A by no means complete list of emotionally devastating lyrics

Musicians are of that breed of individual that wear their emotions on their sleeve. They seem to feel them more intensely than others, or are at least worse at hiding their emotions than everyone else. So many musicians, that didn’t die from a drug overdose (which might be a reaction to feeling emotions in itself), chose to kill themselves after a life of writing desperately painful, heartfelt songs and honest lyrics. Mark Linkous shot himself in the heart, Nick Drake overdosed on his anti-depressants after several years of insomnia and depression, and Elliott Smith possibly stabbed himself in the heart.

Words can be powerful enough, but, combined with music, some artists can really pull a listener in and make them actually feel how they truly feel. It is the purpose of art to make others feel and this collection of lyrics certainly could make even the coldest heart empathetic.

Andrew Bird, “Armchairs” from the album “Armchair Apocrypha”
“You didn’t write, you didn’t call. It didn’t cross your mind at all.”
The despair in this lyric is pretty intense. It conjures images of waiting by the phone, hoping that the one person that you love will just contact you and let you know that they feel the same. The call never comes, your heart sinks in the realization of your unrequited love. The time comes where you have to slowly let all of those built up feelings go, as they were misguided in the first place.

This longing is only heightened by Bird’s arrangement at this point in the song. Considering that it is over 7 minutes long it is really a daring bit of songwriting and arranging. He manages to, just before this point in the song, strip away nearly everything until only his voice remains, whispering into your ear. As soon as the line in question is sun everything comes back after a brief and dramatic build. The solitary upper pedal tone produced by the violin highlights the deep emotional torment plaguing the narrator of the song. Very powerful.


Titus Andronicus, “No Future Part 3: Escape from No Future”, from the album “The Monitor”
“I used to look myself in the mirror at the end of every day, but I took the one thing that made me beautiful and I threw it away.”
This line pretty much speaks for itself. Taken from the perspective of someone who has, apparently, fucked up their life beyond repair, or at least beyond what they think is reparable. There is so much regret that he can’t even stand to face himself anymore. The absolute bottom has been reached, and what is worse is that he knows that things used to be better but is unsure as to whether or not things will return to the way that they once were.

Musically this song is set in 3 general sections. This line appears at the beginning of the 2nd of those sections. Patrick Stickles growls and spits these words out with ruthless efficiency. He knows the pain he feels, and angrily shouts it out through clenched teeth. In an album that is full of emotionally devastating and honest lyrics this one stands out to me as one of the most affecting.


Hurricane Bells, “This Year” from the album “Tonight is the Ghost”
“You can always walk away if you see me comin’. I don’t think about you, I don’t think about you.”
It’s hard to accurately picture this lyric or portray it outside of the context of the song, which moves ably from optimism to pessimism from line to line. There is a sense that two people need to be apart, but no reason is given as to why. Perhaps neither of them completely understands why they need to be apart. It is clear, however, that the narrator is trying to be strong about it, knowing that he is going to go on doing what he needs to do and if that other person happens to come across him then it is up to them to turn around if they don’t want to or can’t deal with the sight of him. Meanwhile he tries to convince himself that he doesn’t think about her. His repeating this immediately, like a mantra is telling of the fact that he really isn’t strong enough to deal with the situation.


The Burning Hell, “It Happens in Florida”, from the album “Tick-Tock”
“Love, it’s like a hurricane. It happens in Florida. It destroys everything.”
The Burning Hell are full of tongue in cheek, self-deprecating lyrics. This one hits close to the heart though. There is a sincerity in this song that seems to want to let the listener know that they are serious this time.

This line is the final lyric of the song that is one continuous build. It is preceded by other lines that are borderline absurd, but after hearing these words the simple chord progression continues, unchanged for 2 more minutes allowing the listener to ponder the gravity of some of those lyrics that they may have previously considered silly. I have already talked about this one in detail here.


Tom Waits, “Georgia Lee” from the album “Mule Variations”
“Be sure to find me. I want you to find me and we’ll play all over, we will play all over again”
Tom Waits is a true artist and prolific songwriter. The grit in his voice lends an emotional power that few are able to muster. The fact that this song is simply his voice and piano with double bass also adds to the desperate loneliness of the subject matter. Abandonment, from family and even from God. There is no way to write a more heart wrenching song. The line here is the definition of devastating, longing for the past that will never return. “Be sure to find me, I want you to find me” speaks of our desire to be wanted and loved by others, but this song doesn’t find any silver lining. Sometimes you will be forgotten. It isn’t ones right to be loved, it can only be a hope and dream and sometimes dreams go unfulfilled. Sometimes there isn’t a silver lining, sometimes there is no salvation for people. Tom Waits is honest enough, and artist enough to speak this truth and I can’t imagine a soul on this Earth not being deeply touched by the setting of this lyric.