessary, but you have to remember that not every work of suicidal art ends with a hero riding off into the sunset, nor with a martyr, dying for a cause above and beyond himself. Songwriters often write about troubles that are very real to themselves or perhaps people close to them, and those stories don't always have happy endings where things are turned around and get better. Sometimes a person's will to live can actually be broken or maimed to leave them in a weakened state where they think that the only thing left for them to do is to end it all. Of course, most of the time this is a passing phase, some feeling that goes away after a time when someone's psyche is allowed to heal itself naturally.  However, some people face real trouble in this area and that is not solely for purposes of art or entertainment, but a serious problem that society truly has to face. As recent as two days ago an article appeared stating that the suicide rate has climbed due to the economic downturn since 2008 and the largest increase was among young males (15-24). So maybe we should start making ourselves more open to talking about this subject, and lend it some real attention in the current and ongoing discussion of all of our problems and ideas.

Stay warm and be well.