Songs that make you not want to die

Songs that make you not want to die July 8, 2012

When I’m feeling like a sad-bastard I don’t play sad-bastard music. I put on music about overcoming tragedy. I’m not sure if I invented the phrase ‘self-help rock’ or not. It’s not a real genre, but then again, I could probably fill several mix-tapes with it.

This is a list of songs that may even save lives (only half kidding there.)

Self-help rock

EelsI Write the B-Sides 2001

This band basically defines the ‘self-help rock’ concept for me. They snagged three spots on this list, but could have taken up the whole thing.

This was a b-side on an obscure EP, true to form.

JapantherBumpin’ Rap Tapes 2009

My favorite band of all time. This song is a great “I’m okay, you’re okay” art-damaged pop song. The video is hilarious though, and it really makes you not want to die.

They really are an amazing band, and frankly this (great) song isn’t even the cream of their crop. It’s just the most relevant. Check them out, especially if you live in Brooklyn. Their live show is nuts.

Flaming LipsDo You Realize 2002

The Flaming Lips could easily fill a ‘self help rock’ mix tape on their own – though not to quite the extent that Eels could.

This song is my generation’s ‘Wish You Were Here’. It shall be played at many funerals and memorial services. It’s melancholy but it sends a powerful message to the listener, urging you not to squander your chance to tell someone that you love them.

Dead MoonIt’s Okay 1997

Garage rock. Heart on sleeve. Wobble in voice. Well-timed fret noise. I wouldn’t change a thing about this unpolished lofi gem.

Dead Moon’s singers were husband and wife garage rock legends. Members went on to form other great bands too, but this song is probably their peak.

SpiritualizedLadies and Gentlemen We’re Floating in Space 1997

Jason Spaceman writes about three things, love, Jesus, and heroin. This is one of the few songs that transcends his pigeon hole. It’s all chorus, no verse, and it hits hard.

It’s canonical and layered. Every time the harmony comes around, Jason threatens to steer the ship towards melancholy. However, there is an undercurrent of self-improvement “A giant step each day”. It seems to suggest that he’s just starting his path towards sanity / sobriety.

Eyedea and AbilitiesSmile 2009

Self-help hip-hop. DJ Abilities is an amazing turntablist, and his skills are on display here. Eyedea spits out some righteous lyrics, and even ventures into full-on singing. This was a huge change from the battle-rap mindset of their first records.

Tragically, Eyedea died of a heroin overdose shortly after this was filmed.

MC HonkyA Good Day To Be You 2002

Self-proclaimed ‘elderly rapper’ MC Honky released only one album. This fan-made video is hilarious, by the way.

It is widely believed that this is actually an Eels side-project that de-emphasizes serious lyrics.

Silver JewsTennessee 2001

This is the only country song on my ‘self help rock’ list.

The ‘Tennessee’ vs. ‘ten I see’ wordplay is a gamble, but I think it works in a way that’s almost too honest.

Black Moth Super RainbowWhen the Sun Grows on Your Tongue 2007

Imagine drugs. Now add drugs. Press play.

Now that you’re in a good mood, go study for your drug test.

Flaming LipsThe Yeah Yeah Yeah Song 2006

Perhaps this is the catchiest self-help rock song.

Cute video too, seriously love the ending there.

The StranglersGet a Grip (on Yourself) 1977

First wave punkers, The Stranglers were already flirting with synthesizers and keyboards. This anthem straddles the gap between punk and new wave.

The new wave scene rapidly devolved into sad-bastard pop with drum machines and substance-free idiot poetry. I can’t blame the Stranglers for the entire shitty decade of music in the 1980’s. They were embracing the DIY / freedom / anything-goes atmosphere of the ’77 explosion, and they also happened to be talented (admittedly rare and perhaps unnecessary for the punk genre.)

EelsMr. E’s Beautiful Blues 2000

Goddamn right it’s a beautiful day.

Uh huh.

EelsLast Stop This Town 1998

Best song on the list. This quirky video features an unforgettable duet with lead singer, E, and a Carrot-DNA-Spliced-With-E’s-DNA clone of E.


If you’ve listened to all the songs here, your life should now be awesome – like it was back in the day. If not, you can always start at the top and play them all over again.

