We’ve all heard the anthems to self-pity and I even did a short-list a while back last summer of stadium self-pity songs and there is likely some cross-over here. But here I try to give a deeper analysis and a bit more of the why I felt these songs made the List of Self Pity of Stadium Self-Pity and in some cases, just out and out masochism. (You’ll see.)
In some cases, these singers may as well wear hair shirts to punish themselves and/or their lovers for leaving or grieving them so, they hurt so much. Here there is bitterness and bile but mostly, there is just sorrow and hurt. So read on, and you’ll find some classics and no doubt, the minute I turn this in, I’ll think of 15 or more I should have included that I should have included but did not. There were many by Elliott Smith that could have made the list but I’ll leave that up to you to decide… I couldn’t choose just one. There are other singers as well, bands, who really belong here but again, just didn’t quite make the cut. I tried to pick those who fit the list and to keep the list within reason. Maybe if there is good response I can do a continuation of the list or if you like this idea of themes then perhaps I can drum up some others….
Obviously, I Will Always Love You by Whitney Houston almost made the list. (There is a long story behind that, involving a lawsuit in Britain and a distraught young man whose boyfriend had just left him and who would not stop playing the song. If fact, he played it over and over and over again until finally his condo board took him to court and won and he was forced to pay damages ~ apparently he played this song at all hours, so maybe he belongs on the list, not the song, hard to separate out…)
In any event here is the list at last… do feel free to talk about songs you’d include. I’d love to hear about them. One that occurred was What a Lonely Boy by Andrew Gold but I couldn’t think of what I’d really say about it. With that say, I’ve said enough…
s. r. p.
Come Pick Me Up by Ryan Adams – It may be the ultimate fight/fuck song of all time, but Ryan Adams has nailed what breaking up can often be all about in Come Pick Me Up. That said, while clearly a vindictive song, this is also a song (directed to the party who did the injuring here and the hurting and hurting and hurting and hurting …) about being hurt and about wanting to be or resigning himself, hell, even asking to be hurt again. With the line… “I wish you would…” and the rest follow from there. It’s not so much that Adams is just about vengeance, though again that is part of it, but there is also a great deal of self-pity here because he wishes she would:
Come pick me up
Take me out
Fuck me up
Steal my records
Screw all my friends
They’re all full of shit
With a smile on your face
And then do it again
I wish you would
Hence, one can only assume he’s a glutton for punishment and therefore, his song, much as I love it, does again fall into the list of self-pity, masochistic song – in this case, masochistic in any event. It’s interesting to feel the tension in the lyrics in this song – how Adams balances out his bile for the (we assume) now ex (or soon to be after a few more, perhaps); he’ll have his vengeance in his song but at what price? Perhaps his own after all. He may well hurt her, but he also hurts himself in the process. Great song, sad song. Really worth buying the album.
Without You by Harry Nillson – The nasal whine of Nilsson really works here because it is a whine that we are looking for and speaking of when we speak of self-pity, or melodrama perhaps is a better word. Every song on this list is perhaps a bit, or a lot, on the melodramatic side. As for Nilsson, he wails out that he simply cannot:
No, I can’t forget this evening
Or your face as you were leaving
But I guess that’s just the way the story goes
You always smile but in your eyes your sorrow shows
Yes, it shows
Ah, some empathy for the Other, we think – the sorry that “shows” for this undisclosed other person.
Don’t let it fool you. It sucks you in and spits you out. It’s a manipulation to get to the final point of the song, which is essentially, “Don’t leave me, I know you feel the same way too, I can see it in your eyes,” which to me sounds manipulative as hell because the upshot is “ I can’t live if living is without you” as the final refrain will tell us. And here it is:
Can’t live if living is without you
I can’t live, I can’t give anymore
I can’t live if living is without you
Can’t live, I can’t give anymore.
Alone Again (Naturally) by Gilbert O’ Sullivan — Now this guy I just feel bad for. We all have our run of bad luck but Gilbert here can’t seem to catch a break. I mean, when he’s feeling a little better, a little “less sour” he plans to “promise myself to treat myself / And visit a nearby tower/ And climbing to the top will throw myself off.” This is what he does for when he’s feeling a bit more mellow or little less “sour”? Can you imagine therest of his life? Well, you don’t have to imagine it, because he’s going to spell it out for you in excruciating detail (for both himself and for you) — a bit like watching a wreck about to happen; you may want to look away but you just cannot. Hence, you discover…
He was left at the altar more than once and it sounds like by the same woman if you read the lyrics carefully. (My God that’s tough she’s stood him up again.) But then hey, as if you didn’t have enough reality, yet more of it comes around… things only go from bad to worse. His father dies, his mother dies presumably of a broken heart — she can’t understand why the only man she had ever loved had been taken. (Frankly, I can sort of see and understand the logic of this sentiment if you believe in the concept of a beneficent God that is, which I’m so sure I do, but then surely something could have been worked out where they died at the same time or some such, but clearly his mother did (believe in this beneficent God) and that is what is so heart-breaking about this song.
So what is self-pitying here… well, he had his run of bad luck, but there’s nothing self-pitying about bad luck unless you express it in such a way as to come off as self pitying. The thing is, I imagine if any of us were to sit down and write three or four verses of all the bad luck we’ve had in our lives it would look equally bad. The lines that really close the deal for me — sorry Gilbert, much as I like and have liked you — are the closing three lines because even though his mother has just died, and I have no doubt (having had lost many close direct family members I know how very hard this is, and it’s all in the way it is phrased here):
I cried and cried all day
Alone again, naturally
Alone again, naturally
Just a little too Tammy Faye Baker for me, who, in her autobiography, did not have, apparently a single page on which she did not have the two words either “I cried” or “we cried” but usually “I cried.” Life sucks sometimes or even a lot of times but throwing yourself off of bell-towers is not the answer and although this song is a classic in the stadium self-pity, sad-song repertoire, that is where it shall always remain. Which is just fine…. we like it there.
