Theme: A Song That Makes You Feel Sad
Band: Bright Eyes
My friend Adam likes to joke that my entire music collection is full of “sad British songs by sad British singers,” and he’s kind of right. So, when it came to A Song That Makes You Feel Sad, I very specifically excluded the United Kingdom altogether from my selection. So that means no “A New England” by Billy Bragg, or “Man Out Of Time” by Elvis Costello… no “Atmosphere” (Joy Division) or “Without You I’m Nothing” (Placebo) or “To Wish Impossible Things” (The Cure) or “Fake Plastic Trees” (Radiohead). Sorry, Snow Patrol, we’ll light up, light up and “Run” for our lives some other time. No “Dry Your Eyes” by The Streets, nor “Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want This Time” by The Smiths. And no Belle and Sebastian, no matter how much “It Could Have Been A Brilliant Career.”
Anyway, Adam, those are my Top 10 sad British songs by sad British singers. I’m sure you really wanted to know.
My top 5 non-British songs that make me all teary-eyed are, in no particular order…
“Cancer” – My Chemical Romance (written from the perspective of someone dying from cancer)
“Climbing Up To The Moon” – The Eels (written from the perspective of someone dying from cancer)
“Taxi Ride” – Tori Amos (written about someone dying from AIDS)
“Famous Blue Raincoat” – Leonard Cohen (about a love triangle, but Leonard sings it so well and so sadly, you feel like someone must dying of something)
… and then there’s “Lua.” No one dies in “Lua.” Not yet, that is. It’s not clear that anyone’s life is in immediate danger. It’s about a couple heading out for the evening, but it sounds as though they’re nearing the end of their relationship. From the beginning, everything seems like a struggle – it’s freezing, the taxis aren’t stopping to pick us up, but we’re supposed to go to this stupid party, so let’s soldier on. This is not a fun couple anymore. You start to get the feeling that the narrator is just freaking done with all this, and the feeling has to be mutual, so why haven’t they just called it off?
And then there’s this part:
You’re looking skinny like a model
With your eyes all painted black
Keep going to the bathroom
Always say you’ll be right back
Well, it takes one to know one, kid
I think you’ve got it bad
But what’s so easy in the evening
By the morning’s such a drag
They’re together because they’re both addicts – that’s all. Somehow, that kind of thing – that symbiotic, mutually-agreed upon, downward spiral – is infinitely more depressing than disease or deceit or living on a cold island where it rains all the time and you’re constantly dealing with race memories of a lost empire. There’s a sense of inevitability about this song that makes the misery all the more real.
It sounds as if they’re nearing the end of their relationship – except they’re really not.
And, like all addictions – and, for that matter, all relationships – this one started because it seemed like a great idea at the time (“what’s so normal in the evening, by the morning seems insane.”) The way Conor Oberst plays the song on this track, too, on a simple ukelele, his voice barely above a whisper… even sounds like a hangover, as if raising his voice would just hurt too much.
And we don’t know what the addiction is, either. It could be drugs or bulimia. Both involve going to the bathroom a lot and being skinny. Whatever it is, it’s not going away anytime soon.
Dying can be a relief. Break-ups can be beneficial for both parties. Rain is beautiful. Sometimes, war is justified. Acts of injustice can make people realize what justice means. Even hearing about someone who died before their time can make us understand how important and fragile life really is.
But real sadness is when you think – no, know – that nothing is ever, ever going to get any better. You’re stuck, and you’re pretty sure it’s all your fault. Because what was simple in the moonlight, by the morning never is.
That’s why “Lua” makes me sad.