Suicide Prevention

I’ve lost too many friends and even family members to suicide, and I know that many of my brothers and sisters in the military are struggling. I teach the Army’s token Suicide Prevention class to the soldiers in my section on a quarterly basis. I use some of the standard issue death-by-powerpoint that we’ve all seen countless times. But I always go off script… because I actually give a shit. I’m not just ticking a box.

During my suicide prevention classes, I show my soldiers this photo montage that my father set to the Flaming Lips song – ‘Do You Realize?’ shortly after my cousin Matt shot himself.

I’ve been approached by numerous soldiers after my class that quietly informed me that they were really struggling, and we got them some help. I’ve seen many grown ass men and women cry when I calmly explain how much I wish I had just told him I loved him… or that I’d take ‘alcoholic Matt’ over a ‘dead Matt’. I wish I could have convinced him to join the military, perhaps he’d get the same 180 degree turnaround that I’m living.

I was deployed when I heard that Matt shot himself. Twenty seconds after hearing the news, it hit me hard – sinking in all of a sudden. I just dropped the phone mid-conversation with my supervisor. I grew up with this kid! There are several pictures in that video with me in them, and many more where I’m just off-camera.

Just to be clear, I don’t blame myself at all, or carry any sense of guilt. I tell my soldiers to reach out and let those they love know it. “You might not get another chance.” I’ve shown Matt’s video many times now during my Suicide Prevention sessions. I’m absolutely convinced that Matt’s story and that music video are responsible for at least one person getting help before it was too late.


What songs make you not want to die?

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  • Last Stop: This Town is the best song on one of the best albums made in the last 20 years. From the first notes on Elizabeth on the Bathroom Floor to P.S. You Rock My World, that album makes me alternately want to bawl my eyes out (“Magic markers tattoo you / And show them where to aim”) to leap for joy (“A careful man tries to dodge the bullets / While the happy man takes a walk. / Maybe it’s time to live.”)

    Great list, Justin. Thanks. I’m going to check out the couple I’ve never heard before.

  • Arturos

    I think I’d like to see a sad-bastard music playlist as well.

  • SteveV

    How could you have missed This?

  • John R. Nielsen

    Speaking of suicide prevention, I had a great phone conversation with the author/composer of this spoken word piece, “Suicide”.

    Bobby Gaylor told me he wrote this as a letter to a friend, and taped it to the refrigerator door. Nothing was getting through to the guy until this bit. Gaylor said “First, I wanted to get his attention. Second, I really wanted to piss him off. Then, finally, I wanted to turn it around on him to show him what HE would miss, not who would miss him.”

  • Justin Griffith

    @Arturos #2:

    I think I’d like to see a sad-bastard music playlist as well.

    I kind of did that last night… I did a very short compilation of ‘suicidal greatest hits’. I even had to upload a few of the songs because YouTube didn’t have it. I could probably make several mix-tapes of sad-bastard music like that too, but I honestly prefer the ‘rise above’ spirit on display here.

    I posted this list partly because I thought people might get the wrong idea about me from that last post. (:

  • I discovered this when I was diagnosed with depression. It just kept driving me. I must have had it on repeat for hours. Whenever I feel “down”, this song comes on. 🙂


  • Abby Juarez

    I was not expecting Eyedea, The Flaming Lips, or Black Moth Super Rainbow but that they’re on here is neat!

    These are two of my personal “Living is awesome” songs

    Mr. Blue Sky


  • FedUp(OrJustFed)

    For me it’s mostly non-verbal or incomprehensible music: ‘Chariots of Fire’ soundtrack, sacred choral music (Palestrina in particular), these just make my spirits soar or ease the uncomfortable disquiet.

  • When I’m sad and want to be happy, I usually listen to Weird Al — especially his polkas! — or Tenacious D. When I’m frustrated and overwhelmed and want to be comforted, I listen to Lullaby For A Stormy Night, by Vienna Teng

  • Optimus Primate

    I know it’s trite, but there’ve been times in my life when Queen’s “Keep Yourself Alive” pulled me back from the brink.

    Also, “San Francisco” by Ingrid Michaelson.

