I Hate Myself and Want To Die; The 52 Most Depressing Songs You’ve Ever Heard [Hyperion] by Tom Reynolds is the funniest book music lovers (and haters) will read this year. Even if you don’t know all the songs he’s covering (some reach several decades back), let’s just say that Reynolds has a way with words: The guy can nail the perfect simile: Richard Carpenter is completely clueless to the fact that having Karen put her heartbreaking voice to it is like letting Courtney Love work nights at a pharmacy… [from “Goodbye To Love,” by the Carpenters] and he can close an argument against a song with the perfect sentiment: [on Janis Ian’s “At Seventeen”: She released this bitter song in 1975 and, in a few short years, hot teenage girls like the kind she was jealous of were being carved into filets in all those Halloween/Friday the 13th slasher flicks. I’m certain Janis Ian has a hockey mask buried in a closet at home.
Launching into The Anatomy of Melancholy, a brief history of the depressing song and closing with an Afterward that makes it a point to mention the two great depressives of our time, Elliott Smith and Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst, Reynolds covers the gamut of several genres, an overview of the song’s context in time as well as the lyrics and why it’s depressing, and all in a snotty, hip style that will appeal to readers who don’t mind the occasional cuss word.
Reynolds is wrong about a couple of small points in the book: he notes in the essay on the Counting Crows song, “Round Here” that lead singer Adam Duritz dated Jennifer Aniston when it was Courtney Cox; He spells Elliott Smith’s name wrong; and he says in the bit on “The Freshmen” that songwriters, the Verve Pipe, are from Michigan when he meant Minneapolis. But unless you’re Elliott Smith (R.I.P.) or Jennifer Aniston, these little glitches are easy to forgive-- and no one will be reading this book as a reference for a serious documentary, that’s for sure.
So, why 52 songs? Is this a song a week? I never did figure that part out. Rest assured this collection of, er… studies, grouped into ten categories such as “I Was A Teenage Car Crash,” (featuring 50s and 60s tunes such as “Teen Angel” and “Tell Laura I Love Her”), “I Mope, Therefore I Am” (including the Cure’s “Prayers For Rain” and Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt”), and “I’m Telling A Story Nobody Wants To Hear” (spotlighting the Jim Carroll Band’s “People Who Died,” and the Doors “The End,” among many others) has a broad and generous sampling of the horrors of Radio Top 40. Sure, a couple songs came to mind that I think should have been included in here, but if I really, really scanned the Top 40 lists, hundreds more might be worthy (“Run, Joey, Run” by David Geddes, anyone?). In fact, through I Hate Myself and Want To Die, Reynolds has, if not propelled us all to put very sharp knives in our ears, he’s built a good case to ban radio altogether.