(Don't Fear) the Reaper
Blue Oyster Cult
Agents of Fortune, 1976
Donald ( Buck Dharma ) Roeser

Songs that deal with death, despair, depression and suicide are often misinterpreted and misunderstood. Rumored to be about suicide, (Don't Fear) The Reaper is actually about the eternal power of love and learning to accept death. Songwriter Buck Dharma explained, I felt that I had just achieved some kind of resonance with the psychology of people when I came up with that, I was actually kind of appalled when I first realized that some people were seeing it as an advertisement for suicide or something that was not my intention at all. It is, like, not to be afraid of it (as opposed to actively bring it about). It's basically a love song where the love transcends the actual physical existence of the partners.

Singer/Songwriter Don McLean wrote two songs inspired by the deaths of well known artists. “McLean wrote Vincent (Starry Starry Night) in 1971 after reading a book about the life of artist Vincent Van Gogh. In the 1970s, the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam played the song daily and a copy of the sheet music, together with a set of Van Gogh's paint brushes, is buried in a time capsule beneath the museum.”


McLean’s 1971 song, American Pie was inspired by the sudden death of musician Buddy Holly along with Ritchie Valens and J.P. "Big Bopper" Richardson in an airplane crash. “Initially inspired by his memories of the death of Buddy Holly in 1959, American Pie is autobiographical and presents an abstract story of Don McLean’s life from the mid 1950s until when he wrote the song in the late 1960s.” McLean has previously discussed the challenges and rewards of song writing, You write the song and as it's coming out of, and you get emotional about it and you get very rushed to try and grab it," he said. "It's like catching something --- an emotion --- and putting it in a bottle.

Another "suicide" song, Metallica's Fade to Black, was written after the band had experienced a series of mishaps and set backs culminating in the theft of specially made musical equipment. The anguish and despair expressed in this song is quite powerful , I have lost the will to live Simply nothing more to give There is nothing more for me Need the end to set me free. Despondent fans have written letters to the group over the years to let the band know that this song actually made them feel better and they were able to get through a difficult time knowing that others have fealt the same way.

Blink -182's Adam's Song and Ozzy Osbourne's Suicide Solution are two songs that have been connected to or associated with specific suicides. ( additional commentary and details referenced below ) Ozzy has explained that he wrote the song soon after the death of Bon Scott, lead singer the group AC/DC. Scott died of hypothermia after consuming very large quantities of alcohol. Hence, the word "solution" in the title of this song refers to a mixture or liquid, not an answer to a problem.

People who are depressed and despondent may be drawn to a particular song because it expresses what they are already feeling inside. Kurt Cobain's suicide note concludes with the statement It's better to burn out, than to fade away which is a line from Neil Young's tribute song My My, Hey Hey. Deeply saddened and troubled by Cobain's tragic use of his lyrics, Young stated in a 1995 New Music Express article, ...Obviously his interpretation should not be taken to mean there's only two ways to go and one of them is death. Responding to Cobain's death, Neil Young recorded the album Sleeps With Angels. Discussing the album in a 1995 Mojo Magazine interview Young stated, Sleeps With Angels has a lot of overtones to it, from different situations that were described in it. A lot of sad scenes...

The band Good Charlotte wrote the inspirational song Hold On in 2003 after the loss of several close friends to suicide. ( see additional commentary referenced below ) The heart wrenching music video for this song includes interview clips with people who have lost friends and family to suicide and people who have survived suicide attempts.

Judy Collins wrote the song Wings of Angels in memory of her son Clark who committed suicide in 1993. Collins discussed the stigma associated with suicide in a Beliefnet interview, I think suicide is sort of like cancer was 50 years ago. People don't want to talk about it, they don't want to know about it. People are frightened of it, and they don't understand, when actually these issues are medically treatable...For many centuries, suicides were treated like criminals by the society. That is part of the terrible legacy that has come down into society's method of handling suicide recovery. Now we have to fight off the demons that have been hanging around suicide for centuries.

Jumper by the group Third Eye Blind is another song that deals with the issue of suicide. The group co-hosts an In the Mix ( see link below) program, Depression: On the Edge during which they share their own experiences as expressed in the song. Singer Stephan Jenkins explains, ...Jumper's really about understanding. Everyone carries demons around, they carry some sort of scar around. The message of Jumper is that there comes a time when you have to put the past away. And Kevin Cadogan reveals, I know what it feels like to wake up and want to go right back to bed. So anyone who's feeling that way now, I'm down with you. You've got to have faith that it will end, you know.

The 2004 song Sign Off, by the group Sugarcult also deals with depression, despair and thoughts of suicide…if the medication works could i be the way i was? in control...nobody can save me nobody can save me nobody can say what i'll do if i'm alone…The group Sugarcult participates in the Take Action Tour (see link below) to raise awareness and educate youth about depression and suicide. Sugarcult songwriter and vocalist Tim Pagnotta has explained that the band receives e-mails from ‘kids who said they were going to kill themselves and then got our record and could relate to the lyrics’ and reconsidered. Sugarcult guitarist Marko 72 has also commented, We feel like our fans have given us a career, so we'd like to give something back - not just a show, but a green light to talk about their feelings, and the understanding that mental illness is not a flaw - it's just something that people have.

