#52: Radiohead – ‘Fitter Happier’ (1997)


Fittingly, for an album which offers up such a relentlessly bleak and dystopian view of life in a busy, digital age – the beating heart of 1997’s ‘OK Computer’ album is a song voiced in a monotone drone by a Macintosh SimpleText program.

Basically a laundry list of self-help slogans, ‘Fitter Happier’ bleats out catch-calls for a better, more comfortable life; “the most upsetting thing I’ve ever written”, as Thom Yorke cheerily calls it. The song was briefly intended as the album’s opening track, but this was deemed too off-putting at the time – seemingly the last time Radiohead ever considered public sentiment or commercial viability when making decisions.

Talking to Caitlin Moran in Select magazine, Yorke recalls that he created the song in ten minutes after a long spell of writer’s block, while the rest of the band were “rockin” downstairs. “I was feeling incredible hysteria and panic, and it was so liberating to give the lyrics to this neutral-sounding computer.”

This neutrality makes for an extremely hostile-sounding song, a stream of advice bleated by a machine that knows not what it suggests. In 2016 – as we are bombarded by advertisements specifically targeted at us based on our online reading and shopping habits, Google search terms, age, marital status and sexual preferences; hell, even by ‘keywords’ in our supposedly private email missives – there is something oddly comforting about ‘Fitter Happier’s scattershot approach and lack of consistent messaging. The clunky wording of resolutions such as “Getting on better with your associate employee contemporaries” and “will frequently check credit at moral bank, hole in wall” are as intrusive as Viagra pop-up ads on the Facebook walls of teenage girls, while “no killing moths or putting boiling water on the ants” is charming in its lack of real ambition. Even the computer voice is charmingly retro – a frightening and possibly ironic side effect of the march of technology inbuilt into this album’s messaging10110010100</endtheory>

This song acts as both a sarcastic, and a very real guide to better living, and – like most similar guides – it is inflexible, unconcerned with inherent human foibles, and completely untenable. Like the line “concerned, but powerless”, any attempt to use this as a checklist will no doubt result in an intense overwhelming panic.

This is the point of the song, and the album: the perfect life you are being sold is merely an illusion, and one that will keep you anxious, unhappy, and empty. You will have no inner purpose, no free will, and no real gauge of yourself or your progress. “A pig in a cage, on antibiotics.”

@200sadsongs | @keirenjolly | @nathanjolly

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#51: The Mountain Goats – ‘Dance Music’ (2005)

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John Darnielle had a rocky home-life growing up, due to a violent stepfather. As is so sadly common with abuse victims, he turned to hard drugs to numb his own fear and rage, shooting heroin and crystal meth in his teenage years, a period he covers unflinchingly on the 2004 album ‘We Shall Be Healed’, and again briefly here in ‘Dance Music’, from the following year’s ‘The Sunset Tree’.

Darnielle  – the core member of The Mountain Goats – started writing ‘The Sunset Tree’ a few months after his stepfather died, and it became an autobiographical record of an unhappy childhood. ‘Dance Music’ was one of the earliest songs he wrote, the lyrics coming while parked in a van in Paris, with the misleadingly jaunty music completed quickly five days later on the floor of John Peel’s studio before a session.

During an interview with Darnielle in 2013, Marc Maron referred to this song as “the doorway to it all”, and fittingly it opens with Darnielle in his childhood home in San Luis Obispo, “five years old or six, maybe.” He vividly paints the domestic unrest: the Watergate hearings buzzing from the television, a yelling match which sharply turns violent, and the scared dash upstairs to bury himself in music. It’s a hard story to listen to.

Verse two finds Darnielle now 17, in love and on hard drugs, watching his girlfriend spiral as “the special secret sickness starts to eat through you.” He follows her down the same alleyways before reason helps him pull out of this cycle. “There’s only one place this road ever ends up, and I don’t want to die alone”, he wails. The comfort of dance music remains his only constant throughout the horrible times, even soundtracking his arrest. The song ends as “the police come and get me”, the music skipping off into the sunset, Darnielle in handcuffs, his stepfather no doubt feeling safe somewhere.

