here comes the rain and the sad, sad songs that deal with depression

Wouldn't it be easier if depression was as beautiful and metaphorical as it's made out in songs?

by Elizabeth Sankey
29 April 2015, 1:40am

My friend has a problem. All the songs on the radio are about her. Or rather, they're about her situation. But it's not even the ones on the radio, that's just a thing people say. What I really mean is that every song ever written is in one way or another about how she feels. Even Don't Worry Be Happy. Even Stealing My Sunshine. Even the most innocuous songs about a dancing girl called Macarena. And it's not that she remembers hearing those songs on holiday with her boyfriend and now he's left her, they remind her of how they laughed together at the bad DJ and all the dads dancing with their kids but then just said, "fuck it" and joined in too. And it's not that she met the love of her life at a school disco when she was 15 and they snogged and shivered on the pitch-black playing fields while I wondered where they were. It's none of that - and that's the worst thing - she's not heartbroken, she's not lost and lonely; she's suffering from depression.

It took her a while to realise she was depressed; I think this happens a lot. Feeling tired all the time could be down to working too hard or being stressed, or just having too great a time. But driving home the other night she heard Karen Carpenter singing Crescent Noon. Karen was stumbling through the final months of a year, a vale of tears, frozen ground in December. And it hit her, when you're depressed, winter isn't coming; it's been here for a while and it's not going anywhere. She's become obsessed with songs that deal with depression, actively seeking them out as a way of protecting herself - if she knows them all, then a new one can't sneak up on her and shock her with its emotional resonance. So, I'm making her a playlist.

You may be surprised (or you may not be) how many talk about bad weather. Eurythmics' Here Comes The Rain Again is one of the best, couching its misery beneath a synth line and those plinky plonky strings. It takes the form of an iconic, romanticised vision in that image of Annie Lennox with her bright straw-yellow hair, wandering around in a Victorian nightdress holding a candle. You want more rain? What about Temptations' I Wish It Would Rain, written after Motown songwriter Roger Penzabene discovered his wife was cheating on him? Or James Murphy, singing about the death of a loved one in Someone Great, and how 'The worst is all the lovely weather/I'm stunned/It's not raining.' But they're talking about lost love. And on King Of Pain, Sting is singing about his crappy work environment. What about there-for-no-reason, clinical depression? The dark tunnel with no end? Listen to Judy Garland on Over The Rainbow and hear that yearning, desperate plea for the clouds to clear.

The songs that really tackle the heart of it, hit hardest. Peter Gabriel's Don't Give Up, Conor Oberst singing Laura Laurent about his girlfriend's depression - 'You should never be embarrassed by/Your trouble with living'. Sometimes it's not even the lyrics; sometimes it's the melody and the performance that cuts through you. This Woman's Work was written by Kate Bush for a John Hughes movie starring Kevin Bacon and the mum from Downton Abbey. It's about a woman having a baby. 'I know you have a little life in you yet' may literally refer to pregnancy, but out of context, it can be projected onto so many more stories and feelings. See also Needle In The Hay by Elliot Smith with the lines 'You idiot kid/You don't have a clue'.

Did you feel like you were depressed as a teenager? When you hated everything, couldn't see the point and wanted to stop caring. But at the same time you cared so much. 'I want a perfect body/I want a perfect soul'. Thom Yorke capturing that deep desire of wanting to be accepted, but also to be special on Creep. Remember in Six Feet Under when Claire listens to All Apologies in her bedroom after Nate's funeral? Curled up on her bed, 'All alone/Is all we are'. Or, if we want to go there, and we should, Blink 182's offering to the growing pile, Adam's Song about a suicidal teenager. But what about when you've grown up? Nick Drake says it best on Black Eyed Dog, 'I'm growing old/And I want to go home/I'm growing old/And I don't want to know'. For what basically constitutes a personal essay about that very dilemma, press play on Sun Kil Moon's I Watched The Film The Song Remains The Same; Mark Kozelek announcing, 'I cannot shake melancholy/For 46 years now/I cannot break the spell'. It can be a spell cast over you, a black fog, a black dog that follows you round. You're suspended, you're alone peering down at humanity, so close but so far. No one sums up that feeling more acutely and deliberately than Jason Pierce of Spiritualized, the otherwordly beeps only astronauts hear used as percussion as he pines, 'And float in space and drift in time/All the time until I die'.

Wouldn't it be easier if depression only existed in artistic form, for a song, and not part of real life. Dressed up like Frank Sinatra on his 1955 album, In The Wee Small Hours, looking pensively out from under a street light into the empty streets, like an Edward Hopper painting, sad but still, singing about that time of day, the lonely hour. It seems like that album is about a girl but Frank had problems, life-long, serious issues. That girl is a metaphor. And that's how I wish her depression was: metaphorical. 

mental health
Elizabeth Sankey