Giving Up the Ghost
Merle Haggard wonders if the pain MIGHT go away..
In the spirit of seasonal depression that so many of us suffer from I thought I'd hit you with my top 10 hit parade of songs that brilliantly detail that age old urge to give up the ghost. This is, of course, in no way an endorsement of the act, but art, as we all know, is the primary means by which to transmute a destructive urge into something better, a thing of beauty even. So with this in mind here's some comforting documentation by fellow travelers that have also contemplated kissing this sad and beautiful world good-bye. Of the list I believe 6 are still living, one was killed by cancer, one by liquor, one by O.D. and one murdered. So maybe there's something to be said for making with the art.
1) 'One Dying and a Burying' - Roger Miller - "I think I finally found me a sure fire way to forget, its so simple I'm surprised I hadn't done thought of it yet" It's really not much of a surprise that Country music has the top two slots of this list wrapped up.
2) 'Kiss the World Goodbye' - Kris Kristofferson - "And I won't even regret the living, I'll be leaving behind, I've grown weary of searching for something I'll never find" eschewing maudlin self-pity in favor of a sort of dignified acceptance of fate. "I'm just a river that rolled forever and never got to the sea, I ain't blaming nobody, I had it coming to me".
3) 'Sylvia Plath' - Peter Laughner - 20th century poster girl for suicide is celebrated here by Laughner who checked out early himself via OD. "If I'm gonna be classless and crass I'm gonna break up some glass, no one broke anything sharper than Sylvia Plath".
4) 'Mad World' - Let's go with the slow haunted version by Gary Jules featured in the film Donnie Darko. Great song, though I still can't cotton to Tears for Fears. "I think its kind of funny I think it's kind of sad the dream's in which I'm dying are the best I've ever had". The version by Jules really brings out this sentiment.
5) 'Signed D.C.' - Love - "Look out Joe I'm falling, I can't unfold my arms, I've got one foot in the graveyard, No one cares for me, cares for me" a heroin addict's suicide note as song.
6) 'Yer Blues' - John Lennon, - 'cause really its his song and his alone. Cuts straight to the chase "Yes I'm lonely, want to die˙in the morning, want to die, in the evening, want to die". Then there's the line "Feel so suicidal, just like Dylan's Mr. Jones" referring to Dylan's 'Ballad of a Thin Man' which many, including Brian himself, thought was about the rapidly deteriorating Rolling Stone. It seems making poor Brian Jones paranoid was something of an indoor sport in the 1960's, though admittedly it must have been like shooting fish in a barrel. John's performance of the song at the Rolling Stones Rock n' Roll Circus with Keith Richards in tow must have really left Brian shook.
7) 'Suicide Solution' - Ozzy Osbourne - Taking the long road home, or death on the installment plan "Wine is fine but whiskey's quicker, suicide is slow with liquor". Kerouac is rumored to have said "I'm a Catholic and I don't believe in suicide but I plan on drinking myself to death". Jack said a lot of things, and meant only half of them and even then only some of the time, so who knows if he actually said this, though he definitely carried through. God can see through such a cheap trick Jack.
8) 'Life in Prison' - Merle Haggard - Ostensibly a song about the drag of doing a life sentence as opposed to getting the death penalty, "I'll do life in prison for the wrongs I've done and I pray every night for death to come". It's worthy of inclusion if only because of the amazing line "If I could die my pain might go away" MIGHT being the crucial word, the fact that Merle's character had doubts as to whether or not even death could quell his pain is chilling to the bone.
9) 'Long Gone Lonesome Blues' - Hank Williams- "Gonna find me a river, one that's cold as ice, and when I find me that river Lord I'm gonna pay the price, I'm goin' down in it three times but Lord I'm only coming up twice" with a sense of humor as always.
10) 'Is that all there is?' - Peggy Lee - Written by Leiber and Stoller, while not exactly a suicide song it's the kind of bleak existential anthem that could perhaps lead to that level of despair, or maybe not. "I know what you must be saying to yourselves if that's the way she feels about it why doesn't she just end it all? Oh no, not me, I'm in no hurry for that final disappointment". So yeah, here's hoping we all "keep dancing, break out the booze and have a ball" instead of the sometimes tempting alternative. In the words of no less an authority than the aforementioned Jack Kerouac: "it'll happen, it'll happen, right now I want a good time".
© 2002 William Crain