“I wasn’t even ready for it, it wasn’t something I tried to do”, Darnielle told Maron of this flood of deeply personal songs, a cathartic reaction to his stepfather’s death. “It’s wonderful when your abuser dies”, he says at one point, by way of explanation, and Maron being the fiercely personal interviewer he is, asks one final question before changing the subject.

“So, do you forgive him?”

The answer is darkly comforting. “No. Which I hate about myself, but I don’t.”

@200sadsongs | @keirenjolly | @nathanjolly

#50: Nico – ‘These Days’ (1967)

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In 1967, Nico had one of the most impressive calendar years in recorded music history. In March she made up the “and Nico” portion of the seminal-yet-nobody-bought-it album ‘The Velvet Underground and Nico’, which went on to influence a large bulk of recorded music since. A mere six months later saw the release of her solo record ‘Chelsea Girl’. Both are crucial cultural artifacts, but more than that, they are both fantastic records.

They are also sister albums, sharing the same producer, and personnel: aside from writing five of the ten tunes on ‘Chelsea Girl’, the Velvets (well, Sterling Morrison, Lou Reed and John Cale) performed the bulk of the instrumentation. Being both an influential Warhol superstar, and a drop-dead beautiful German babe, Nico was able to attract the era’s finest counter cultural songwriters to contribute material to her debut album, such as Bob Dylan, Tim Hardin, and Jackson Browne – who wrote the beautiful, fragile ‘These Days’.

Now, you’d be forgiven if Nico’s blunt German tones didn’t immediately signal ‘fragility’ to you, yet her glassy coolness – which rubs awkwardly even in stone cold Velvets classics such as ‘I’ll Be Your Mirror’ – is recast here as numb acceptance. She sounds removed, and she sounds tired. Her voice is the aural equivalent to a thousand-yard gaze; she’s seen some shit, and it wore her down.

The whole song is drenched with regret: “These days I seem to think a lot, about the things that I forgot to do”; I had a lover. I don’t think I’d risk another these days.” Astoundingly, Jackson Browne wrote this song when he was only sixteen. C’mon, now! The depth of remorse he manages is amazing, and only unwittingly funny when you let it be.

“Please don’t confront me with my failures – I had not forgotten them” is so devastating, even when you know Browne’s defeats at this age would have mostly been tennis-related. Still, you don’t have to live through pain to be able to access it. (I’m sure neither Bryan Cranston nor Vince Gilligan have killed anyone.) “It’s just that I’ve been losing so long” is the type of line that a teenage Jackson Browne could have written, sure, but it is doubtful that he would have been able to do justice to it vocally – it required a more world-weary touch, and Nico delivered. Jackson Browne has since recorded his own various versions of the song, but none of them touch Nico’s original take.

@200sadsongs | @keirenjolly | @nathanjolly

#49: Roy Orbison – ‘Crying’ (1961)

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If anyone deserved to cry, it was Roy Orbison. His early success bought him a house, and then his wife Claudette cheated on him with the contractor who was building it, leading to their divorce. His success also allowed him to indulge his passion for motorcycles, until he crashed and broke his foot at a race track. Claudette visited him while he was recuperating and the pair reconciled – until she was killed in a motorcycle accident the following year. Two years later, while on tour, Orbison received news his house had burned down, killing his two sons. Decades of lucklustre output followed until his popularity peaked unexpectedly in the late ’80s – close to thirty years after his initial success. In 1988, Orbison died suddenly, mid-album promotion. He was only 52.

So it’s no wonder Orbison’s music has always carried with it that heavy air of heartache, even the songs recorded before the aforementioned string of tragedies hit. ‘Crying’ is one such tune, recorded in 1961 just as Roy was beginning to write and arrange songs that took advantage of his immensely powerful voice. With such an outstanding, octave-leaping instrument at his disposal, The Big O (a nickname given to him by an unknown Australian radio DJ, due to his penchant for big notes) begun anchoring songs around an eventual vocal pay off. ‘Crying’ begins small, with Orbison’s voice rumbling and measured. “I was all right for a while, I could smile for a while”, he tries to convince us, before admitting all it takes for his veneer to crack is the touch of her hand. Before long he is crying, then soaring, and then all is quiet again. It was a formula that he repeated over and over again, but it never seemed formulaic – just inevitable.

