by Noise Pollution
I adore songs that over-indulge in self-pity. I love songs that take all of the negative emotions the writer has and just wallow in them, to the exclusion of all else. I like this in a number of forms, be it the sarcastic approach of The Smiths or Say Anything, the playing-it-straight approach of Bright Eyes, or the songs that land perfectly in between those two, stuff written by groups like Andrew Jackson Jihad.
Perhaps the most obvious and well-known examples of this style of song come from The Smiths’ catalogue; Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now and Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want are songs that maybe didn’t accurately represent the band when taken entirely at face-value.
That said, even when you don’t go looking for meaning, the songs are still fantastic and go perfectly with your worst days. When you do dig even the slightest bit deeper than the absolute surface of the surface, you’ll find the sarcastic edge to the song that really glimmers. The excessively depressing feelings are there, and they’re real, but frontman Morrissey was also aware of how utterly ridiculous they sounded. Rather than directly make fun of the feelings though, he chose to embrace them and go over-the-top as a means of lightening the mood.
The Smiths have a reputation for being depressing, and while it’s earned to some extent, these songs aren’t really… depressing, I guess. They’re really great pick-me-ups when you’re in a bad mood; they serve to pull you out of your depression, rather than help you wallow in it.
That said, I enjoy my fair share of wallowing in depression. Bright Eyes is pretty self-serious, honestly to a fault for most listeners. It just happens to work for me. My first encounter with the overwhelming “I’m going to sit here and be fucking sad” style of song frontman (onlyman?) Connor Oberst wrote was the song a Perfect Sonnet.
With earnestly-sung lines like “but as for me I’m coming to the final chapter/I read all of the pages and there’s still no answer” followed by “but as for me I’m coming to my final failure/I’ve killed myself with changes trying to make things better” can be kind of hard to take in if you’re not in the right state of mind. I happened to be at the time I heard it. I happened to be high as fuck off of a frankly dangerous substance and several months out from the end of a bad relationship with nothing but failed attempts to account for in the time since. I was bummed out and so goddamn high. This experience might have even changed me; since that day I’ve been far more accepting of these kinds of songs, even coming to love them, as I’ve made clear. I’ve also come to embrace the shaky-voice sound-aesthetic that comes from a group like Bright Eyes. I think getting over that hump is fucking vital when it comes to finding really strong lyrically-based music to listen to. If you can’t stand Oberst’s voice, you’re not going to have much luck finding music like this elsewhere.
But somehow even more depressing than A Perfect Sonnet is It’s Cool, We Can Still Be Friends, a song about the nightmare scenario the title presents. A lot of the current social consciousness has come around to the idea that you probably shouldn’t be prowling around for romance, you should be looking to make friends and, hey, maybe romance will happen!
This is an idea that I agree with wholeheartedly. In concept. It doesn’t work especially well in reality and I often find that the people who present this advice are either A: happily married B: in a long-term relationship C: entirely comfortable with being alone or D: about 15 to 20 years older than I am. And to be honest, I personally am at a point in my life where I’m quite comfortable being romantically involved with no one right now. For a number of reasons, the first being my weight and that I won’t be happy in a relationship until I can see myself as a valuable part of one. My weight really gets in the way of that; I don’t really want a partner who isn’t physically attracted to me, and I just… I’m not physically attracted to a lot of people. Some people use the phrase “high standards” and I think that’s shitty as it implies that anyone out there belongs in a “low standards” category. So I’m not saying that. What I am saying is that anyone I’d be attracted to physically is probably not looking for someone of my current… shape. But I digress!
The point I was getting at before riding that “low self-esteem” train (like steam train, get it?) is that I find that that specific piece of advice is handed out by people who aren’t filled with hopeless, one-sided delusions of love. And it’s good advice! But it’s almost impossible to follow when your heart aches for someone the way it aches when your feelings are real and aren’t returned. No amount of “doing the right thing” ever eases that pain.These unrequited feelings often lead to resentment after spending so much time pining for someone; I think it’s a kind of normal reaction, no matter how many people on the internet feel the need to shame people for being blinded by affection. Like, being outright shitty or having an expectation that someone should sleep with you just because you like them and you’re nice to them is bad. It is! It’s terrible. But fuck, if being in that position doesn’t hurt like hell. You know what a good thing to have is? Fucking empathy. For everyone. Even if you don’t like them. Try having it before writing a really pointed, mean-spirited post about the fallacy of the “friend zone.” You’re right, it is a terrible social construct and people who believe in it tend to behave in a really shitty manner. But it’s born out of ignorance rather than active malice and I honestly think a lot of those assholes are assholes because they don’t know how to cope with their emotions.
But I’m digressing again! The song isn’t really about that. It’s about staying friends with someone after breaking up with them. And I think that that’s honestly a bad fucking idea! There are few people on this earth who are emotionally mature enough to maintain a platonic relationship with someone after being romantically involved with them. I think it takes a level of detachment from your emotions that frightens me; I kind of don’t want to be all that involved with someone who is capable of maintaining a healthy relationship with me after a breakup. I mean, I’m not fucking capable of it, so it’s not going to come up in any of my future romantic endeavors. And I really, truly, honestly don’t want to be friends with any ex-girlfriends; not ever, for any reason. I’m too fucking sensitive for it. I’m less likely to be an asshole to them if I cut ties with them.
But yeah, this song is basically the raw nerve of the emotions attached to that situation made lyrical. It fucking hurts to listen to. Even if you don’t have the patience for it and find it repetitive, I highly recommend listening to the entire song; the spite in it ramps up in a pretty incredible way.
There are a number of other Bright Eyes songs that fit this bill, one even called I Won’t Ever Be Happy Again, which is kind of summing up this entire style of song in a single sentence. If you’re looking for horribly sad, entirely un-self-aware music, I’d really recommend looking at the Bright Eyes catalogue. I mean, he writes happy songs, too. Some songs he writes are so happy that it kind of grosses me out! But it’s there, if you’re looking for it.
I love the unrelenting misery of Bright Eyes, but the actual best of this kind of song comes from an artist who is both self-aware while still being honest. You still get the raw fucking sadness that you’d get from a Bright Eyes or a Brand New but it’s mixed with a good, healthy dose of self-loathing and cynicism that practically makes me shudder; listening to it shakes my molecules and I resonate with it all perfectly. I don’t see this done by anyone nearly as well as Andrew Jackson Jihad does it.
I don’t know where the hell I’d be without this song. It’s kept me from putting a razor to my arms so many times that I’d be a walking scar if I didn’t have it. Andrew Jackson Jihad is a band that manages to say everything on it’s own; I don’t know how much good breaking down their music is really going to do here, so I won’t. Instead, I’ll tell you in advance to shut the fuck up about the lead singer’s voice and start caring more about the feeling being the vocals rather than the objective quality of it. Being good at singing doesn’t instantly add heart to what you sing. It’s caring about the songs you’re performing and recording a performance that you fucking felt the song during, rather than just repeating yourself until it’s perfect. I don’t give a shit about perfection. I want something that I can relate to. I can’t relate to perfection. And maybe that’s part of why I love these songs so much.