The Song: "There is a Light That Never Goes Out," The Smiths. Words & music by Johnny Marr and Morrissey. Track 9 of The Queen is Dead, 1986.
How/when acquired: Illegal cassette copy, c. 1987; legal MP3 download, 2004
It's a little disorienting, as I begin the last week of my 45th year, to think that this song is 24 years old — as distant from today's generation as "Hound Dog" was from my college-age self. But I am not ashamed of still liking the things I liked when I was 20, even if my middle-aged self thinks that this song teeters dangerously on the verge of self-parody. Violent emotion of any kind does. It can't help but do so, because that kind of passion and despair can't be self-conscious or regulated. The minute you step out to look at it, to hold it up to the light to question or even celebrate, you're not in the moment any more.
Part of adulthood, maybe, is realizing that this isn't necessarily a bad thing. This blog has a widget that keeps track of visitors, and in the past couple of weeks I have noticed a disturbing spike in visits to last year's post on Five Practical Reasons Not to Kill Yourself. An anonymous commenter who visited the post from Davidson College (yes, the site meter gives me that much information) earlier this week called that post cold and callous. I think I meant it to be. The whole point of that post was to dispel any ideas someone might have gotten (from songs like this one) that anything about suicide is romantic.
Because these lines, in the song's second verse, tell us what the singer really wants. He doesn't want to die, not really; he wants to see people, he wants to see life, and he wants not to feel separate from those things. He wants to be part of that light that never goes out, but he doesn't know how.
Here's a tip: the double-decker bus in this song's third verse is not the answer. To the people who come to this blog looking for reasons not to kill themselves, and to that unhappy Davidson student in particular, I say: You already know the most important reason not to kill yourself. You don't really want to. If you did, you wouldn't be asking the universe (in the form of the cold and anonymous Internet) to talk you out of it.
What you really want is to see people and to see life. Everybody else wants that, too.