Orbison came across as a mysterious, stoic figure on stage, too: dressed in funeral black, hiding most of his face behind dark shades, and remaining rooted to one spot throughout his performance – it was as if he was aware his voice was all the spectacle he needed. And it was. However, it was a mixture of dumb luck (he left his specs on a plane once and was forced to wear prescription sunnies on stage one evening so he could see) and stage fright so crippling that throughout the ’60s it was all he could do to control his shaky vibrato; plus it was hardly the style of music that lends itself to flailing around a stage, or (gasp) dance moves. It all made for an overriding sense of sadness that is still palpable in his music today, that dark drama that has influenced everything from the films of David Lynch to the hazy dream-pop of groups like Cocteau Twins.

Let’s leave things with a Bob Dylan quote. Dylan teamed up with Orbison in the late ’80s for the Traveling Wilburys project, two albums of mixed quality where Orbison’s pure tones are especially pronounced amongst the slurring gravel of Bob Dylan, George Harrison and Tom Petty. Anyway, Bobby said – and you have to imagine this in his voice: “With him, it was all about fat and blood. He sounded like he was singing from an Olympian mountaintop. He sang like a professional criminal. His voice could jar a corpse, always leave you muttering to yourself something like, ‘Man, I don’t believe it.'”

@200sadsongs | @keirenjolly | @nathanjolly

#48: The Brian Jonestown Massacre – ‘The Devil May Care (Mom & Dad Don’t)’ (1997)


“It’s sad, isn’t it?” Anton Newcombe asks, or rather tells (Anton doesn’t ask) an onlooker as this song echoes out of the studio speakers. This moment is captured in ‘Dig’ – one of the greatest music documentaries ever. The film is many things, but it’s mostly an unflinching portrait of the Brian Jonestown Massacre’s troubled frontman Anton Newcombe, who often conflated being an arsehole with protecting his artistic purity. His laser focus and lack of governance results in a sprawling discography, but also sees the band’s lineup constantly in flux, Anton’s personal relationships crumble, and record deals sabotaged before they are signed. For those unaware of the band and their legacy, the film is amazing, but you can just avoid it and start with the first album, and continue chronologically. The BJM catalogue is like a bizarro history of popular music since the ’60s, but with all the shit parts taken out.

This particular song is – as Anton pointed out – one of the most moving in the catalogue, lurching into view slowly before settling into a solemn death march, anchored by an acoustic guitar,  and an ominous vocal drone. BJM are known for hammering out complete albums in the time it takes most bands to get a decent snare sound, however nothing about this song seems hurried; two verses stretching lazily over six minutes.

The title may be ‘The Devil May Care (Mom and Dad Don’t)’ however the fault for the relationship breakdown seems to be squarely Anton’s, as he tells it. Spending his youth with two sisters and a middle-class Mom on Newport Beach, Anton was hardly raised on the mean streets, however he still managed to be somewhat of a juvenile delinquent. His mother eventually got tired of picking him up from jail, and one day refused – thinking it would straighten him out. As she notes in the film, it didn’t. “Say goodbye to mom and dad, the two best friends I never had”, the song opens, but there is no blame, only affection. “Give them all my love so much, I promise that I’ll stay in touch”, he says, but there are caveats. “If I know where I am going, so will you.” He needs to disappear for a while in order to find his path. He is also aware there will be times where he isn’t searching, but merely existing, his current location unimportant. But, ya know, he’ll call if he can. 

Verse two seems to be less about his uneasy relationship with his parents, and more about the general restlessness that comes with being a wanderer. Overthinking complicates his dreams, “It’s keeping me from knowing what to do.” 

