My Depression Top Ten Hits

re-run of previous column for the latecomers. . . 

It has become trendy among the various blogs and websites covering mental illness, to feature lists of songs that people play when depressed or play when they need to rally from depression. Or, in my case, use them in a sort of ‘misery loves company’ kind of way.

I punish myself with some of these songs because I don’t want to forget the pain. Someone asked me once why I cling to pain so much. I replied, because as sick as it may seem to you, I can own my pain and no one can take it away like they can happiness or love. Yes, nurturing it might not be the best idea, but like people who cut their own flesh, it reminds me that I can still feel – I am alive, miserable, but alive.

And finally, when the depression and the meds literally put me in a catatonic state and I know I need an emotional release, I’ll play some of these songs to bring out the feels I need to get out of my system.

I have read several of these lists and I can generally tell the age of the person writing them by the choice of artists that I have never heard of.

So I thought I would do my own and yes, you’ll probably be able to guess my age by these choices, but you’ll probably have me about 10 years younger than my 54, since I liked a lot of music going into this century. So in no particular order, here we go.

Devils and Dust – Bruce Springsteen

Of all of Bruce’s songs, this is the one to me, that speaks to feelings of utter despair. The character in the song is a person who is trying to do the right thing based on his faith, but is overwhelmed by what is happening inside his world and inside his head.

This part particularly resonates in light of being trapped in my job and the effect it has had on me:

Well I’ve got God on my side
And I’m just trying to survive
What if what you do to survive
Kills the things you love

Fear’s a dangerous thing
It can turn your heart black you can trust

But the most powerful part of the song is when the strings rise ominously and everyone who has stared down the barrel of their own gun (figuratively or otherwise) clutching a bottle of whiskey can relate:

I’ve got my finger on the trigger
And tonight faith just ain’t enough
When I look inside my heart
There’s just devils and dust

This is perhaps the only Springsteen song that should come with a trigger warning.

Regret – New Order

This is my favorite song of the ones listed here. It’s a masterpiece of songwriting and arrangement but it is also so painful at times it can take me from merely a down mood into the depths. The lyrics are very personal to me. Despite a lot of arguments over the meaning of the song, as someone with bipolar disorder, one interpretation, about trying to maintain a normal life despite celebrity, can also fit as trying to maintain a normal life despite mental illness. In some cases, being in the vortex of celebrity can seem like fighting a mental illness since the struggle is to maintain some sense of self when everyone and everything wants a piece of you.

For me, at least obliquely, it reminds me of the relationships I screwed up because I couldn’t control the demons in my head.

I was a short fuse
Burning all the time
You were a complete stranger
Now you are mine

For me, ‘now you are mine’ refers to the place in my memory that these people will be forever locked in, frozen in time and place and myself, regretting for what I did to cause it.

The music is particularly brooding. The video adds to the confusion of the listener as it shifts (seemingly) between Rome and LA’s skid row. I have watched this video many, many times and I’m always reminded of some part of my life; images flickering by while holding my head and trying to make sense of it all.

Just wait till tomorrow
I guess that’s what they all say
Just before they fall apart

Is there anyone fighting any mental illness that can’t relate to that?

Under Pressure – Bowie/Mercury

I love, love, love this song. This is one of those songs that are like a soft blanket over a depressed mood although I generally lose it at this point:

Cause love’s such an old-fashioned word
And love dares you to care for
The people on the edge of the night

And love dares you to change our way of
Caring about ourselves
This is our last dance
This is our last dance
This is ourselves
Under pressure

It’s a lyrical fireball demanding empathy and reconnecting to our humanity for all of the suffering and marginalized people in our society. I can think of no other song that makes the case in such a stark and beautiful way.

There’s so much in this song to unpack that I’d rather have people just listen carefully the lyrics and check the flow of the music and get a sense that this song is a both a reassurance that we’re all under pressure in a society that demands conformity, but that there is hope in compassion if we only give it a chance. Love – the emotion that moves mountains, can redeem us and this is a song very much about redemption – and pain.

