Is it true that a sad song can make you want to kill yourself?
We all have a song for those moments when we feel like nothing's going right. Then that one bleak tune that appears on shuffle and instantly makes us weep a little (or a lot). You’re probably thinking about that song right now. What is it about that particular song that makes you feel this way? Are the lyrics sad? Are the instruments too gloomy? Does it remind you of someone? Music can be extremely powerful. It has the ability to change our mood, and even our mindset. Also, it often gets stuck in our heads in a subconscious way. That’s how end up loving or hating certain songs after a while.
When it comes to sad tunes, people can be kind of masochistic. We love it when a singer gets how gloomy we feel. We relate so much that we hit repeat a hundred times until we end up hating the song (although, later on, we start playing it again). This happens a lot because we like to feel like someone understands what we’re going through. It’s like a hug made of sounds. Usually, this kind of music pulls us out of our misery and makes us feel a little better, or at least relieved knowing that it’s not just us going through a hard time.
But what would you say if I told you that there’s a song that isn't just a sad track for a broken heart, but it's actually connected to multiple suicides? It's a ballad called “Szomorú Vasárnap” (Gloomy Sunday), and it's also referred to as the “Hungarian Suicide Song.” The original title was "Vége a világnak" (End of the world), although it was later renamed by its creator. What’s the story behind this song that makes it so special?
In 1933, hungarian songwriter Rezső Seress did what many artists still do nowadays: express his feelings through music. Unfortunately, his work earned him a very dark reputation that has prevailed throughout the years. There have been several cases of people who've killed themselves and had a piece of paper with an excerpt of the song in their hand.
How did this song came to life? Shortly after Seress’ girlfriend left him, he was so depressed that he wrote the melody that became “Gloomy Sunday.” The tune was given a melancholy lyric by Seress’s friend, the poet Laszlo Javor. Some say that it was Javor’s girlfriend who left him, inspiring the song as a poem first. But others claim that Seress wrote his own lyrics about war and despair, and then Javor changed it to a heartbreak ballad. Either way, “Gloomy Sunday” was an intentionally sad song from the beginning.
It is said that when the song first became a hit, Seress attempted to get back with the ex who inspired it. Sadly, he found out that she had poisoned herself, and there was a copy of the sheet music of the song nearby. Whether this story is true or not, what's true is that Seress himself committed suicide in 1968 by jumping from the window of a Budapest apartment building.
The gloomy song was just starting to get popular. Two years later, a recorded version by Pál Kálmar was connected to a string of suicides in Hungary. After that, the song was allegedly banned. However, let's stop for a second, forget about the supposed curse, and look at the facts. The 1930s were a very depressing time in history. World War II was about to start, and totalitarian dictatorships were starting to take hold. There was a worldwide economic depression that left millions of people unemployed and struggling. In other words, there were plenty of reasons to feel hopeless. The song was just a trigger. People connected with the sad melody and felt the despair in its lyrics:
It is autumn and the leaves are falling
All love has died on earth
The wind is weeping with sorrowful tears
My heart will never hope for a new spring again
My tears and my sorrows are all in vain
People are heartless, greedy and wicked...
Love has died!
The world has come to its end,
hope has ceased to have a meaning
Cities are being wiped out, shrapnel is making music
Meadows are coloured red with human blood
There are dead people on the streets everywhere
I will say another quiet prayer:
People are sinners, Lord, they make mistakes...
The world has ended!
For anyone feeling brokenhearted, the song made sense. That's how music works: when we relate to lyrics and melodies, we instantly adopt the song. We make it ours and live it like it was made for us. But clearly, that doesn’t mean we’re going to act on what it says. It’s just a defense mechanism our mind uses to cope with sadness.
“Gloomy Sunday” was banned in several countries, the most notable being Great Britain, for 66 years (until it was un-banned in 2002). Years later, “Gloomy Sunday” became a legend, making people wonder if it was really true that it could made them commit suicide. But that’s far from the truth. It all has to do with the reputation this song got because of its origins and historical context. And if this song is still being used for suicidal purposes, it’s because the story behind this tune has turned into a “romantic” way to say goodbye and because the song itself is now a popular reference for suicide.
So, don’t worry, you won’t kill yourself if you listen to the song. It’s not cursed, nor is it intended to make people commit suicide. It’s a very sad tune, yes, but you can very well enjoy the melody without feeling like leaving this world today.
Photo credit: Christian Hopkins
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