If the final lines are indeed about his parents, it suggests that his hang ups from the past stop him from both recognising similar traits in himself, and knowing his parents in a fuller context, where they are no longer parents, but mere humans. “Got to go, I’m losing touch”, he sings. “I think about you way too much, it’s keeping me from knowing me or you.”

A tragic footnote. Anton Newcombe’s dad wasn’t the parental ideal  – he was an alcoholic absentee who was later diagnosed with schizophrenia. Less than a year after this song about their fractured relationship was released, Newcombe’s father jumped off a cliff and killed himself – on Anton’s 31st birthday.

@200sadsongs | @keirenjolly | @nathanjolly

#47: The Beach Boys: ‘Let The Wind Blow’ (1967)

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‘Pet Sounds’ is obviously one of the most brilliant, beautiful albums ever recorded, despite containing two instrumentals and a sea shanty, but it was only after ‘Pet Sounds’ saw them completely “fuck with the formula” – as Mike Love disparagingly put it at the time – that the band truly got interesting. Between ’67 to ’73, The Beach Boys had an epic run of eight albums, plus a number of hit singles, and they did so mostly without resident genius Brian Wilson, who spent years holed up in bed addled by drugs and mental illness – often while the band dutifully worked downstairs in his home studio.

Everyone stepped up to fill this notable gap – Carl, Bruce, Al, even fucking Mike – all delivering some undeniable classics during this period. Brian was involved sparingly, but some of his finest material comes during this time-frame too, despite his obvious issues. The mash of different songwriters and producers, a steady flow of experimentation, earnest ballads, misplaced excursions in ‘groovy’ subject matter (Mike ended the ‘Friends’ album with a song called ‘Transcendental Meditation’ which is a blasting aural assault in fierce contrast to the tranquil quality of the rest of the album – more proof Mike will never get it), surf throwbacks, pastoral hymns, and whatever else they wanted to do – well, it all makes for an amazing, varied run of innovative records that recasts the entire band’s legacy.

Well, it would have recast it, had the band not have followed these albums by immediately joining the oldies nostalgic touring circuit and doubling down on the apple-pie surfer-boy reputation they had almost shaken. Then again, when you call your band ‘The Beach Boys’, you are dead before the ship sinks.

‘Let The Wind Blow’ is a Brian classic unfairly buried in their catalogue, sitting at track nine on 1967’s ‘Wild Honey’; an album that contains some of the Beach Boys’ finest songs (‘Wild Honey’, ‘I Was Made To Love Her’ and ‘Darlin’ come to mind) but suffers from being tossed together in such a haphazard sequence that you can feel the lack of love shining through the stained glass window on the cover (I think it’s a stained glass window).

A simple, aching tune, ‘Let The Wind Blow’ possesses a spooky beauty often found in Brian’s most intimate, broken compositions. Here, he is struck by the simple march of time, the impermanence of everything, the elemental beauty of nature. It’s all quite nice until he realises if everything can and does change, then so might his lover’s place in his life. So he begins praying for everything to simply be. “Don’t take her out of my life”, he barks, soon needing assurance. “Let me please know she’ll be a part of my life forever.” Of course she won’t – she can’t.

Knowing about Brian’s mental state around this period (this was just after the SMiLE sessions, which he shut down after fearing a song about fire was actually responsible for fires which were breaking out around L.A. at the time) adds a extra layer of fragility to this song, but you don’t really need to know the story – it’s all captured on the tape.

@200sadsongs | @keirenjolly | @nathanjolly

#46: Death Cab For Cutie – ‘The New Year’ (2003)

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New Year’s Eve is traditionally one of the worst nights of the year. The outrageous expectations of a capitalised Epic Night Out are enough to disappoint, but then there is the strike of the clock hitting midnight and those larger expectations: that this will be the year you finally get your shit together. You will join that gym, start that course, quit that job, eat more vegetables, love harder, fall less, try more, cigarettes, carbs, chocolate, chickens kept in cages. Of course, this all falls away bit by bit, as ‘never again’ becomes ‘just this once’ then ‘less than before’ and ‘hey, it’s hard to be a human’. The reason is obvious: you are still the same person on January 1 as you were on December 31, no matter what the ‘Peanuts’ calendar says.