It’s the terror of knowing
What this world is about
Watching some good friends
Screaming, “Let me out!”

Over on Song Meanings, someone made, what to me is an obvious interpretation:

I think this song is about depression and suicide. It seems to switch back and forth between someone dealing with depression, and a friend watching them deal with it.

Could be. In any case, there’s that wonderful redemptive ending and a sense of hope all in soaring, gripping, cascading crescendos. Bowie and Mercury – the work of genius.

Black Balloon – Goo Goo Dolls

Let’s get the official interpretation out of the way first. From Wikipedia:
The song, according to lead singer Johnny Rzeznik, is based on a woman who is struggling with a heroin addiction and her lover who is desperately trying to save her. He has also said that it is about “seeing someone you love that is so great just screw up so bad.” Speculation as to the exact subject matter of the song has also been attributed to the ex-wife of bassist Robby Takac (who had overdosed on heroin).

You would think this song would be more pertinent now than it was when released in 1999 with heroin killing so many more people today.

This song is one I used for comfort and retrospection, even though it is sad and tragic.

You can easily take Rzeznik’s reasons and turn it personal. For one thing, I have a time and place memory of this song. I was married to my second wife and we were at the Longaberger ‘world’ or whatever it was called, in Ohio, and she had stepped into the restroom and left me looking out from a balcony onto the restaurant below. And this song played over the speakers and was forever seared in my mind connected with a feeling of disconnectedness that I couldn’t put my finger on until later.

Comin’ down the world turned over
And angels fall without you there
And I go on as you get colder
All because I’m
Comin’ down the years turn over
And angels fall without you there
And I’ll go on and I’ll lead you home and
All because I’m
All because I’m
And I’ll become
What you became to me

Love and loss. Tragedy and regret. It’s all here – a memory frozen in time.

One More Hour – Jennifer Warnes (from ‘Ragtime’)

Jennifer Warnes sings it, but Randy Newman composed the tune and the score for the movie ‘Ragtime,’ which is one of my all-time favorites and no, I have never seen the musical.

The song was nominated for an Academy Award.

It is a sad song and I listen to it not only because I am in a sad mood but because it is beautiful and haunting. The lyrics simply refer to a yearning for a sad song as a balm for whatever pain the singer is going through. In that way, it becomes universal for all who suffer:

One more hour
One more day
One more midnight
Fade away
One more sad song
Play for me
One more sad song
Play for me, won’t you play for me?
One more sad song
Play for me
One more sad song
Play for me, won’t you play for me?

For me, the tune lingers long after the song is finished.

Viva La Vida – Coldplay

Simply put – this song personifies the highest point of my professional life and how it all fell apart because of hubris.

For some reason I can’t explain, I torture myself with this song.

In 2003, I was a radio talk show host on an AM station in Central Illinois. It was the fulfilment of a lifelong dream and I was making the most of it. I had literally set the world on fire and brought an inventiveness and edge to radio that the area had never heard before. I was ready to make the next step – a consultant from one of the corporately owned station in Providence RI wanted to set up a meeting.

It was a wicked and wild wind
Blew down the doors to let me in
Shattered windows and the sound of drums
People couldn’t believe what I’d become


When I ruled the world

And then I fucked up and lost it all. In a state of titanic delusional mania, I felt invincible, bulletproof and immune to criticism. By the time it was over, I had pissed off the mayor, the cops, the business community and most importantly, the station’s general manager, whom I had referred to as a “colossal idiot” to my program manager.

I still stand by that, by the way. But for my assholery, I became a dead hero.

One day I was talking to thousands of people and influencing public debate and having the time of my life. The next day, I was an unemployed nobody and blackballed from any other radio job anywhere.

I used to rule the world
Seas would rise when I gave the word
Now in the morning I sleep alone
Sweep the streets I used to own

I had to leave the area to find another job and my second wife eventually followed me. It was the spark that lit the keg that eventually blew up the marriage. It also left a gaping wound in my soul that took years to heal. God only knows how far I could have gone if I had, in the words of my station manager, just “played the game.”

