Death is just a part of life, you know? It's one of the few things we're all guaranteed to experience at some point, so it's no surprise it turns up as the subject of so many popular songs. What is surprising, though, is when those songs about what's traditionally the saddest of all possible subject matter come out sounding like feel-good party anthems. We talk about that on this week's Unpopular Opinion podcast ...
#5. Foster the People -- "Pumped Up Kicks"
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Right off the bat, is that even Foster the People in that picture? I honestly wouldn't be able to tell you. Anyway, I wrote a couple of articles that were somewhat similar to this a while back, and at the time, the comments section was all aflutter with outrage that I'd consider leaving Foster the People's "Pumped Up Kicks" off of a list about songs you didn't realize are secretly depressing.
In my defense, I just assumed everyone already had at least some idea what this song is about. According to the artist who wrote it, a guy named "the lead singer of Foster the People," it's told from the perspective of a troubled teen who's daydreaming about orchestrating a mass shooting. He also added in a later interview that the upbeat melody is intended as a "fuck you song to the hipsters," which makes absolutely no sense to me, but an explanation is an explanation, I suppose.
Hipsters cause school shootings.
Also, it seems I was wrong in assuming the meaning of this song was readily apparent to anyone who's heard it before. Not a single guest on the podcast caught the various references to freakishly gifted children outrunning guns and being faster than bullets and such, nor did the person who wrote this review of Torches, the album that spawned the hit single, and the site he's writing for literally has the word "psychiatrist" in its name. Sure, it's not a psychiatry-related website in any way and it recently went out of business, but still, the comments section was right for a change, a lot of people missed the meaning of this song.
It's easy to see how that happened, though. In addition to that peppy melody, the verses are sung in that far-away, muffled sort of tone that bands sometimes use in situations where their actual voice sounds like garbage. I imagine casual listeners spent the chorus mostly wondering if the song was about those ridiculously ugly and needlessly inflatable Reeboks that came out in the '80s.
Finally, a way to make your shoes fit tighter!
On top of all of that, this song was everywhere for the better part of a year. When songs get that huge, people who don't become immediate fans of the band in question (in this case, Foster the People, so everybody) tend to forever hear those songs as background noise. Sure, they know them, but they don't really know them.
I wouldn't be surprised if people said the exact same thing about most of the school shooters of the world after they committed their crimes.
#4. Norman Greenbaum -- "Spirit in the Sky"
If the artist's name isn't immediately recognizable, you should at least be able to place his most (only) famous song as "that one from the Guardians of the Galaxy trailer" ...
It's called "Spirit in the Sky" and, coming from a dude named Norman Greenbaum, it's got way more talk about meeting Jesus after you die than one might expect. Sure enough, he's Jewish, but that doesn't make a person immune from seeing Porter Wagoner singing a gospel song on television and thinking, "Yeah, I could do that."
Just a few short minutes later, Norman Greenbaum had a hit song that probably made his mother cry, but it's mostly for bullshit reasons, so it's cool.
Unsurprisingly, "Spirit in the Sky" is said to be one of the most requested memorial service songs of all time. Even less surprisingly, it was Norman Greenbaum who said that. As far as I can tell, funeral homes don't make statistics about this kind of thing widely available, so you're just going to have to trust that he's telling the truth.
His days of writing hit songs may be over, but Norman Greenbaum will never stop finding ways to teach us exactly how having faith works.
#3. Smashing Pumpkins -- "Today"
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It's easy to miss the real meaning behind the Smashing Pumpkins hit "Today," especially when you take into account that the first line literally references the fact that the singer is in the midst of the greatest day he's ever known. At least I think "known" is what he mumbles at the end of that first line. Sure, I could Google it, but it's not like your average lyrics database is staffed by world-class linguistics experts, you know? Those people's guesses are as good as mine. You get the gist, though: Billy Corgan is having a damn fine day. Why? Because he's about to commit suicide.
Given how favorably history tends to view bands whose lead singers killed themselves during that era, you could argue that he'd have made that a great day for a lot of people, but that would be pretty morbid of you, so don't. Instead, let's focus on how it is that people could miss the fact that this is a suicide song. I'd argue that it has everything to do with the video.
For one thing, Billy Corgan still had hair back then, or at least a wig that reminded us how creepy he looked when he did have hair.
How bummed could he have really been? Also, he's driving an ice cream truck. That's not a vehicle that implies sadness. And who follows through on their shift at their shitty ice cream truck job if they aren't planning to live beyond that day? If there's ever a perfect time to call in sick, that would be it.
With all that said, if you examine the video with enough desperation to make a point, you'll uncover that even the seemingly happy video implies that Corgan's death is imminent. For starters, think of what an ice cream truck really is. It's not a job, it's a business. If you drive an ice cream truck, you probably own it, which makes the fact that Corgan is driving his through an empty desert ...
... a pretty clear sign that he's given up on his dreams. If that wasn't clear enough, he doesn't just drive that ice cream truck off into the sunset quietly. He pulls over to the side of the road to let a bunch of strangers paint it up like a Jimi Hendrix tour bus.
His fellow band members, actually, but same difference.
If someone else does own that ice cream truck, Billy Corgan won't be piloting it after today, and he's totally fine with that.