Lest anyone be concerned, I am not sad. This post has been percolating in the back of my mind for a few weeks now. A while back some blogger was compiling a list of the saddest songs. I’d link to it, but I have no idea who it was. Anyway, I noticed the the first four started with “B” and decided to only include singers and songwriters whose names start with that latter.

Carrying Cathy, Ben Folds

By far the most emotional song off his solo debut, it deals with living with someone that has deep depression. There is a combination of lament and philosophy that is really touching. On one hand, he is left with the guilt of his own humanity. He worked while she sat in the corner and cried. He had managed to accustom himself to her depression. He did what he could, but it wasn’t enough. As the refrain said, someone had always been carrying Cathy. It’s not something any person can do forever. The ending is vague as to Cathy’s fate. She either disappeared or died. Either way, she haunts him periodically.

It’s really difficult to have a piece of work on such a weighty subject without resorting to melodrama. If he’d stuck to the down notes, about how awful it all was, the song wouldn’t work nearly as well. The sadness is mixed with some confusion and an earnest attempt to deal with it rather than slump into a depression of his own. The understated tone makes it even more sad than if it contained thunderous weeping.

I’ve dated a number of people with varying degrees of depression, though none as dire as Cathy’s. I did have to talk an ex-girlfriend down from the proverbial ledge, though I don’t think that she would have done it (she disagrees), but that was some time after our breakup. So no single person comes to mind when I hear the song, though it’s familiar enough to resonate. Mostly, I come away saddened for Ben’s character but grateful I was never put in that situation, however close I might have come.

Evaporated, Ben Folds Five

The closing track to their breakthrough Whatever and Ever CD, this outdoes the hit single Brick (also a sad song) from the same album. It deals with the utter emptiness that comes after one has given all of oneself in a relationship that has just gone under. As much as the narrator is hurt, he is as much angry at himself for throwing so much into the relationship as he is upset that he ended. But his anger is subdued, one suspects mostly due to a lack of energy. He gave it his all and it evaporated.

I was in the exact situation of this song when I first heard it. It’s hard not to think back to that moment in my life whenever I hear the song. Sometimes you really do give so much of yourself that when it’s over you wonder what parts of you that remain. What do you have that you didn’t give them? Until you are inevitably rebuilt, the answer is depressing.

Angry All The Time, Bruce Robison (also performed by Tim McGraw)

If there’s one good thing about country music, it is its tendency to touch on human subjects overlooked by youth-oriented romantic songs aimed at younger consumers. Angry All The Time is a song that young people will often have no use for. In the song, Bruce’s character is leaving his wife and the mother of his four children. His wife has sunk into a haze of bitterness and anger (hence the title) and it’s become a destructive force in everyone’s life. So he takes the kids and leaves.

One of the overlooked things about divorce is that it usually leaves the divorcees no happier than they were when they were together. I’m too lazy to look up the studies done on the subject, but they’re out there. Often the problems attributed to a marriage aren’t really the marriage at all. Bruce’s song actually admits this when the narrator says that after twenty years he never made it back to the person that he was before things went wrong, or before he left.

I’ve got no children and I am not divorced. However, at the few points in our relationship and marriage that Clancy and I have not been doing so well together, this is the song that tended to haunt me. It’s a sort of worst case scenario for the marriage that I don’t want to have. Clancy is underrested and under a lot of stress on a regular basis and it gets to her from time to time. And from time to time I get tired of coming home from work and having to help her through it. A while back I played the song for her and we actually talked about it, deciding that if we ever got to the point where she was becoming too embittered or too frequently upset, and I was becoming too worn out and downspirited myself, we would put the marriage (and/or family) first and pick up and move so that she could start a practice elsewhere if we have to.

Match Made In Heaven, Bruce Robison

This song is about a coupling in a smoky singles bar. “He’s a little cocky and she’s a little stocky but all is forgiven in the night time, somehow.” It’s not love and it’s really not even lust. It’s two people with an emptiness in their lives finding temporary relief in one another. Naturally, it doesn’t work. She looks back on her childhood and the future she had before her vague fall from grace that turned her in to something she doesn’t entirely recognize anymore. “I was an angel when I was a child… somehow I made god angry with me… Lord have mercy on the angel who fell.” The guy is too drunk to remember her name and slips away into the night while she pretends to sleep. We don’t learn very much about him, either, but I get the sense that he is every bit as lonely as she is.

I’ve never had a one-night stand and haven’t much in the way of personal experience with the subject matter of this song, which is why it’s a bit surprising how much I like it.

2002, Bob Schneider

This one is almost funny, but the more I think about it the more sad it is. Bob is recounting his year following the breakup with what seemed like a pretty steady girl. Every turn he takes seems to be for the worst (“Thought I’d start a brand new band, thought I might call it Lonelyland, things got a little out of hand, ended up hooked on heroin”). He ends up bouncing around from one place to another from one unfortunate situation to another. The sound of the song is a mixture between hopeful and sullen. There is a feigned familiarity, like he’s talking to an old friend in a bar, but then we come back to the fact that it’s something of a letter to an ex-girlfriend that has cut off all ties (“I heard you got married and you moved away, called your folks but where they would not say, said it was probably better that way, so I just let it be”).

The Wrong Man Was Convicted, Barenaked Ladies

By “convicted”, BNL means “had conviction.” The narrator lost the girl because he wasn’t sure at the exact time that he needed to be. She ended up with a guy a little more assured of what he wanted. He changed his mind and decided that she was what he wanted, but her only response was that he needed to change it back. He’s left with visions of her sleeping with him.

This story rings all too familiar with a couple points in my life. My unfortunate motto was something like “A moment of hesitation, a lifetime of regret…” These events lead me to take the bull by the horns with Clancy when I met her. I did not want to lose something that I immediately knew was special due to my own reticence. Even a little bit of caution would have resulted in us never coming to be.

Category: Theater

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