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Andy Whitman

Songs of Abject Misery

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richardbuckner.jpgHere's Richard Buckner, looking forlorn, which is one of the things he does best. Sounding glum, too. The guy is just one big ball of angst and despair.

Truth be told, I'm a relatively happy guy. Most days I even kinda like my life, which is one of those things that sensitive artistes are never supposed to admit. I can't help it. Sure, the crap still happens, to me and to people I love. But I have a great wife, great kids, a decent job, good friends, and a God who loves me and is changing me for the better. Don't tell anybody. I wouldn't want to blow my cover.

Still, I like a song of abject misery as much as the next sorry sumbitch. Here are a few of my favorites, if "favorites" can still be used to describe music that makes me want to slit my wrists.

Joni Mitchell -- The Last Time I Saw Richard

Bob Dylan -- You're a Big Girl Now

Eels -- Elizabeth on the Bathroom Floor

Jacob Golden -- Out Come the Wolves

Nick Drake -- Place to Be

Red House Painters -- Katy Song

Strand of Oaks -- End in Flames

Richard Thompson -- God Loves a Drunk

Camera Obscura -- Dory Previn

Frightened Rabbit -- The Twist

Cat Power -- Lived in Bars

Scout Niblett -- Duke of Anxiety

Jackson Browne -- Your Bright Baby Blues

The Beach Boys -- Caroline, No

Derek and the Dominoes -- Have You Ever Loved a Woman?

Neil Young -- Tired Eyes

Loudon Wainwright III -- Motel Room

Uncle Tupelo -- Postcard

And yes, Richard Buckner, whose song "Lil Wallet Picture" is the sound of emotional collapse:

Damn this stretch of 99

That takes so many lives

One of 'em was mine

Indeed.

How about you? What's your soundtrack to misery?

Edited by Andy Whitman

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Hmmm. A few off the top of my head...

The Cure - Disintegration. The whole damned thing.

I'm not sure I need more than that. But...

Bruce Cockburn - "Pacing the Cage"

Sunset is an angel weeping

Holding out a bloody sword

No matter how I squint I cannot

Make out what it's pointing toward

Sometimes you feel like you've lived too long

The days drip slowly on the page

And you catch yourself

Pacing the cage

I've proved who I am so many times,

The magnetic strip's worn thin

And each time I was someone else

And everyone was taken in.

Powers chatter in high places

Stir up eddies in the dust of rage

Set me to pacing the cage.

I never knew what you all wanted

So I gave you everything.

All that I could pillage

All the spells that I could sing

It's as if the thing were written

In the constitution of the age

Sooner or later you'll wind up

Pacing the cage

Sometimes the best map will not guide you

You can't see what's round the bend.

Sometimes the road leads through dark places

Sometimes the darkness is your friend.

Today these eyes scan bleached-out land,

For the coming of the outbound stage

Pacing the cage...

And this - U2 - "Love is Blindness"

Love is blindness, I don't want to see

Won't you wrap the night around me?

Oh, my heart, love is blindness.

In a parked car, in a crowded street

You see your love made complete.

Thread is ripping, the knot is slipping

Love is blindness.

Love is clockworks and cold steel

Fingers too numb to feel.

Squeeze the handle, blow out the candle

Love is blindness.

Love is blindness, I don't want to see

Won't you wrap the night around me?

Oh, my love,

Blindness.

A little death without mourning

No call and no warning

Baby, a dangerous idea

That almost makes sense.

Love is drowning in a deep well

All the secrets, and no one to tell.

Take the money, honey...

Blindness.

Love is blindness, I don't want to see

Won't you wrap the night around me?

Oh, my love,

Blindness.

And then there are songs that give voice to familiar feelings of despair and give me emergency infusions of hope, like Sam Phillips - "One Day Late"

Try to understand

You try to fix your broken hands

But remember

That there always has been good

Like stars you don’t see in the day sky

Wait ‘til night

Help is coming

Help is coming

One day late

One day late

Edited by Overstreet

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The Cure - Disintegration. The whole damned thing.

I'd also add The Cure's Faith, which I find much more miserable (and enjoyable) than, say, Pornography (which is supposed to be their darkest album).

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The Weakerthans' "Virtute the Cat Explains Her Departure" is the saddest song I have ever heard. It is impossible for me to listen to. And it's about a cat.

