My Five Favorite Songs
About Suicide

by Michael Channing

My Five Favorite Songs About Suicide

5. "Dirt" by Alice in Chains

Dirt album by Alice in Chains with a semicolon next to it

When I was young and flannel was the new black, I loved this song for its ugliness. I listened to it the same way you watch a horror film, for the shock, for the catharsis. But now, dear god I think I get it.

It’s a song about someone driven into darkness by abuse. At first he asks his abuser to kill him, then he decides to do the job himself. He imagines, after his death, his tormentor will be driven just as insane by having to clean up the mess left by his exit. Made to feel like dirt, he thinks he may as well be in the dirt. Yeah; I know that one.

Look, songs about suicide work in different ways. Some, as we’ll see later, actively attempt to steer the lost soul toward the light. This one operates with a different set of tools. It illuminates the nasty thoughts that sometimes bubble to the surface. I’ll make them understand, those thoughts say. When they feel the way I feel, they’ll know, and they’ll be sorry. It’s a foul idea that I believe lies coiled inside all of us. This song brings that horrible thing to light, and, I hope, we can know it for the ugly creature it is.

Oh, and can we take a moment to appreciate that wah-drenched riff? Jesus, it’s dark and sharp and absolutely perfect.

4. "Fade to Black" by Metallica

Ride the Lightning album by Metallica with a semicolon next to it

I’m sure parents of the mid-80s got their collective undies all a-twirl when this song came blasting through their kids’ bedroom walls. Does my child feel this way? Are they contemplating the end? They do seem to be drifting further away. Is it my fault?

Kids, on the other hand, finally felt understood. You feel lost at that age because you are. Why can’t I just play in my room and have everything done for me like I used to? Why are my emotions swinging wildly from moment to moment? Why do I want to be alone when I’m with people and in a crowd when I’m alone? Why does every adult expect me to make insanely difficult decisions that will affect the rest of my life based solely on the limited experience I’ve had so far? Why isn’t everyone else as interested in every minute detail of my life as I am? Is it my fault?

So Metallica managed to absolutely nail the emotional insecurity and untethered rage of adolescence but couldn’t properly spell Cthulhu. That makes sense, they were barely twenty at the time.

But was there something going on in James Hetfield’s life that prompted him to write this doomy masterpiece? A breakup? A death in the family? Did the universe split open one night to reveal that go-- Oh wait, his favorite amplifier was stolen? That’s it? You lost a guitar amp? Your loved-one didn’t spit in your face and belittle your dream. You got robbed, then Anthrax leant you their equipment. Fu--


Wait; wait.

There’s a lesson here, one I didn’t expect to find in this song: No two people experience depression the same way. It comes when it comes, from all manner of triggers within and without. What makes your darkness any deeper than anyone else’s? We all do time in the gutter, just on different streets.

3. "Out of Control" by Oingo Boingo

Dark at the End of the Tunnel album by Oingo Boingo with a semicolon next to it

Here we have our first song that actually wants to help. It speaks directly to the listener and says that everyone has felt the same pain, which we, the listeners, may take as just an empty platitude. The song even breaks out the old chestnut, No one ever said life would be easy. So now we know you’re full of crap, Mr. Boingo, if that is your real name. Prove to me you know how I feel.

So it does.

This song utilizes concrete imagery to describe the dark, shifting shape of depression. A cloud that rains on only you, a black sun casting a black shadow. And it captures the feeling almost perfectly in the line, “You just want the chance to let them know that you live and breathe and suffer, and your back is in the corner, and you got nowhere to go.” The cadence of that line alone is a thing of beauty. A song that can say that must know what it’s talking about; so we listen and at least consider its advice.

“Don’t throw it away,” the song says. A simple statement, but an earned one. “If you throw away your life, the world will never be the same.” Here it backs away from any definite description and speaks in abstract terms. That’s the secret to this song. It connects by making you believe it honestly knows your pain then hands you easy to digest advice, which is the only kind you’re able to handle in a deep state of despair. I won’t say it tricks you. It earns your confidence fairly. This song doesn’t tell you that every little thing will be alright. It says, “You want someone to tell you it’ll only be a dream. I wish I could.” This is a song you can trust.

2. "Another Sun" by Tracy Chapman

Let it Rain album by Tracy Chapman with a semicolon next to it

It’s no surprise that the woman who wrote the saddest song in the history of music also wrote about suicide. And it’s a heavy one. Loveless and friendless, the singer seeks comfort in sleep, only to wake again and again to an uncaring, burning sun. She decides the only escape is the final one. She imagines that when she is gone, all those ills and burdens will fall upon someone else, because they never go away. If not me, then someone else.

There’s a double edge to that sword of reason. An empathetic person might not wish their torment on others and therefore stick around, but if those hardships are truly eternal, someone will always suffer. The only way through is out.

This song makes for a great depression companion. You hear the hopelessness in that voice, and your own troubles can’t possibly be as heavy; if they are, at least you won’t be alone.

1. "The Pass" by Rush

Presto album by Rush with a semicolon next to it

School does very little to prepare you for adulthood, but every eighteen-year-old is expected to jump on that moving bus and immediately know their place. Many can’t keep up and get left behind. Some get plowed under.

There’s a lot of stress that comes with high school. The kids everyone expects to succeed often don’t know how to achieve the goals their parents set for them; they don’t always agree with those plans. The kids everyone calls losers sometimes resent that label and harbor dangerous anger and shame. Teenagers are not equipped to deal with any of this, so they get drunk, they get lonely, they get desperate.

This song understands those feelings, the unreachable glories, the invisible chains. It sees you, standing on the edge, looking down, wondering how you can possibly survive the world you’re being thrust into. And it says you’re not alone. All of us get lost it says, all of us suffer. There’s a way through, and it begs you to look for it.

I recognized the power of this song when I was young, but I didn’t need it. I didn’t need any of these songs, as warnings, as companions, as roadmaps out. I wasn’t one of the lost. No one called me a loser, and I knew what I was and believed in my dreams.

But now?

Weary sigh.

Honorable Mention: "Auf Wiedersehen" by Cheap Trick

Heaven Tonight album by Cheap Trick with a semicolon next to it

This is the only song on this list that actually uses the word “suicide.” It’s also the one that feels a bit mean spirited. The song’s true opinion on the subject is not easy to nail down. Sometimes it feels like it’s trying to empathize with the hopeless ones; other times it sounds like it’s outright mocking them. It waves a sarcastic goodbye to those who don’t appreciate their lives. Is it trying to help with some sort of reverse logic? Don’t want to be mocked? Then don’t cut out early while there’s still a party going on. It’s not an empathetic song, but it rocks. The ending is unhinged, and the main riff is fantastic.

Only knowing Cheap Trick as the band that sang “I Want You to Want Me,” “The Flame,” and a dumb cover of a dumb Elvis song, I always thought of them as a forgettable pop band. But I first encountered this particular song as an Anthrax cover. They kicked ass with it; surely the original can’t be as good. Well, it is. It’s a (maybe)pro-suicide song that rocks. I just got done listening to all of the above, let me bang my head just a little.

Don't Turn Your Back and Slam the Door on Me

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