Pain for Gain

CJ Priebe


You might be reading this paper and be thinking, “Wow, the Ebbtide is speaking quite a bit about relationships this week. What about the other side of things?”

Loneliness is ridiculously common; we all feel it from time to time.

What’s strange about loneliness is that when we experience it, we often isolate ourselves and act like we are the only people that have ever felt this way, thus perpetuating the problem.

Technology connects us to the world, but it often separate us from relationships that truly matter: Relationships where we can get help in a tangible way often without asking for it directly. That’s what support groups, family and friends can provide. Technology creates a modern form of isolation that stems from 24/7 connectivity, rendering itself moot.

But sometimes we are at the mercy of outside and outsized factors that push us to unfamiliar places we didn’t expect.

A lot of unhappiness is directed at politics and those in positions of power. This is not unfounded, yet it often provides either a face to the problem that we can’t interact with or a problem that itself is so amorphous that it is essentially faceless.

Other times, unhappiness is directed inward; we attack ourselves or the people we love the most. Either way, sadness can act like a pair of cement shoes, dragging you down.

One way to get yourself out of a funk is to listen to artists expressing their own loneliness: you might realize you’re not alone.

What I Recommend

I am going out on a limb and just telling you how I feel: My belief that listening to the pain of others can provide insights into your own sadness. When you are feeling down, you can find truth through other people’s pain; this bare emotion can be eerily universal.

The following is a playlist for those interested in further exploring these feelings. With so many mature themes, it is not for the faint of heart. Some of the songs are downright disturbing. But they will make you think, and may inspire you to avoid your own venture down into the abyss.

Write to [email protected] to tell me about how these songs made you feel and whether staring into the light worked this time for you.

Artist: AJJ
Song: Big Bird

Standout Lyric: “It’s harder to be yourself, than it is to be anybody else / I wish I were a little less of a coward”

As humans, we worry all of the time. We can’t help it. We’re afraid of things big and small, slimy and scaly, real and imagined.

When we feel alone, it’s often because we are terrified to admit that we have faults and if we were honest, they could become real.

So a song predicated on the listing of fears seems like a good place to start a list like this. It’s raw and lambasts both mob mentality and the singer himself, with lines like: “I’m afraid of the way that the world works, and I’m afraid of the words in my notebooks / I’m afraid that you all know that I am a pervert.”

Yeah: “know” not “think.”

Artist: Slothrust
Song: Juice

Standout Lyric: “I’m a hamster in a plastic ball / And I am running toward your fireplace”

Leah Wellbaum’s chunky, distorted guitar will get you amped to open up about mental health droughts. Feeling unwell can lead you down a cyclical path of resentment, going round-and-round without accomplishing anything.

This song plays with the idea that, despite your best efforts, you sometimes get sick with grief or a lack of belonging. When left to fester, that sickness can consume you entirely.

Artist: Saul Williams
Song: Black Stacey

Standout Lyric: “I used to use bleaching cream, ’til Madame C.J. Walker walked into my dreams / I dreamt of being white and complimented by you, but the only shiny black thing that you liked was my shoes”

Prepare to be knocked over by the poetry of Saul Williams, crude though it may be.

This song deals with identity in stark, racial terms. Pretending to be something your not is harmful to your health, but doing so with the weight of centuries long oppression makes it an even more complex struggle.

Skin complexion is the root of the issue here as the protagonist discusses the struggle of being seen as “too black.” It tells the story of becoming militant due to a lack of courage in himself after a lifetime of bullying: “You thought it wouldn’t phase me but it did, ‘cause I was just a kid.”

Williams epitomizes trying to both fit in and be yourself. When we don’t know which to prioritize, we lose ourselves.

Artist: Simon & Garfunkel
Song: I Am a Rock

Standout Lyric: “And a rock feels no pain / And an island never cries”

A classic, yes; but outdated? No way.

Echoes of seclusion will reverberate around that lonely island forevermore in this tongue-in-cheek dissection of how dangerous it can be to shut out others.

With all its talk of building of walls and lamenting having ever loved, it provides a stark critique of traditional masculinity: “I have no need of friendship, friendship causes pain / its laughing and it’s loving I disdain.”

Showing emotions is for lesser fools. The irony is both hilarious and haunting.

Artist: Arcade Fire
Song: Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)

Standout Lyric: “They heard me singing and they told me to stop / Quit these pretentious things and just punch the clock”

A lesser-known gem from a Grammy winning album about suburban angst, this song talks about social isolation and presents a version of modernity which is crumbling at its foundation. Singer Régine Chassagne prioritizes substance over glamor as she croons about how important the night is to understanding yourself. Again, themes of “be yourself” resonate throughout.

At its core, the song shows shades of Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi.”

Artist: Sun Kil Moon
Song: Carissa

Standout Lyric: “Everyone’s grieving out of their minds, making arrangements and taking drugs / But I’m flying out there tomorrow because I need to give and get some hugs”

Meandering and contemplative, this depressing inward look at a family member’s death just goes on and on, providing intimate detail on a very specific type of detached pain.

People handle these situations in different ways, but sometimes death hits you with a gut punch of permanency that leaves you regretting not spending more time with the people you love.

The singer provides a stream of consciousness that lets the listener enter something that is both normal and bizzare, and what follows is a deeply personal story that is entirely devoted to the process of grief.

Artist: Childish Gambino
Song: All The Shine

Standout Lyric: “I always wanted to get picked on the cool team / But alone is exactly how I should be”

In order to reach your version of happiness, you better know yourself pretty well. Here, Gambino spills his problems from the mundane to the monumental. This can sometimes get confused: “‘Cause sometimes that stupid shit is real shit / Like when you make out with your best friend’s baby sis / You know the one with short hair you used to babysit.”

He knows it takes passion to find one’s place in the world, and here Gambino investigates his place in the rap community. “Sometimes I feel like I ain’t supposed to be here” could mean a number of things, but he is clear about how he is affected by his mother’s disappointment.

Artist: Don McLean
Song: Vincent

Standout Lyric: “They would not listen, they’re not listening still / Perhaps they never will”

It’s not his most famous song, but this 1972 Don McLean ballad speaks to the vastness and beauty of the universe all the while intertwining the wisdom that even if the world is beautiful, it can seem cruel to just one person.

And that one person is none other than famous painter Vincent van Gogh. Acoustically swirling, listeners get a vivid portrait of self-neglect and a man belied by the depths of his own thoughts. It tries to capture an image of the dichotomy of true genius and insanity coexisting.

Artist: Jeff Rosenstock
Song: Nausea

Standout Lyric: “I feel amazing when I’m all alone / Switching between porn and Robocop”

Growing up is hard to do. Avoiding the people you love can be a dangerous prospect. This booze-ridden jaunt recognizes that when you actually commit to loneliness and dig your heels into remaining immature, it eats at you alive.

Rosenstock articulates the feeling of trying to figure out what to do with your life when you’re surrounded by too many things to do. He does so very specifically: “I use the stationary bike and / I watch the end of ‘The Price is Right.’”

I actually recommend watching a live version of this, specifically when he plays at the Little Elephant (just use YouTube). You get to see him sweat profusely, wink and then laugh accidentally-on-purpose at the previous lyric.