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#4 – I Hate Myself and Want to Die

May 8, 2007

in my dreams you’re alive and you’re cryingWhat a delightfully emo post title this book makes for.

I was expecting to love I Hate Myself and Want to Die: The 52 Most Depressing Songs You’ve Ever Heard, as I am a huge fan of both music and lists. Unfortunately, author Tom Reynolds took the time in the introduction to make it clear that he differentiates between sad songs and depressing songs. As example, he suggests that “Hurt” by Nine Inch Nails is depressing, while Johnny Cash’s version is sad. According to Reynolds sad songs are powerful and moving, while depressing songs are just depressing. This definition seems kind of arbitrary; a more accurate one appears to be that depressing songs are sad songs that Tom Reynolds doesn’t like.

What we have here, instead of an actual compiled and analyzed list of history’s best sad music, was a guy mostly just making fun of crappy music using Dave Barry jokes and incessant similies. Yes, Tom, Celine Dion is pretty annoying. And it’s a shame, because some of his bits are really good. When he stops trying to be funny and actually acts like a music critic, his pieces on songs like “Love Will Tear Us Apart”, “The Freshmen”, and “Prayers For Rain” are interesting and well-written. But then he sandwiches these songs, which he actually seems to appreciate, in with “MacArthur Park” and “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” – Reynolds seems to create rules for himself in making this list, then inconsistently follows them throughout. This could have been two really good essays on sad music and awful overwrought music respectively, but instead it’s 250 pages which tries to combine the two, with occasional success.

One quick note: I don’t abandon a book I’m reading lightly, but I almost did after heading his piece on “Brick” by Ben Folds Five. This is a beautiful, heartbreaking song about a couple gradually drifting apart after having an abortion. As Reynolds states in a note before his section on the song, he didn’t understand what it was about when he wrote his piece. However, either out of laziness or an effort to be funny he leaves the analysis as it is, merely pointing out in parentheses where he was wrong. His note ends with “If you always knew what ‘Brick’ is about, then you’ll find what follows bizarre and unnecessary. Please skip to the next song.” He proceeds to complain about a song where “nothing happens”: a couple drive somewhere, do nothing, drive home, then tearfully confess to their parents that they’ve broken up. Whether he’s joking or not, his interpretation infuriates me – it’s my favourite song in the book, and Reynolds handles it with no class or intellect. Coincidentally, in Nick Hornby’s similarly-themed but far superior Songbook, he writes on the song “Smoke” from the same Ben Folds Five album, only Hornby’s analysis is insightful and brilliant. I’d recommend Songbook before this one – it’s funnier, the music is all good, and frankly, it’s not as much of a downer.

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