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Bob Dylan - Not Dark Yet

Shadows are falling and I’ve been here all day

It’s too hot to sleep, time is running away

Feel like my soul has turned into steel

I’ve still got the scars that the sun didn’t heal

There’s not even room enough to be anywhere

It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there

Well, my sense of humanity has gone down the drain

Behind every beautiful thing there’s been some kind of pain

She wrote me a letter and she wrote it so kind

She put down in writing what was in her mind

I just don’t see why I should even care

It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there

Well, I’ve been to London and I’ve been to gay Paree

I’ve followed the river and I got to the sea

I’ve been down on the bottom of a world full of lies

I ain’t looking for nothing in anyone’s eyes

Sometimes my burden seems more than I can bear

It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there

I was born here and I’ll die here against my will

I know it looks like I’m moving, but I’m standing still

Every nerve in my body is so vacant and numb

I can’t even remember what it was I came here to get away from

Don’t even hear a murmur of a prayer

It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there

Edited by Overstreet

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Camper Van Beethoven - pretty much anything on Key Lime Pie, especially "Come On Darkness".

Personally, the most beautifully sad and devastating lost-love songs I know are Camper Van Beethoven's "All Her Favorite Fruit," and Sinead O'Connor's "The Last Day of Our Acquaintance."

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Elliot Smith - Everything Means Nothing

Merle Haggard - Looking for a Place to Fall Apart

Beck - Golden Age (or that whole album, for crying out loud)

This Mortal Coil - The Jeweler

Gillian Welch - Throw Me A Rope

Nick Cave - Hallelujah

Swans - God Damn the Sun

Neil Young - Great Divide

Sun Kil Moon - Carry Me Ohio

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The Weakerthans' "Virtute the Cat Explains Her Departure" is the saddest song I have ever heard. It is impossible for me to listen to. And it's about a cat.

Yes, The Weakerthans should be on my list. Several songs seem to qualify, although I think I'd give a slight edge (of the razor blade) to "Hospital Vespers."

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I'd include a number of Damien Jurado's songs, including "Wedding Cake", "Ohio", "Rehearsals For Departure", "Medication", and "Tonight I Will Retire".

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The entire album "Hospice" by the Antlers.

"Autoclave" by the Mountain Goats.

"A Lament for the Snowtunnel" by Kerith Ravine.

"Binary" by Brave Saint Saturn.

Pretty much all Modest Mouse songs, but especially "The Stars are Projectors", "Bankrupt on Selling", "One Chance", and "Spitting Venom."

Edited by tyler1984

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Shouldn't there be some Mark Heard songs in there? I mean, the guy's melodies might be semi-cheerful, but the lyrics are devastatingly honest. (Nod Over Coffee, It's Not Your Fault, All Too Soon...).

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Shouldn't there be some Mark Heard songs in there? I mean, the guy's melodies might be semi-cheerful, but the lyrics are devastatingly honest. (Nod Over Coffee, It's Not Your Fault, All Too Soon...).

Really? I listened to Mark Heard and wanted to do cartwheels, not because his material was "upbeat" in any way, but precisely because he was indeed devastatingly honest. And he got better and better. After his last three albums, in particular, my overwhelming reaction was "Finally, somebody's telling the truth as a Christian." And that made me really happy. It had the opposite effect of wanting to slash my wrists.

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I'll throw in a few more:

Iron & Wine : Sixteen, Maybe Less -- the plodding, deliberate pace of the song kills me.

And though an autumn time lullaby

Sang our newborn love to sleep

My brother told me he saw you there

In the woods one Christmas Eve, waiting."

"I met my wife at a party, when I drank too much

My son is married and tells me we don't talk enough

Call it predictable, yesterday my dream was of you."

...I dreamed I traveled and found you there in the woods one Christmas Eve, waiting.

Over the Rhine : Happy to Be So -- can OTR really make this list? This song is a good candidate.

Mike Knott : Double

Tori Amos - Cloud on My Tongue, Baker Baker, China

Time

Thought I'd make friends with time

Thougt we'd be flying

Maybe not this time.

Adam Again - River on Fire

Emmylou Harris : Red Dirt Girl

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I'll throw in a few more:

Iron & Wine : Sixteen, Maybe Less -- the plodding, deliberate pace of the song kills me.

And though an autumn time lullaby

Sang our newborn love to sleep

My brother told me he saw you there

In the woods one Christmas Eve, waiting."

"I met my wife at a party, when I drank too much

My son is married and tells me we don't talk enough

Call it predictable, yesterday my dream was of you."

...I dreamed I traveled and found you there in the woods one Christmas Eve, waiting.

Over the Rhine : Happy to Be So -- can OTR really make this list? This song is a good candidate.

Mike Knott : Double

Tori Amos - Cloud on My Tongue, Baker Baker, China

Time

Thought I'd make friends with time

Thougt we'd be flying

Maybe not this time.

Adam Again - River on Fire

Emmylou Harris : Red Dirt Girl

For this category, I'd go with Knott's song "Rocket and a Bomb" ahead of "Double." Nice to see that another A&F'er has heard of him, though.