For, seriously, a decade afterwards, I would dream that I was back in the studio running the board and doing my show. These dreams were so vivid and real that I would take a few minutes upon waking to realize it was a dream. The feeling of searing regret and self-hate that would follow is impossible to describe.

How to Save a Life – The Fray (video below)

Is this one too easy? Of all the songs on this list, this is the most poignant. The story of the meaning behind the song, about lead singer Isaac Slade’s inability to save the life of a troubled youth, you can read about on Wikipedia. Read it.

You’ll also see that the band opened a website where they asked people for their own personal interpretation of the song. The thing about How to Save a Life is that it could be the universal anthem for counselors everywhere and anyone with any behavioral illness who tried to reach out and heal someone and failed. It can also be personalized in that it can be interpreted as an affected individual’s experience in futilely reaching out for help.

There were three videos released of this song. The second one is in an episode of Grey’s Anatomy which featured the song (it was also featured on a particularly poignant episode of Scrubs). The song was used in both cases because, well, Christ, it’s powerful and heart-wrenching.

For my purpose, the third one is the most important and included here.

Get a box of Kleenex and watch it. And then THINK of all the people out there, young AND old who are in such pain and need someone to reach out, just once and tell them – you can make it through this and I will be there for you. Start noticing. Pay attention to the people around you. Stop worrying about ‘getting in someone else’s business’ or ‘being professional’ – there’s a life at stake behind the furrowed brow, the frown, the sniffle, the hint of a tear or the eyes – look in their eyes. Eyes can’t hide suffering being the window to the soul.

At the three minute mark of the video, so briefly it might have been intended to be subliminal, are the words I’m not good enough.


Talk to Someone




Let it go

“Are you OK?”

No More “I Love You’s” – Annie Lennox
This is a first marriage breakup song for me, but so much more. Another tear jerker I use to deal with the past that never leaves my head. And it’s another song that can be interpreted in a thousand ways by a thousand people.

The memory of this song that sticks with me is having it play on my car radio when I was pulling into my son’s elementary school to pick him up. I had already committed to leaving the area for a new job and divorce. I looked around and took it all in – the autumn colors, the fresh air, kids running around the school, the flag flying over the Dairy Queen across the street – and started missing this life already.

I read a number of people’s comments in various song meaning sites. I like this one the best from Songfacts:

When this song first came out in ’86 I never really listened to too much of that kind of music. But I have a friend who did and that’s how I knew about it and the band The Lover Speaks. But then when Miss Lennox remade it in ’95 I had just gotten out of the Army and it was around that time also that my marriage was dissolving. I do not know what the original band’s interpretation of the song is. But for me, it was about each other falling out of love with one another. The Demons/Monsters, for me, represent the PTSD/Depression that I was unknowingly dealing with. So this song was one of the ones that really helped me grieve the loss of that relationship. It wasn’t until almost a decade later that I finally got help and diagnosed. I was a Medic in a Combat Support Hospital during the Desert Storm period.

James – Glendive, Mt

I can add nothing to that.

Shriner’s Park – Melissa Etheridge 

So here’s a departure on this list to a deep album track from Your Little Secret. This song brings back a bucketful of memories and makes me reflect on decisions we make in life and, in my case, in another one of my untreated grand episodes of mania, had reverberations that would last decades. This song came out when I was moving to Illinois between marriages one and two. I had bought the cassette in Cleveland and listened to it in my car for months following. I remember the song for the time and place but also identified with the character’s regret of a life that could have been. I destroyed a life and tried to build another one in order not to have those regrets.

I remember sitting in a deserted park in Dwight, Illinois, far, far away from home on a gloomy November day in 1996 listening to this song and wondering what the Hell I had just done.