  • I really love J.G. Thirlwell, aka Foetus, aka Manorexia, aka Steroid Maximus. Here’s one of his instrumental tracks:

    Also, Raymond Watts aka PIG:

  • clamboy

    Fantastic topic…because I like it? Thanks! Anyway:

    the existence of The Jam

    Propagandhi – ‘Middle Finger Response’ from ‘How to Clean Everything’

    Poison Idea – ‘Just to Get Away’ from ‘Feel the Darkness’ or their cover of ‘Harder They Come’ … or most of their repertoire

    Elvis Presley – ‘Promised Land’

    Subhumans – ‘From the Cradle to the Grave’ from the album of the same name – for the anger; Cr@ss and Conflict always did it, too

    Albums that help: Social Distortion’s ‘Sex, Love, and Rock n’ Roll’ and Flux of Pink Indians’ ‘Uncarved Block’

    Wolves in the Throne Room – ‘I Will Lay Down My Bones Among the Rocks and Stones’ from ‘Two Hunters’ – mainly because I don’t think I could ever tire of this song, and they closed with it the one time I saw them – wow.

    Finally, I have a live recording of Beethoven’s 9th symphony, as performed by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Wilhelm Furtwangler, from the early 1940s. It is amazing. Furtwangler was not a NAZI party member, nor affiliated with those scum. That such an extraordinary rendering of this symphony could be performed, recorded, and kept available to people like me all these years later, gives me a small smidgen of hope.

    I could add so much more to this list. To paraphrase Churchill talking about whiskey, music has given me much more, in terms of my life, than it has ever taken from me, in terms of my money.

  • Steve

    Last November I discovered Celtic Woman, lovely Irish ladies who sing like angels. Yeah, I’m an atheist, but there is no better brief description. Best antidepressant I’ve ever used. Look them up on YouTube.

  • KiwiInOz

    The Chills – Heavenly Pop Hit

  • hotshoe

    Justin –

    There’s another “country” song you need to put on your list:

    Lucinda Williams – Sweet Old World (See what you lost when you left this world…)

    Interestingly, twenty years later Lucinda has written another song about suicide, a rocker called Seeing Black

    But I think if you are trying to persuade someone not to go, or to uplift their spirits enough so they can ask for help, Sweet Old World is probably better.

  • Absolutely you shouldn’t listen to sad music when you’re sad – but somehow it’s tempting. For a lift I like Mike & The Mechanics. My son calls it “mental health rock”.

  • hotshoe

    Huh. What went wrong with my links? They worked (for me) in preview before my reply went into moderation …

    I didn’t want the videos to embed. Lemme try again.

    Sweet Old World

  • Mr.Kosta

    This one always cheers me up when I’m down:

    Gamma Ray – Heaven Can Wait

    Alternatively, this one does the trick as well:

    Korpiklaani – Beer Beer

  • C Rowan

    There isn’t just one song for me. I think my favorites are thumping sexy songs:

    “Fat Bottomed Girls” by Queen

    “P Control” by Prince

    “Do You Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah)” by Joan Jett

    but I also like:

    “Don’t Take Me for Granted” by Social Distortion

    “Fett’s Vette” by MC Chris

    “Nothin but the Whole Wide World” by Jakob Dylan

    Thank you for sharing this list. Great tunes.

  • Vasha

    Can you stand something that’s not rock? If so, “The Mary Ellen Carter”, written by Stan Rogers, sung by either him or Finest Kind.

  • Vasha

    Actually, Finest Kind in general. I was lucky enough to hear them live in a small folk club where they raised the roof and sent everyone home in a state of sheer euphoria.

  • oolon

    I actually find morbid stuff like Joy Division’s Closer good to listen to so I can enjoy feeling down. Although if I want to feel ok then I just watch ‘Life of Brian’ and sing along at the end 🙂

    Life’s a Piece of Shit, When You Look at It

  • The Kinks – Better Things

    Son Volt – Windfall

    Wilco – Heavy Metal Drummer

    dBs – Amplifier

    (This is an odd one, as it’s about suicide, but is such a fun tune, you can’t help but do a butt-dance in your chair.)