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Mike Knott : Double

For this category, I'd go with Knott's song "Rocket and a Bomb" ahead of "Double." Nice to see that another A&F'er has heard of him, though.

"Rocket and a Bomb" is probably a better song, but "Double" is so full of a certain familiar, all-too-human failure.

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"Misery" by Soul Asylum is the most miserable song I've ever heard. Although I don't know if I could call it a favorite. It's kind of a catchy song, but it depresses me that the lyrics are so miserably stupid:

They say misery loves company

We could start a company

We could build a factory

And make misery

Frustrated Incorporated

This makes "Boycott Hell" by Degarmo and Key sound profound by comparison, and "The Trees" by Rush look like a master's level thesis on labor rights. Which I find kind of funny in a strange kind of way.

And for other miserable songs, it's hard to beat Nirvana's "I Hate Myself and I Want to Die"

As far as beautiful songs of misery go, the 77s have some good weepers on their "Drowning With Land in Sight" album. in particular, "The Jig is Up" and "Alone Together".

Edited by Crow

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Damien Rice "Rootless Tree" --> a portion of the lyrics Here.

Can we pleeeeze include movies because Nick Cave is all over The Road. It should count solely on its existence alone.

Edited by Persona

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As far as beautiful songs of misery go, the 77s have some good weepers on their "Drowning With Land in Sight" album. in particular, "The Jig is Up" and "Alone Together".

Oooh, good call, Crow. Remember how folks were so disappointed with that album when it came out? I've long thought that it has a few really good songs, including the two you mention.

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As far as beautiful songs of misery go, the 77s have some good weepers on their "Drowning With Land in Sight" album. in particular, "The Jig is Up" and "Alone Together".

Oooh, good call, Crow. Remember how folks were so disappointed with that album when it came out? I've long thought that it has a few really good songs, including the two you mention.

How about the self-titled record? "I Can't Get Over It," "The Lust, the Flesh ...," "I Could Laugh" ...

Or "Don't, This Way" from Sticks and Stones...

When's the last time Mike Roe wrote a happy song?

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Love Will Tear Us Apart by Joy Division (the whole catalogue)

Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now by the Smiths (ditto)

Nothing Hurts Like Love by Daniel Bedingfield

Ballad of a Broken Man by Duke Special

Hurt by Johnny Cash

When It's Cold I'd Like To Die by Moby

Why Does My heart Feel so Bad by Moby

Crush by the Violet Burning

Low by the Violet Burning

Death by White Lies

To Lose My Life by White Lies

Chasing Cars by Snow Patrol (much of their catalogue)

Bedshaped by Keane

Bend and Break by Keane

Say Hello Wave Goodbye by Soft Cell

That is for starters.

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I'm sure we have another thread on this somewhere, and I'm sure I said the same thing, but what the heck: I have never heard a song as miserable as 'So slow' by Sophia. I don't think they're a great band, but this song really does feel like it reaches down to the depths, like someone somewhere pulled the plug in your soul.

And death comes so slow, when you're waiting

When you're waiting to be taken

And death comes so slow, when it's all you want

And it takes the ones who don't

However, the song that produces the most abject of abject misery in the listener is Alexandra Burke's rendition of 'Hallelujah'. Especially if you repeat the words "this sold a million copies... this sold a million copies..." as a mantra as you listen to it. For heightened effect, extend the mantra: "this sold a million copies, and jeff buckley is dead... this sold a million copies, and jeff buckley is dead."

It takes weeks to come back from that. Very, very abject.

Edited by stu

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However, the song that produces the most abject of abject misery in the listener is Alexandra Burke's rendition of 'Hallelujah'. Especially if you repeat the words "this sold a million copies... this sold a million copies..." as a mantra as you listen to it. For heightened effect, extend the mantra: "this sold a million copies, and jeff buckley is dead... this sold a million copies, and jeff buckley is dead."

It takes weeks to come back from that. Very, very abject.

Honestly, if anybody sings that song other than Jeff Buckley I can quickly descend into abject misery. Even Leonard Cohen, although, to be fair, just about anything he sings conjures abject misery. The problem is that "Hallelujah" has become, God help us all, an American Idol standard. Fraternity bros and cheerleaders named Muffy now sing "Hallelujah" on their way to kegger parties. Hip, ironic Christian kids now sing it in worship services.

It's all very sad. But nowhere near as sad as Jeff Buckley singing it. He will always be the King of Abject Misery.

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Jeff Kolb wrote:

: Remember how folks were so disappointed with that album when it came out?

Really? Drowning with Land in Sight was my introduction to the 77s, and I loved it. It's a major part of the soundtrack of the summer of '94, for me.

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