The 2006 song Hate Me by Blue October offers an up close look at depression through the personal experience of lead singer, Justin Furstenfeld. The song begins with a real voicemail from Furstenfeld’s mother that was left on his answering machine during a time he was secluded and struggling with depression. Furstenfeld sings, …There’s a burning in my pride a nervous bleeding in my brain An ounce of peace is all I want for you, Will you never call again? The singer takes responsibility for past mistakes while working to heal and reconcile strained relationships with this musical apology. Furstenfeld explains, …I had to get it off my chest and apologize to the people in my family and in relationships to realize what I was doing to the people that surround me…I realized that you can’t just cut people out of your life, because it’s not about you all the time.

Another 2006 song How to Save a Life by The Fray, was inspired by actual events involving a troubled teenager at a Christian halfway house. Lead singer Isaac Slade who counseled this youth explained in a 2006 interview, This kid had a thousand opportunities to get into trouble and he got into all of them, It was heartbreaking to see all the sacrifice that went into trying to save this kid. A lot of it came out of love...The pain, heartache and frustration of this life and death struggle is revealed in the lyrics of the song, Where did I go wrong, I lost a friend Somewhere along in the bitterness And I would have stayed up with you all night Had I known how to save a life...Fortunately, this story had a happy ending as Slade reveals in the interview that the teenager did begin to take steps to improve his life.

Friends and family play an important role when it comes to helping others cope with depression. It is also important to monitor the music a young person listens to as it often reveals and reflects their current mood and state of mind. In some cases music can serve as an early warning system, affording friends and family the time and opportunity to intervene before a tragedy does occur.



Buck Dharma Interview by James Lien, College Music Journal, November 6, 1995.

Judy Collins Interview by Rebecca Phillips, Beliefnet.

"Depression: On The Edge" In The Mix. Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Don McLean’s American Pie / Vincent (Starry Starry Night) Don McLeanOnline.”


Rockers' Repertoire Stresses Prevention of Teen Suicide” Psychiatric News March 18, 2005 Volume 40 Number 6 2005 American Psychiatric Association


“Cockroaches, Porn, Voices Fill Blue October Singer’s Brain” MTV News 04.11.2006

“Into the Fray” By Stan Friedman Christian Music Today 7/17/06


Music and Lyric Resources:

Blue Oyster Cult Official Web Site

Buck Dharma.com

Third Eye Blind

Good Charlotte



Neil Young

Ozzy Osbourne

Don McLean


Sub City

Blue October

The Fray

Referenced and Related Works:

Don McLean’s “American Pie”


Don McLean’s “Vincent ( Starry Starry Night )”


Dylan Thomas's "Do Not Go Gentle"


Alfred, Lord Tennyson's "Charge of the Light Brigade"


Walt Whitman's "To One Shortly To Die"


Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's, "A Psalm of Life"


William Shakespeare's, "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?"


Edwin Arlington Robinson's "Richard Corey"


Elisabeth Kubler-Ross Quotes on Death and Dying


Metallica Commentary


Ozzy Osbourne "Suicide Solution" Commentary


Good Charlotte "Hold On" Commentary


Blink-182 "Adam's Song" Commentary


Blue October “Hate Me” Commentary


Neil Young discusses "Sleeps With Angels"


“Sonnet XC” / “Hate Me” / “Mother O’ Mine”


“Legend of The Starfish” / “How To Save A Life”


Take Action! ( external page )


Elisabeth Kubler Ross ( external page )


Preventing Teen Suicide ( external page )


Good Charlotte Confronts Suicide With New Video ( external page )


Teenage Depression & Suicide Prevention Resources ( external page )


Judy Collins: Voice of a Century - NOW with Bill Moyers  ( external page )


Living Matters ( external page )


In the Mix - Depression: On The Edge  ( external page )


American Foundation for Suicide Prevention  ( external page )


National Hopeline Network  ( external page )


National Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center  ( external page )


SAVE - Suicide Awareness Voices of Education  ( external page )


Go Ask Alice! - Columbia University's Health Q & A Internet Service  ( external page )


howtosavealife.com  ( external page )


Save A Life Campaign ( external page )


YouTube – “American Pie” ( external page )


YouTube – “American Pie” ( external page )


YouTube – “Fade To Black” ( external page )


YouTube – “Adam’s Song” ( external page )


YouTube – “My My Hey Hey” ( external page )


YouTube – “Jumper” ( external page )


YouTube – “Sign Off” ( external page )


YouTube – “Hold On” ( external page )


YouTube – “Hate Me” ( external page )


YouTube – “How To Save A Life” ( version #2 ) ( external page )


YouTube – “How To Save A Life” ( Grey’s Anatomy ) ( external page )





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