40 Days: Songs and Suicide

Maybe the new year isn’t the best time to breach the topic of suicide. Then again if Robin Williams’s tragic death taught us something it’s that we need to start talking about this difficult topic regardless of seasonal pulses and expectations. In that regards music, especially American music, has taken us inside this ‘taboo’ subject for generations in ways that are personal, philosophical and ultimately necessary: Leadbelly in the folk standard ‘Goodnight, Irene‘ (1933) famously sung “sometimes I take a great notion to jump in the river and drown.” Pianist legend Bill Evans’s ‘slow motion death’ precipitated by his own brother’s suicide is embodied in his intensely expressionistic, melancholy playing, especially in his last trio album ‘I will Say Goodbye‘ (1977). More recently songs like ‘Today‘ (1993) by the Smashing Pumpkins wrap suicidal thoughts within a bitter-sweet melodic hide and seek that parallels the way self-destruction emerges from below the surface.

40 days recorded in 1993 was the a-side of statik 3, my final single under the statik moniker, and remains my most personal work to date. Speaking through the privilege of retrospect, my friend S was struggling with profound mental anguish at the time. When depression and exceptional intelligence dance together, a dangerous concoction forms. That summer I extended a trip northeast to visit her after receiving a call from her sister. S’s sadness was magnetic and I was drawn into her universe. Words like ‘everything will get better,’ were utterly, starkly trite. The only thing I could offer was to talk again in 40 days to see where things stand. During that period I set out to write a melancholy but positive song, but alas in the world of music, the subsonscious always wins.

40 days passed and S seemed much better. She had taken a job, was finishing a writing project, and was back in touch with her family. But a year later I suddenly got a call from S’s sister, this time to attend her funeral. After the service of words and tears, I stood with the family at the cremation to say the final goodbye… And some essential spritual ligament that held together an understanding of life and death severed inside my mind. To this day I still don’t know whether the choice of ending one’s own agony is ‘right or wrong.’ Through song and speech, we can only offer the deepest empathy to our friends and family members suffering from depression, but also to that part of ourselves that sometimes calls from the darkness.

40 days

the garden grows beneath her bed today
and the river flows beneath her head today
this empty dress she fills with leaves from outside
’cause the sun won’t shine to keep her kindness alive
(these 40 days passed me by)

words spin ’round my head
’cause what you said,
not what you meant to say… to see.

her sister shares the same thoughts and words as her
but the younger one feels the pain much deeper
again she fills her hands with dirt from outside
but the sun won’t shine to keep her kindness alive
(these 40 days pass me by)

books and words and prayer
spin round my head
not what you meant to say… to see.

i can see a way to be with you again
fall down the stair like only you would do
my head’s so cold my eyes are closed this time
and i’ll wait to hear your voice from heaven above.

[ 40 days is available on bandcamp » ]

statik 3: 40 days
The other side of the C and O railway, Charlottesville, VA, 1990