My Favorite Depression Song

It was an exciting but tiring weekend; not aided by the fact that I had a fever and a bad cough. You could say that I have a fever aggravated Monday Blues funk. What I really need is to get some sleep…. for about a week. As that’s not gonna happen, I just have to let the blues out somehow and so I decided to blog and share my misery around. This is going to be a seriously depressing post. If you wish to remain cheerful with birdsongs in your heart and cherry blossoms in your eyes, leave now. You have been warned.

Several posts ago, I did a little poem about my feelings during my bout with depression many years ago. When you are in that state, you develop a new set of habits which I think has to do with trying to express with actions the turmoil within. I had a friend, my depression buddy in fact, who painted all her room black. She even wrote me a nice long letter which was on black paper and written in black ink (you can read it by slanting the paper near a light and there will be a reflection off the ink). As she couldn’t speak without breaking down and crying, this was her way of expressing herself. Black, of course, is also soothing. It’s like being in a safe cocoon and I don’t think it was so much to do about being morbid.

I, though, found myself a nice theme song so that even on the brightest, sunniest day, I had a magic tune to lead me back into the comforting darkness. That song was the theme song from the movie M*A*S*H and it was called “Suicide is Painless”. The “young” readers are probably lost at this stage. M*A*S*H was a black comedy set in a mobile army surgical hospital during the Korean War. It was also adapted into what became arguably the most popular T.V. series of all time. Look it up yourself cause I want to talk about the song.

This song was written by Johnny Mandel for the movie. Director Robert Altman asked for a dark, funny and yet stupid song. Mandel came out with the tune but complained that there was no way he could come up with anything so ridiculous. So in the end, the lyrics were written by Mike Altman who was at that time the 14 year old son of the director. Can you imagine that this was written by a 14 year old? Marilyn Manson did a cover version of the song in 2000 as the theme song for the sequel to the movie “The Blair Witch Project”. Marilyn said that it was “More depressing and offensive than anything I’ve ever written”. Praise indeed from the master.

Of course, many people have argued about what the lyrics actually meant. Some suggest that it was really a metaphor for the political and military decisions facing U.S.A. during the Vietnam War. I think that’s stretching it and giving a lot of credit to a 14 year old.

Why did it become my depression theme song? The lyrics are misguidingly comforting. When you think that nothing is going right and you have no control over your life, it seductively suggests that you still have the power to choose to live or die, or to choose to die on your own terms “before the losing card you play”. It suggests that all the pain will go away and the act itself will be surprisingly painless compared to the pain of continued existance.

Of course, I think that it is all nonsense now. It isn’t about power but about running away, about giving up and about security in defeat. The truth is that in every life some rain must fall but life is a precious gift and worth all the pain and inconvenience. However, even though the lyrics no longer has its hold on me, the song is a very major part of my past and therefore forever a part of me.

Anyway, here are the lyrics. What do you think?

Suicide is Painless

Through early morning fog I see
visions of the things to be
the pains that are withheld for me
I realize and I can see…

That suicide is painless
It brings on many changes
and I can take or leave it if I please.

I try to find a way to make
all our little joys relate
without that ever-present hate
but now I know that it’s too late, and… [Refrain]

The game of life is hard to play
I’m gonna lose it anyway
The losing card I’ll someday lay
so this is all I have to say. [Refrain]

The only way to win is cheat
And lay it down before I’m beat
and to another give my seat
for that’s the only painless feat. [Refrain]

The sword of time will pierce our skins
It doesn’t hurt when it begins
But as it works its way on in
The pain grows stronger,
watch it grin, but… [Refrain]

A brave man once requested me
to answer questions that are key
“is it to be or not to be?”
and I replied “oh why ask me?”

‘Cause suicide is painless
it brings on many changes
and I can take or leave it if I please
…..and you can do the same thing if you choose.


2 thoughts on “My Favorite Depression Song”

  1. secret agent,
    It is soothing … the way a warm bath feels soothing as the life blood drains away into the bath water from one’s slit wrists. It kinda charms you into thinking that suicide is welcoming. As much as I like the song and it hits a resonance with me, its message is not a good one.

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