Did you feel like you were crazy
When they sent you far away
Did no one have the answers
When you hung your head to pray
You could not let yourself dream
Never dare believe
You could ever be more
Than you were born to be

I went looking for other people’s interpretation of the song. In Song Meanings, I found this:

One of ME’s most evocative and heart rending songs which, IMO, believe she wrote for every misfit soul who grew up misunderstood and carried their scars for the rest of their lives. This seems like two people who, as kids, were stuck in a similar situation but, it seems, one survived and one went to prison. But the narrator is in a prison as well. He/she remembers the past, wondering what became of the other. But in a larger sense, I think many people with difficult childhoods can identify with this song. I know I do. I love it, but it’s always like a punch in the gut. An example of songwriting at its finest.

I wrote the above paragraph on April 25, 2009. Stet.


Send in the Clowns – Judy Collins/Frank Sinatra, et al.

This song has turned into a punch line for every joke about overwrought lounge singers and emotional wine drinkers lamenting lost loves.

So what?

If you’re me and, at 54, looking back at the joys and the wreckage of life and trying to make some sense of it all, thinking of what might have been and what is, pour yourself some Scotch and play it. For me, the pain is good for the soul.

Isn’t it bliss? Don’t you approve?
One who keeps tearing around and one who can’t move
But where are the clowns? Send in the clowns

I was the one who kept ‘tearing around.’ And I paid a price for that.

Judy Collins sings the most beautiful and evocative version but Frank Sinatra has a gift of making every song he sings his own. He also has a way of reaching into the hearts of broken souls and downtrodden lovers. It’s why I love his music.

If you are a fan of Stephen Sondheim and have seen A Little Night Music, then you know the story behind the song. And you know Sinatra got it somewhat wrong in his introduction. I don’t care really, because what Frank says goes.

“This is a song about a couple of adult people who have spent, oh, quite a long time together, till one day one of ’em gets restless and decides to leave. Whether it’s the man or woman who left is unimportant. It’s a breakup. It’s a lovely marriage of words and music, written by Stephen Sondheim.”

Yes, a breakup — or several breakups. And, for me, not just breakups of marriages or lovers, but friends and family going back to my high school years. For all of the people who came into my life and disappeared for many different reasons, many of them having to do with me. Many times, I wonder where they are, what they are doing and if they are happy.

And if they forgive me.

Don’t you love a farce? My fault, I fear
I thought that you’d want what I want, sorry my dear
But where are the clowns? Send in the clowns
Don’t bother they’re here

I thought that you’d want what I want.

Christ almighty.

Anyone who has ever been in a relationship with someone who is bipolar must marvel at the self-deception we practice and the assumptions we make of other’s reactions: I want to move to another job in another city – it’ll be good for us; I think I’ll open a bookstore in Canada, no wait, maybe Vermont, maybe back in Ohio – and of course, you’ll come with me; I’m sure the kids will be just fine with you – you can always call me. . .

Isn’t it rich? Isn’t it queer?
Losing my timing this late in my career
But where are the clowns? Send in the clowns
Well, maybe next year

Sondheim intended for ‘clowns’ to represent fools.

I’ll leave it there.


This entry was posted in anxiety, bipolar, getting old, mental health, music, radio, regret, self care, self-harm and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to My Depression Top Ten Hits

  1. Thank you for this magnificent list …and for your wise words of reflection. “Bathing” currently in your blog offerings. You are a fantastically talented writer and keen observer of humanity. New, bonafide fan.

    Liked by 1 person

    • kegbot1 says:

      Thanks very much. These songs mean a lot to me when I need them. I’m glad you’re enjoying the blog. I hope others get something useful out of it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • donnagasquet says:

        All I can say is please..please keep writing…The sharing you provide gives so, so much to others. Your taste and perspective with regards to musical genius/acumen enrich the worlds of your readers. Your voice is crucial…important “beyond” description. Carry on. I am personally engaged and enthralled. So lucky to have found your brilliant blog. I am reading everything. A simple, yet heartfelt thank you.


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