The Power of Music

B&W photo of Rezso SeressSince one of my main interests is the power of media (any media) to move people to action or make change, I thought this was an interesting story.

Have you heard of the Hungarian suicide song? In 1932, Rezso Seress wrote “Gloomy Sunday” – a song which would be implicated in over 100 cases of suicide.

THe song’s lyrics are poignantly depressing:

Gloomy is Sunday

With the shadows I spend it all

My heart and I

Have decided to end it all…

sheet music of Gloomy Sunday The song caught on (in a time when, well, life in Hungary WAS depressing and gloomy), and soon it became a hit that was played in coffeehouses throughout Pest. Hungary has the highest suicide rate as it is, so the contribution of the song is somewhat debated, but evidently it became not uncommon to find suicide victims with the lyrics to the song in the pocket or in notes left behind. Some shot themselves while listening to the song, others threw themselves into the Danube…and all on Sundays.

Fervor around the song only increased interest in it. Soon it spread through the rest of Europe and it generated such a hysteria that the BBC banned it for years, only broadcasting instrumental versions of it.

Seress, a holocaust survivor, suffered from depression himself, and never wrote another hit song. He died (by suicide) in 1968.

It was a Monday.

Despite what a few crazy internet shrines tell you, the song won’t kill you. It is a hauntingly, yet beautiful song. Billy Holiday, Mel Torme, Elvis Costello, Bjork, Sinead O’Connor, Sarah McLaughlin and Ray Charles are just a few who have covered it.

Here are a couple of versions that are especially good.

(Listen, but be happy!)

Sarah McLaughlin is great, in a particularly haunting way…

Billy Holiday is, well Billy Holiday- you can’t go wrong…

And Elivs Costello seems to have the right voice for it…

Which version do you like?

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3 responses to “The Power of Music

  1. What talented and brilliant singers, and each does so much for the song. But I think Billy Holiday is the best.

  2. Bill Sparkman

    I vote for Billy Holiday’s version.

  3. I like them all, actually… each in a different way.

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