It is appropriate that the opening track of what would become Death Cab For Cutie’s breakthrough album finds Ben Gibbard mere seconds into the new year, sadly realising that nothing has changed, nor is it likely to. “So this is the new year”, he singsongs, after a crash of guitars and firework drums triumphantly open the song. “And I don’t feel any different.” There is crystal clanging, firecrackers on the front lawn, but nothing here feels much like a celebration.

Gibbard is a vivid songwriter who – uncommonly in the world of popular song – always writes in complete sentences (It’s distracting when you first notice, but you get over this quickly.) “So everybody put your best suit or dress on. Let’s make believe that we are wealthy for just this once” he claps, sick of the artifice. He has no resolutions, and the fact he is mentioning this at all suggests he knows he is meant to. “I wish the world was flat like the old days” is a hilarious line, very ‘Seth Cohen’ (we’ll get to him, don’t worry), but the sting in the tail is that this old-worldy artifice would allow him to travel “just by folding a map.” He is missing someone. “No more airplanes, or speed trains, or freeways”, he daydreams. “There’d be no distance that could hold us back.”

It’s sardonic but big-hearted, much like a lot of the band’s music, and much like Seth Cohen – the fictional Californian outcast on ‘The O.C.’ whose love of the band saw Death Cab go from a respectable level of independent success to international stardom then back to somewhere nicely in-between.

‘The O.C.’ was a remarkable phenomenon that was crippled by its own success: as the show caught fire, the demands of keeping up saw the writing staff burn through story line after story line, while struggling to stay grounded by the same meta-wit that hooked those who would never admit to being in love with a soap opera. By season three they had jumped the shark, by season four they had been cancelled, and now, some years later, all the hype surrounding it seems like a fever dream only half-remembered.

Which is to say, both the show and this song feels like components of the same time capsule: pre-social media, post-mp3, back when bands that sound like Death Cab could score a Gold record, and a network soap opera could be on the cutting edge of things – even if it was just a self-aware 90210.

‘Transatlanticism’ sold over half a million records, and – coupled with the success of side-project The Postal Service – made Ben Gibbard’s life very different, although whether he “felt” any different is for him to say. Since then Death Cab signed to a major label, Gibbard married and divorced Zooey Deschanel, quit drinking and took up distance running, and moved to California (here we come) soon leaving for the more appropriate gloom of Portland. I hope he feels different – in a good way – even if it means his music feels different as a result.

It doesn’t matter, this is a song for the ages, no matter how tied to a particular time (and county) it may be.

@200sadsongs | @keirenjolly | @nathanjolly

#45: David Bowie – ‘Letter To Hermione’ (1969)


David Bowie met his first love, the magnificently-named Hermione Farthingale on the set of a BBC drama in 1968. They quickly fell in love, bunkered down in a tiny London flat, wrote music together, tested different band formations including a three-piece folk outfit – and then in 1969 she broke his heart by following her career to Norway instead of flanking his. In doing so,  she inspired his most heartfelt creation, one of a rare few Bowie songs that suggests there is a real, raw beating heart underneath his alien exterior.

Bowie was a chameleon, which is an amazing attribute when steering a pop music career through six disparate decades, but one that relies on a trade-off of emotion. When you build a public persona as an untouchable, pan-sexual extra terrestrial who subsists on cocaine and milk alone, it’s hard for some to relate. We don’t look for vulnerability in Bowie’s music, because we assume it isn’t there to be found. He is untouchable. He isn’t even one of us – ‘us’ being flawed, flesh-and-bacteria humans who were born, and cried and loved and feared. Bowie was beamed down to provide light and art and to expect him to argue with his girlfriend about being more ‘available’ or something seems absurd. Even alien lifeforms can be left lonely, however, and ‘Letter To Hermione’ was the closest Bowie ever got to letting us see this.

