Sunday, July 18, 2010


The "Gloomy Sunday" Suicides

David Foster Wallace might have gotten an idea for Infinite Jest (I won't say what it is, in case you haven't read this monster, although to be honest I've only made it through about 300 pages) from the legends surrounding "Gloomy Sunday."

The song was written and recorded by a Hungarian pianist and composer named Rezső Seress in 1933, using a poem by László Jávor. In 1936, the song became connected to a number of suicides in Hungary; those who committed suicide apparently did so after hearing it, or while it was still playing on their gramophones, or they included the lyrics in their note. The song was then allegedly banned in Hungary, a country that already had a high suicide rate.

In 1941, Billie Holiday recorded an English version of what became known in the US as the "Hungarian suicide song." Legend has it that radio stations banned the song for fear that it would cause people to off themselves, but it seems that only the BBC did so, citing the tragedies of WWII. While some sources claim up to 200 American suicides could be linked, others report no such connection.

However, Rezső Seress did commit suicide when he jumped to his death from his apartment in 1968. Also, Billy Mackenzie, a vocalist for the Scottish band The Associates, committed suicide in 1997; the band had recorded a cover of Billie Holiday's version fifteen years prior. And of course, David Foster Wallace killed himself as well (rip).

Mere coincidence? Collective unconscious? Read the original lyrics and listen to Holiday's version, if you dare....

The literal English translation of the original Hungarian lyrics are as follows:

Gloomy Sunday with a hundred white flowers
I was waiting for you my dearest with a prayer
A Sunday morning, chasing after my dreams
The carriage of my sorrow returned to me without you
It is since then that my Sundays have been forever sad
Tears my only drink, the sorrow my bread...

Gloomy Sunday

This last Sunday, my darling please come to me
There'll be a priest, a coffin, a catafalque and a winding-sheet
There'll be flowers for you, flowers and a coffin
Under the blossoming trees it will be my last journey
My eyes will be open, so that I could see you for a last time
Don't be afraid of my eyes, I'm blessing you even in my death...

The last Sunday

I happen to think Radiohead's "How To Disappear Completely" also makes for a good suicide song. And let's not forget Nirvana's "Something In The Way" and NIN's "Hurt." Have a great Sunday!



Bex said...

Oh MAN. I was sooo obsessed with this 'phenomenon' for SO long. In my teens I guess you could say I had a pre-occupation with the macabre and unusual (suicide, murder, deviant behaviour of all shapes and forms...)

Considering I'm (now) a pretty rational person (I think), I still find it hard to listen to the song. I always have. I guess I'm spooked easily.

Nicholas said...

What a fabulously creepy song. Good find Amy.

I have (unfortunately?) read Infinite Jest and I can't think of what you have in mind. It DOES remind me of the movie Magnolia though. Perhaps PT Anderson was inspired by this legend as well? I have read before that the part where all of the characters sing "Wise Up" is actually the seed of inspiration around which he built the entire film...

amy dupcak said...

nick: it reminds me of the film cartridge or whatever that causes people to die after they watch it!!! at least, i think that's what was happening :)

and bex, i'm totally into all of that macabre stuff too. sometimes a bit too much so.