All by Myself by Eric Carmen – The title sort of says it all. The fact that it was used at the opening theme for the soundtrack on Bridget Jones was perfect,, although it was sung by, I believe, Celine Dion in that version, not by Eric Carmen. Essentially, he’s tired of being alone now and his youth is quickly passing by or has passed by (makin’ love was just for fun, which would be a non sequitor except now he wants a “real” relationship and to hook up with someone properly so that’s what this is all about.
On the one hand you just want to say, Hey bud, you blew it. Or, Oh, just shut up After all, weren’t we all young and foolish at some point and didn’t we all do foolish things and yet somehow we found our way out of it. We may not be in a serious relationship yet or at this time, but I think most of us sit around bemoaning the fact that when we “dial the telephone / nobody’s home” we simply leave a message and hope they call back or we call someone else. It’s just not that complicated. Pathetic lyrics below, but note, these are not all, but they give you more than a taste, just figure you hit repeat more than once and you’ve got it down.
When I was young
I never needed anyone
And makin’ love was just for fun
Those days are gone.
I think of all the friends I’ve known
But when I dial the telephone
All by myself
Don’t wanna be
All by myself anymore
All by myself
Don’t wanna live
All by myself anymore.
Hard to be sure
Some times I feel so insecure
And love so distant and obscure
Remains the cure
All by myself…
In the film Bridget Jones this was acted out superbly in the opening credits of the film complete with mouthing along to the lyrics and full-body motion. Brilliant acting out of a melodramatic song. The sort of thing you do when you are alone and having a bad day. Maybe.
Ne Me Quitte Pas by Sting – In French granted, but a plea (in a bad accent) that says, Don’t leave me, but it was also a hit in America entitled “If You Go Away” which was covered by a number of singers. Somehow though, no matter where the song was a hit, it just sounds more pathetic, albeit beautiful, in French and with Sir Sting himself singing it. Sting’s piss-poor bad French accent only adds to the true pathetic nature of the song and the delivery of it in the very least. I have to admit though, despite all of this, like so many others on this list, I still like the song – in French or English though the French version is still in my view the better of the two and yes, probably the more pathetic, but hey, isn’t that the reason it made the list?
Seasons in the Sun by Terry Jacks – From 1974. Okay, let’s just start with some basic lyrics to set the stage because with that, it’s impossible to get any sense of what this song is about and really, even with the lyrics, I’m still not sure I know what this song is about – in terms, that is, of whether or not this guy is actually dying, leaving town, committing suicide, or just a drama queen. Take a listen to first few lines:
Goodbye, Papa, it’s hard to die
when all the birds are singing in the sky,
Now that the spring is in the air.
Little children everywhere.
When you see them I’ll be there.
We had joy, we had fun, we had seasons in the sun.
But the wine and the song,
like the seasons, all have gone.
Maybe I misunderstand and Terry Jacks really is or was dying, which is entirely possible, though that was never really entirely clear to anyone I’ve spoken with, so your take is valuable here (chime in!). The lyrics suggest he may be dying but A: How, and B: He could just as easily be blowing town for a really, really long time, so to some extent but I’m still not clear on this.
I think you need to hear the song to know what I mean so if you haven’t heard the song please do reserve judgment. It’s an older song and falls under the category of “one hit wonder” by most people’s standards, though others may disagree (I can’t imagine who but there is always someone so hey… I’m waiting…). If Terry Jacks or the songwriter, if not Jacks himself, was dying or ill, then that’s awful — the song however, is still flawed because it doesn’t make that clear. What it does sound like is a suicide about to happen ~ not an imminent or present illness and that is a failing if indeed it is even a part of the song. If neither is part of the song, then it’s just pure self-pity goodbye and all that and definitely belongs on this list.
Telephone Line by Electric Light Orchestra – Let it ring for ever more? Oh come on! Get a life. I wouldn’t be hanging on the telephone and letting it ring for ever more just because some chick or guy was either screening my calls or not picking up because they had moved on and I had not. That is just too pathetic for words. This song truly belongs on the list because no matter how much I may even like this song, and I do, it still doesn’t cut it for a mature adult. But then, who said anything about mature adults and then again, who said the audience for such songs was even mature adults?
My personal take is that so many of these songs are aimed at younger people who go through those first heart-breaking break-ups from which they think they’ll never recover (they usually do) and these songs then take on deep meaning as if the radio itself were then directed specifically at them. This much I get. I understand that. Still, a good song and I still like it, even if stadium self pity list-worthy.
She’s Gone by Hall and Oates – Yes, you better learn how to face it. This guy sounds like he is going to just die without his beloved and what could be worse? Hey, even Daddy has gotten in the act and has tried his hand at trying to console the lad but to no avail. My question though, how old is this guy supposed to be? I mean, I know we all turn to our family to some extent in times of trouble but to turn to Daddy over a break-up seems a little lame and for this reason, “She’s Gone” makes the list of self-pity as well as pathetic songs, Want a taste?
Everybody’s high on consolation
Everybody’s trying to tell me what’s right for me
My daddy tried to bore me with a sermon
but it’s plain to see that they can’t comfort me.
Okay, so we all need, what is it he says, “a drink and a quick decision,” I believe, and yes, friends too, but that She’s Gone and his line “I better learn how to face it” are absolutely right. Learn how to face it.
I’d say that to every single person on this list.
Thanks for waiting,