It’s weird to see Bowie this emotionally lost. “I’m not quite sure what I’m supposed to do” he sings, “So I’ll just write some love for you.” He tortures himselfwith unsubstantiated  reports of her flourishing new life. “They say you sparkle like a different girl”, he sighs, with the knowledge that she may actually be better off without him. Still, he wonders. “Something tells me that you hide, when all the world is warm and tired, you cry a little in the dark.” Maybe. Maybe not. The point is, he doesn’t know. There’s another guy, too, as there often is, and Bowie tortures himself with vivid imaginings of their perfect Bowie-less life together:  he makes her laugh, he treats her well. “And when he’s strong, he’s strong for you, and when you kiss, it’s something new.” But, again, just maybe‚Ķ “Did you ever call my name, just by mistake?” he asks, and it’s pathetic – one term you couldn’t level at Bowie ever again. This experience may have hardened him permanently – which makes me all the more thankful this song slipped out before he slammed the vault closed, for good.

In the end, Hermione’s departure did Bowie a massive favour, although it probably didn’t seem like it at the time. She popped up in other songs, too. “You fall in love, you write a love song. This is a love song”, he said on stage in 1990 before announcing ‘Life On Mars’, which takes half a verse to step out his relationship with “the girl with the mousy hair.” He details their bedsit love affair in more detail in ‘An Occasional Dream’, but as the title suggests, this song is more measured, more distant – a wisp of past emotion rather than the raw emotion showcased in ‘Letter To Hermione’. They both sit on the same album, but one seems in the midst of the heartbreak, the other is almost journalistic. He paints in more detail, but the colours are less vivid.

He never completely moved past this early heartbreak. In the 2013 video for his single ‘Where Are We Now’ he sports a shirt with ‘Song Of Norway’ written across it – the title of the film that stole Hermione from him back in 1969.

As for Hermione, she is now a 66-year-old Pilates teacher, living in Bristol. The Daily Mail tracked her down a few days after Bowie’s passing (because respect for timely grief is overrated) and she seems like a class act, saying: “I’ve nothing bad to say about my time with Bowie. There are too many girlfriends coming out of the woodwork claiming a little bit of the limelight. I think this is a time for close family.”

Even at 21, it would appear David Bowie had impeccable taste.

@200sadsongs | @keirenjolly | @nathanjolly

#44: Everclear – ‘Heroin Girl’ (1995)

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Of all the drugs, heroin has had the biggest impact on the musical world. Miles Davis helped shape the sound of jazz while hooked on the stuff, James Taylor’s mellow gold was spun despite an addiction which stretched decades, while Seattle’s Space Needle now stands as an iconic, ironic reminder of the damage the drug did to the city in the late ’80s and early ’90s. John Lennon dabbled during the dying days of The Beatles, Slash recorded classic albums with a needle never far from his arm, while Kurt Cobain self-medicated, first as an escape from debilitating stomach pains (which is like trying to heal a paper cut by chopping off the chunk of skin around it), then as an escape from everything else.

The drug’s track marks can be seen throughout numerous genres; its effects both celebrated and mourned. Lou Reed felt like Jesus’ son while on the stuff, while Lennon sweated and screamed his way free of its grip in ‘Cold Turkey’. ‘There She Goes’ is a sun-soaked, coded ode to heroin, equating it to the rush of early love – a beautiful young mitress who elicits pure bliss. John Prine sings of the “hole in Daddy’s arm where all the money goes”, and Trent Reznor zooms in on “the old familiar sting” of the needle piercing his skin. ‘Beetlebum’ makes it seem ethereal and drowsy; ‘Golden Brown’ makes it sound dainty and antiquated. Alice in Chains makes it sound hollow and creepy; Elliott Smith makes it sound beautiful and lonely. “Every junkie’s like a setting sun”, Neil Young warned in 1971 after seeing two of his close friends succumb to the drug, while in ‘Under The Bridge’ – the only RHCP song not about either California or having sex in California – Kiedis threw his life away on the drug (under said bridge). It was written as an ode to Hillel Slovak, who was the band’s guitarist until he OD’d and was replaced by John Frusciante – another addict.

