Xiu Xiu and the Top Anthems of Self-Loathing
Over the past decade, Xiu Xiu has released some pretty bleak tunes. The musical project of San Jose singer/guitarist Jamie Stewart and various collaborators has put out guaranteed party-stoppers like "Support Our Troops OH!"("Did you know you were going to shoot off the top of a 4-year-old girl's head?") and "You Are Pregnant You, You Are Dead" ("You turn into tears and ashes inside my lungs"). All that suggests the "experimental" art-rock band is experimenting with making its listeners contemplate the futility of life.
Rarely has an act gone so literal with their self-loathing as Xiu Xiu on their latest, last month's Dear God, I Hate Myself. Stewart really lays it all on the line in the title track, eschewing subtlety by declaring that "despair will hold a place in my heart" and "I will never feel normal." (Happily, there's also a song on the album called "Chocolate Makes You Happy," so it's not all bad news.)
It's an admirable a display of unrestrained inward dissatisfaction, to be sure, but this tradition of artists hating themselves didn't start with Stewart. Musicians are a tortured bunch, and a lack of positive affirmation can be a fruitful motivator. I mean, when did self-help books, anti-depressants, or motivational speakers ever help someone write a good song? Here are a few of the best depressed.
"Seasick, Yet Still Docked," Morrissey (1992): Sure, a number of Morrissey songs focus on the familiar trope of self-hatred. Kinda comes with the territory when you're Morrissey. But this Your Arsenal selection lends a delicate poetry to the science of self-loathing. Moz can't find love because he's "a poor, freezingly cold soul." He would try harder, but he's "got no charm," you see. Xiu Xiu have given nods to the master, covering "I Am Hated for Loving" on a split seven-inch with Portland's Parenthetical Girls.
"Creep," Radiohead (1992): One of the biggest mainstream hits dealing with hating yourself. Yes, it's the most popular song from the Radiohead album everyone disowns, and it's been beaten to death by all your friends on Rock Band, but it's still an iconic moment in self-hurt, tying together bitter jealousy and desperate isolation in one four-minute pop song.
"I Hate Myself and I Want to Die," Nirvana (1994): Legend has that this is what Kurt Cobain wanted to title In Utero but was talked out of it by Krist Novoselic. It ended up as the title of a B-side on the unreleased (but widely bootlegged) "Pennyroyal Tea" single. Supposedly, Cobain came up with the title as a joke, but the whole killing himself thing casts it in a slightly different light.
"Hurt," Nine Inch Nails (1994): Trent Reznor built an empire on being unhappy, and this is his magnum opus of depression. It's Trent at his Reznorest, hurting himself, wearing a crown of shit (which, really, just seems unnecessary) and generally casting serious doubts on his sense of self-worth. The now-more-famous-than-the-original cover by Johnny Cash has cemented this song's legacy as the official anthem of "looking back on a lifetime of regret."
"Waltz Moore," From First to Last (2006): Okay, the other songs on this list, written by drug abusers/moody Brits in the '90s, make sense. But what reason did these young dudes have to be so unhappy in such a profoundly shallow decade as the Aughts? Whatever the case, they sure go for it, asking, "Do you know what it's like to feel ugly all the time?" The post-hardcore band's new album, Throne to the Wolves, is out this month and includes a song called "Going Lohan." Bet that's pretty dark, too.
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