    TV on the Radio – Dancing Choose

    Rob Zombie and Alice Cooper – Hands of Death (Burn Baby Burn)

    For the Sad Bastard mix:

    Gus – Let You Drown

  • steve B

    Other Steve: are you sure you’re not me? When I saw this topic, CW was the first group that came to mind. My faves:

    1*: You Raise Me Up

    1: Fields of Gold

    2: Isle of Hope

    3: Mo Ghile Mear

    4: Caledonia

    5: Siuil a Run (either Lisa or Orla’s version)

  • Ethan Hobart

    Streams of Whiskey by The Pogues. Or, really, pretty much any irishy song about alcohol.

  • furtivezoog

    Vasha says:

    July 9, 2012 at 4:25 am

    Can you stand something that’s not rock? If so, “The Mary Ellen Carter”, written by Stan Rogers, sung by either him or Finest Kind.

    I was just going to suggest “The Mary Ellen Carter” by Stan Rogers (I’ll look for the Finest Kind that you mentioned!).

    From the “Mary Ellen Carter”:

    And you, to whom adversity has dealt the final blow

    With smiling bastards lying to you everywhere you go

    Turn to, and put out all your strength of arm and heart and brain

    And like the Mary Ellen Carter, rise again.

    Rise again, rise again – though your heart it be broken

    And life about to end

    No matter what you’ve lost, be it a home, a love, a friend.

    Like the Mary Ellen Carter, rise again.

  • lordshipmayhem

    And nobody has mentioned Twisted Sister’s We’re Not Gonna Take It. The lyrics, the “we” (you’re not alone), the “we’re right, we’ll fight” theme? The music video’s quite funny in a cheesy sort of way, too. Lifts my spirits whenever I hear it, even when I don’t feel down.

  • I’m going to add my voice to the chorus (pun intended) on, “The Mary Ellen Carter” by Stan Rogers. To this day I cannot listen to this song or even read the lyrics without weeping (not the sad-cry, the inspired kind). Powerful stuff, the YouTube video of Rogers singing this just a day or two prior to his death is my absolute favourite version.

    Now, for something to make me smile ’til it hurts, I’d go for:

    “What is Hip?” ~ Tower of Power

    “A Night in Tunisia” ~ Charlie Parker (Dial Recording)

    “Spadina Bus” ~ The Shuffle Demons

    “Hoedown” ~ Aaron Copland (Bela Fleck & The Flecktones vr.)

    And, …pretty much anything by Slim Gaillard.

  • susan e.

    This list has to include “Silver Lining” by Garfunkel and Oates.

  • callistacat

    I prefer listening to depressing music when I’m feeling down. Happy upbeat music makes me want to punch someone when I’m in that state. I think it helps get it out of my system, wallowing in misery for a while until I get sick of it.

    I have a friend who committed suicide 4 years ago, and she and I used to make some great CD mixes of ‘sad bastard’ music when she was alive, usually after few beers. ‘Reach For My Revolver’ was on a couple of them. When I First Came To Town by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds is one of the best ones, that song just kills me.

    But ones that make me happy I’m alive…

    Thirteen by Big Star

    Hang Down From Heaven by Juliana Hatfield

    Whoever You Are by Brian Jonestown Massacre

    One Line by PJ Harvey

    Second Skin by The Chameleons

    In Your Constellation by Maria McKee

    November Nights by Gram Parsons

    Anything by The Wipers/Greg Sage (not a song called “Anything”, I mean anything they’ve ever recorded 🙂

    Sweetness And Light by Lush

    Hypnotized by Spacemen 3

    Heroes by David Bowie

    Nirvana by The Blake Babies

    There Is A Light That Never Goes Out by The Smiths

    Simplicity Is Beautiful by Juliana Hatfield

  • Steve

    Steve B: My favorite single song is “The World Falls Away”, but my favorite production is “Teir Abhaile Riu” from the PBS “Believe” special. One of my fantasies is being the chorus guy between Lisa Kelly and Lisa Lambe in that carousel maneuver (all of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, go to YouTube and watch it). Any Lisa Kelly solo can make me want to just curl up and purr, and watching Mairead Nesbitt dance with her violin can improve my whole day. Someday, I will see them live, even if I have to sell some body parts. Could I get a front-row seat for an arm and a leg?

    After this, I will post as Steve R.