Keith Richards, Evan Dando, Brian Wilson, and Courtney Love have outlived addictions; Sid Vicious, Kristen Pfaff, Layne Staley, and countless others did not. Art Alexisis from Everclear falls into the former list, his girlfriend Esther into the latter. It’s an arbitrary list, because it’s arbitrary who ODs and who doesn’t. Heroin doesn’t care about your plans to kick for good after this shot, or about how much your body can usually tolerate, or whether or not you are a talented guitarist. You can be nice to people and overdose. You can be terrible to people and live. Your entire essence means nothing at all, and as “all the dead bodies pile up in mounds”, as Lou Reed bluntly paints it, you can become nothing but a statistic.

Art Alexisis’s girlfriend in ‘Heroin Girl’ was a statistic. During the first half of the song she was a girl: two pierced nipples, black tattoo, lover of Mexican food. She appears to be the most stable out of the pair, both heroin-addled, sure, but she was the one caring for him and his disease. They were the typical young couple cocooned and sheltered from those “talking in the real world” by their love, their drugs and their happy little hell.

Halfway through the song, Esther became a statistic.

“They found her out in the fields
About a mile from home
Her face was warm from the sun
But her body was cold”

This news crashes in from nowhere, like all the worst news tends to. The most brutal lyrics of the song follow: “I heard a policeman say, ‘just another overdose’. Just another overdose”, he repeats angrily, unable to believe his ears. Sadly, this line is based in reality: his mother overheard a policeman make this comment when she was identifying the body of Art’s older brother – her son – who had just died of a heroin overdose. It’s heartless, but it’s also the numb way most would respond in a world where finding dead overdose victims is so commonplace that the words “just” and “another” come into play.

Esther was wild and nurturing; she drank Mexican beer; she was the entire universe to someone. To someone else though, she was just another overdose.

@200sadsongs | @keirenjolly | @nathanjolly

#43: Joshua Kadison – ‘Jessie’ (1993)


“From a phone booth in Vegas, Jessie calls at 5am, to tell me how she’s tired of all of them.” Considering that Vegas isn’t exact an early morning kale-shake power-walk type of city, I think it’s fair to say that Joshua Kadison got drunk dialled by an ex. And not just any ex, either – this song is reportedly (in other words: it is) about Sarah Jessica Parker, who dated Kadison sometime in the blurry pre-Carrie, post-Flight Of The Navigator period of her career.

Wistful and windswept, ‘Jessie’ is a remarkably poignant piece of songwriting: perennially uncool, defiantly romantic, and the musical offspring of Billy Joel and Elton John.

Let’s say, for libel’s sake, that this is a fictionalised piece of work. And what a piece of work, she is, too (BAM!) calling poor Joshua at 5am and spinning him some fairytale fiction about the happily-ever-after they always daydreamed about and never quite got right. She’s tired of chasing something else, someone else, chasing whatever lifestyle led her to Vegas. Of course, it’s unfair to make a value judgement regarding such a commonplace reaction: pinning hope where there is none; taking comfort in both the past and the future when the present seems so chaotic and unformed. Everybody has blurry far-off dreams, and clinging to these dreams during low points is vital. It’s one of their main functions, to keep us plodding forward – if only in our minds. So give poor SJP Jessie a break!

Jessie and Joshua share an ideal future together, but have different ideas of the present. Joshua allows himself to be pulled back into the romance each time, and each time he believes, and gets swept away in it because he just doesn’t want to give up on this big, messy, love story. Which is totally fine. As long as they both allow themselves to believe in the trailer by the sea in Mexico with Moses the cat, and tequila, and seashells and all those things that exist primarily on holidays or on mementos of holidays – it’s a possibility. “Who knows,” he sings at the end of the bridge, “Maybe this time, things will turn out just the way we planned?”

It’s a nice thought. And when you are in love with a person and a plan – or either one – ‘maybe’ is more than enough.

@200sadsongs | @keirenjolly | @nathanjolly