Pros: Brilliantly written and reasoned, especially for a book of this type
Cons: Won't be read by holier-than-thou-art literary people
The Bottom Line: I don't know.
Tom Reynolds certainly has some interesting ideas on what makes a song depressing. The Phil Collins song In the Air Tonight? Actually, I never had a problem with that one and would sooner have chose Another Day in Paradise from the Phil Collins song catalogue. Metallica's classic One, a real thrashing song, is also in I Hate Myself and Want to Die. As I read I Hate Myself and Want to Die, I began to realize that author and music lover Tom Reynolds isn't using the tone or atmosphere of a song so much as he is the lyrics to explain just what makes them depressing. Sure, the music helps, but mainly it's the lyrics. There's even a section of I Hate Myself and Want to Die called I Had No Idea That Song Was So Morbid, which covers the songs which disguise their death-wish lyrics and depressing themes under creepily upbeat music.
Before there was Touch Me, I'm Sick, Tom Reynolds's tribute to the 52 creepiest love songs ever recorded, there was I Hate Myself and Want to Die, a tribute to the 52 most depressing songs ever recorded. Like its younger brother, I Hate Myself and Want to Die features 52 songs broken down and analyzed, telling you just what it is that makes them depressing. Like Touch Me, I'm Sick, the 52 songs create 52 different chapters which are never more than a few pages long. Those chapters are broken up into the chapter introductions and sections on describing the song and why its depressing. At the end is the list of songs from least depressing to most depressing. At 52 is the Dan Fogelberg song Same Old Lang Syne while the Lord of the hill is Christian group Newsong, whose song The Christmas Shoes stands tall as the most depressing ever made.
In between, we get an expansive list which covers a wide variety of artists and songs. The Doors' The End in in this book. Billy Joel's Captain Jack is also in this book. Hootie and the Blowfish's hit Let Her Cry makes the cut. There is a lot of well-known pop fare in I Hate Myself and Want to Die, but some of the lesser-known songs include The Jim Carroll Band's People Who Died, Loretta Lynn's Women's Prison, and Harry Chapin's The Shortest Story. After the chapter on The Shortest Story, I'm glad I never heard the song because it certainly sounds like a downer: A song about a child who dies of malnutrition told from the child's point of view! People Who Died features a number of people who get killed off in the song's running time.
Judging mainly on lyrics, Reynolds writes with great humor, wit, and verbosity on these 52 jugular-cutters. There are many songs in I Hate Myself and Want to Die which sound to people like regular songs, but Reynolds cleverly goes into great detail about lyrics to tell you why you risk suicide listening to them. Let Her Cry was all over the place during the mid-'90's and you wouldn't think it to be a depressing song about drugs. Comfortably Numb, by Pink Floyd, never came off to me personally as anything more than what Reynolds says it could be used for: A substitute for Demerol. The Counting Crows song Round Here is another surprise pick. Barry Manilow's Mandy is in here too, though one could make the argument that all of Manilow's songs are depressing.
There are also some more expected selections among the songs in I Hate Myself and Want to Die. Send in the Clowns is so common and depressing that Reynolds doesn't even bother to specify a single artist in his chapter about it. The Cure and Nine Inch Nails have songs in here, which anyone who is even remotely familiar with music could expect. Janis Ian's At Seventeen is in here too.
I Hate Myself and Want to Die is broken up into sections with a handful of songs under each section, but I don't think it really needed this. Many of the sections are simply so broad that almost any depressing song could fit under it, and others, like the section devoted to teen idol songs about significant high school others buying the farm in car wrecks, are incredibly narrow. The main thing is that unlike creepy love songs (which Touch Me, I'm Sick was devoted to), no one really cares about categories of depressing songs. They only need to know that they're depressing, and so I Hate Myself and Want to Die would have been just as effective had it been arranged in the fashion of the 52 chapters counting down the songs from least depressing to most depressing.
That being said, Reynolds does manage to come up with some unique ways to divide his choices into categories. One section is devoted to love pines about singers who lost their high school girlfriends in car crashes, and specifically that. (Reynolds theorizes that the girl from Teen Angel was actually murdered. It had to do with her telling the school the narrator was a communist after he broke up with her.) Another section is devoted to artists who write songs about drugs, another about horrifying remakes of already depressing songs (Celine Dion's version of All by Myself is here), and songs in which pretentious blather is commonly mistaken for wisdom.
Throughout the book, Reynolds manages to keep us entertained and charmed and rolling on the floor laughing even though the very act of researching it was probably very depressing. Reynolds listened to a lot of depressing music to write this list properly, and he keeps hitting us with a very resilient sense of humor and an awe-inspiring knowledge about music in the technical sense. Reynolds is the kind of music writer who can tell the difference between the slightest note changes. He also takes pains to tell us that there are differences between depressing songs and sad songs, and that neither a depressing nor a sad song will necessarily be a bad song.
I Hate Myself and Want to Die is another funny little airline nugget which makes you forget how much you hate flying. Between this and Touch Me, I'm Sick, we may have seen the arrival of a brilliant new music author. I personally hope Reynolds churns out more books like this, and also gives us some serious and insightful fare. He's got the talent and the knowledge. He's also got a new fan who eagerly awaits his next move.
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