For the purposes of this feature we have included several helplines in case you are going through depression and need someone to talk to. Maybe you’ll call them, maybe you won’t, because one of the problems with chronic depression is that it’s so very difficult to reach out for help. You can be desperately lonely and not want to see anyone — desolate and wearing a smile. The “black dog,” as Winston Churchill referred to it, can affect people in many ways, but ultimately has just one purpose; to ruin your life.
In recent years we have lost so many lives to suicide that it’s almost difficult not to become numb to it: Chris Cornell, Chester Bennington, Keith Flint, Robin Williams, Anthony Bourdain, and before them, Kurt Cobain, Ian Curtis, Hunter S. Thompson — the list is endless. And these are just the celebrities, those who have touched our lives and seemingly have so much to live for.
But while there is no easy answer, there can be little doubt that music helps, perhaps sometimes just the knowledge that someone else has been where you are and knows how you feel. Some of the songs listed below may be too painful to listen to, but all of them deal with depression in some way. Possibly some will provide a moment of respite from the darkness. And while we would never advocate animal cruelty, we would sincerely hope that you kick the black dog in the teeth.
If you or somebody you know needs help, visit suicidepreventionlifeline.org or call them at 1-800-273-TALK;
go to crisistextline.org or text them at 741-741;
go to mentalhealthamerica.net;
or call the National Youth Crisis Hotline at 800-448-4663.
1. Soundgarden “Fell On Black Days”
It was once said by Soundgarden guitarist Kim Thayil that the band’s music was intended to put an arm around your shoulder, offer comfort in your time of need and let you know that you weren’t alone. But who will comfort the songwriter? While it was devastating to fans and friends when singer Chris Cornell took his own life on May 18, 2017, it was, perhaps, not surprising. The master of the melancholy, with the voice of an angel, he always told us how, he just never told us when. As such, there are many of his songs that capture the dark cloud that haunted his life, but maybe none so beautiful as “Fell On Black Days.”
2. Joy Division “Isolation”
It may be no more than an awful coincidence, but May 18 also marks the day that Joy Division singer Ian Curtis took his own life by hanging in 1980. Just 23 years old, he suffered from epilepsy and had a history of depression, including at least one previous suicide attempt in April of that year. Released posthumously on the Closer album, “Isolation” all too readily captures the self-loathing that comes with depression: “I’m ashamed of the things I’ve been put through, I’m ashamed of the person I am.” Remarkably, guitarist/keyboardist Bernard Sumner later told the New York Times, “Strange as it may sound, it wasn’t until after his death that we really listened to Ian’s lyrics and clearly heard the inner turmoil in them.”
3. Nine Inch Nails “Hurt”
If ever further proof were needed that an artist came write the most open and heart-felt lyrics and still have people miss the point, there seems to be some debate online about the meaning of this Nine Inch Nails classic of 1995. “I wrote some words and music in my bedroom as a way of staying sane, about a bleak and desperate place I was in, totally isolated and alone,” said Trent Reznor, making his feelings clear after Johnny Cash famously covered the song in 2002. Reznor was known to have battled depression and drug addiction. Sometimes you just have to read the lyrics.
4. Ingrid Michaelson “Be OK”
Then again, reading lyrics doesn’t appear to have been a top priority when it came to using Ingrid Michaelson’s “Be OK” to advertise apple juice, Ritz Crackers, and travel insurance. Admittedly, it is, on the surface, quite a jaunty little number, and sounds, on first listen, like “I just want to be a cake”, but such lyrics as, “Open me up and you will see, I’m a gallery of broken hearts.I’m beyond repair, let me be, and give me back my broken parts” would suggest otherwise.” While men are three times more likely to commit suicide than women, that gap, unfortunately, is closing. It’s OK say you’re not OK.
5. The Notorious B.I.G. “Suicidal Thoughts”
When one thinks of rappers, the image that comes to mind is often that of self-confidence, even arrogance, but with many of the genre’s stars coming from extremely difficult backgrounds this image often simply masks the deeper emotions. It speaks volumes that “Suicidal Thoughts” is the final track on an album entitled Ready To Die. “When he considers suicide,” wrote Robert Christgau in the Village Voice, “I not only take him at his word, but actively hope he finds another way.” Sadly, the other way came on March 9, 1997 when the 24-year-old rapper was murdered in a drive-by shooting in Los Angeles.
6. Bruce Springsteen “This Depression”
Likewise, when one thinks of Bruce Springsteen — aka The Boss — the casual listener perhaps considers such anthems as “Born In The USA” and “Born To Run,” but Springsteen has been open about his crippling bouts of depression, none more so than on this self-explanatory tune from 2012’s Wrecking Ball album. “I’ve been low,” he sings, “but never this low. I’ve had my faith shaken, but never hopeless.” Unfortunately, depression doesn’t care if you’ve sold 135 million albums and received numerous awards, including 60 Grammys and the Presidential Medal Of Freedom. In a candid interview with BBC Radio 4, Springsteen said, “It is something that has been a part of my life. It is usually OK, but like Churchill’s ‘black dog’, it still jumps up and bites you in the ass sometimes.”
7. REM “Everybody Hurts”
An obvious choice, but then, it’s an obvious choice because it resonates so deeply with the listener. Guitarist Peter Buck wrote, in the liner notes for the compilation album In Time: The Best Of R.E.M. 1988 – 2003, that the lyrics are “atypically straightforward” because the song was aimed at teenagers, but depression also doesn’t care how old you are. In 1995, the Samaritans, an emotional support service in the UK, launched an advertising campaign using the lyrics, in response to the high suicide rate among young men. And in 2010 the song was covered by a collection of artists to raise money for the victims of Haiti earthquake. R.E.M. waived all royalties and it became the fastest selling charity record (in Britain) in the 21st century.
8. Suicidal Tendencies “How Will I Laugh Tomorrow”
Taken from the 1988 album, How Will I Laugh Tomorrow When I Can’t Even Smile Today, this marks the transition from the Venice, California band’s early punk sound into a more thrash metal approach. But it’s the thoughtful, almost tender, lyrics that might surprise the listener the most. “The clock keeps ticking but nothing else seems to change, problems never solved, just rearranged ” sings frontman Mike ‘Cyco Miko’ Muir, before asking, “If I’m gonna cry, will you wipe away my tears? If I’m gonna die, Lord please take away my fear.” Of course, the name of the band offers a clue to their mental well-being, but this is proof, if ever it were needed, that even the tough guys need help, and it’s not weak to ask.
9. Slipknot “XIX”
Given that Slipknot’s fifth studio album, .5: The Gray Chapter, of 2014, deals in large part with the death of the band’s bassist Paul Gray, it’s not surprising that the album contains some of their bleakest moments. The opening track “XIX” is such a track, but even in sadness it finds strength. “I don’t want to get back up, but I have to, so it might as well be today,” offers Corey Taylor, who was once stopped from jumping off an eighth floor balcony at the Hyatt on Sunset. “There’s always light at the end of the tunnel,” Taylor later told the You Rock Foundation. “There’s always a way out. It’s all temporary. Pain is temporary. Depression is temporary. You are stronger than you know. You can get through it.”
10. Poison Idea “Deep Sleep”
Sometimes, in those dark hours, you just want to scream, and there is perhaps no better example of this than the ferocious “Deep Sleep” from Poison Idea’s aptly-named punk rock masterpiece Feel The Darkness of 1990. “When I’m awake, wish I was dead. I’m lethargic, back to bed,” rages frontman Jerry A, who was known for cutting his face with broken glass during performances. It should be noted that, having spent time all but homeless and “waiting to die”, Jerry has recently remarried and found happiness at last. Like Corey Taylor said, there is light at the end of the tunnel. And it’s not always an oncoming train.