22: Everybody Still Hurts

The comment section on R.E.M.'s video is a special place. But something is missing.

I recently heard a cover version of the song “Everybody Hurts,” from R.E.M.’s 1992 album Automatic for the People. I hadn’t heard it in a while, and I was reminded that it really is a great song. It was aimed at teenagers who might be going through hard times and considering suicide. The message is:

When you think you’ve had too much of this life, hang on... Everybody hurts sometimes. So hold on.

The cover version was nice, but it didn’t compare to the original. So I did what people do when they want to hear a song these days: I looked up the video on YouTube. And I was reminded that it really is a great video.

As we hear the song play, the camera passes over the faces of people stuck in traffic. Their faces are stoic but their thoughts are captioned, and we see some of what pains them on the inside.

  • A little kid in the back seat while his parents argue: Here we go again.

  • A father with his teenage daughter: How’m I gonna do this?

  • A teenage boy whose father is singing: Stop singing. Stop singing. Stop singing.

  • His little brother in the back seat: You die, you turn to dust.

  • A teenage boy looking out a window: They’re going to miss me.

And so on. It’s poignant and moving.

Then I scrolled down the page a bit and looked at the comments that people have left on this video. And that’s when I realized: People come to “Everybody Hurts” when they are hurting. And the comment section for this song has become a special place.

There are more than 22,000 comments on the video, and I’ve picked some examples to share. I’ve removed the commenters’ names because even though they’re public comments, it somehow felt too personal. And please be warned that parts of this may be upsetting and emotional, so this isn’t for everyone.

The Comments of Pain

Some people come to “Everybody Hurts” to express their pain, and their comments are almost too sad to bare. I read these while the music was still playing, and the impact was overwhelming. It’s like all those people in their cars suddenly became real.

I’m pregnant and going through this alone..if it weren’t for the life inside me I’d have already given up

I've been hurting for 21 years now when she left this life in my arms

I’m on the brink once again so here I am listening to this on repeat

1992-2021 (so far) has been the most miserable for me. It continues, still.

I lost both of my parents back in 2012 in a car accident to this day i still hurt part of my heart is gone i wish I can turn back the hands of time I still think at times why I'm still here

You can't hold on when you have nothing left and that which could save you is gone, forever out of reach. Then what? There's nothing to hold on to so how do you hold on?

I had to put my cat Sparky down yesterday. I had to say goodbye to my best friend due to cancer. I hurt.....

I’m just scared of how my parents will take it when they find what used to be me.. apart from that, nothing matters

still depressed time nobody need me on this whole world i feel waste☹😢

Lost my son in nov 22. 2yo im struggling

Y couldn't I just be normal, who am I, not even i know who i am, would be me in this video

I’m trying to hold on,I promise..

It’s awful. They’re just too numerous. And they keep coming. I didn’t even need to go back very far to find these. It’s heartbreaking, and new ones show up every day.

The Comments of Remembrance

Some people come to “Everybody Hurts” to share memories of a loved one. Sometimes the person they’re remembering took their own life, but not always. And sometimes the song is part of their story.

I'm 23 grew up listening to this with my dad. Still listen to it to this day. Miss you dad ❤️

Life certainly has it's ups and downs. My wife and I lost our son in 1995 to suicide. While both of us hurt to our core we had two other children to raise so we couldn't lay down and just quit.We went on keeping our son in our hearts and telling our other two children that we loved them every day. It's been 23 years since our son's death and I cry every time I think about him. I came to understand that he hurt more than I could ever understand. What solace I get is knowing that he is at peace and doesn't hurt anymore.

My son played this song constantly, when it first came out. I should have listened. He ended his life last year.

My precious nephew was dying of brain cancer 7 years ago. It was unbearable for my sister so I tried to help with what I could and asked him what he wanted. This was first song he picked. He didn't want anyone being sad for him when everybody hurts eventually and some survive and some fly free of the hurt. I still remember people asking me why I picked that song since it wasn't typical funeral songs. I just said I didn't pick it. It was what Jason wanted so it was for him and a testament to the person he was. 💞

My brother-in-law committed suicide 1/3/21. This song just rips my heart out. We want him back. I pray he is at peace.

This song came out a few days after my mother died when I was in my early 20's. My mother was not only my mom but my best friend too, so I felt like I had lost two people in my life when she left us, way too soon. I was destroyed inside and could barely continue my own life and was considering ending it all. Then I heard this song on the radio on the way to my mother's funeral....This song literally saved my life and helped me cope with it, and it helped me get through it. It was like a gift from God for me. Thank you R.E.M. I will always love you

I lost my son in 2019 and then came 2020 nothing can break me anymore!! I’m still here cause he told me to stay strong!! I’m doing my best I promise xxxx

Heartbreaking. And there are so many more stories like these. But thankfully sadness is not all we find in the comment section. There is also:

The Comments of Encouragement

Some people come to “Everybody Hurts” and leave notes of encouragement and positivity. They echo the message of the song. Sometimes they give the song credit for helping them in a time of need. And some of them incorporate remembrances in their encouragement.

Whoever you are, wherever you are and whatever you doing - I love you, stay strong, be patient and polite to people, give love.

Love this song so much. This is so true today. We all need to hold on .

Everyone should share this song .helped me a lot ❤️

I lost my daughter to suicide in 2010 so this really hits home, sorry to say I was not really familiar with this song until recently. Hang on to and give extra hugs to your friends and loved ones, sometimes we just don't know what is really going on with someone close to us and then it is too late. Virtual hugs going out to anyone who is in need at this difficult time in all our lives. Hang in there everyone.

I just hugged my daughter then phoned my son, lets get through this shit.

Sometimes everything is wrong. Hang on.

this song is so true my brother toke his life last april we just want to know why we still hurt from it please if you are going to do this think of the ones you leave behind and ask for help

I suffer with a mental illness and I am fighting a losing battle with severe depression, there have been several times these past few days were I feel I can no longer go on fighting the illness and just giving in. Even through the deepest and darkest times of my life to never give up on life even when you can’t see a way out.

It's never too late to reach out for someone.

This song is my life story. I have felt so lonely my entire life and then the pandemic hit, now we all feel lost and so much death and sadness. We are all connected that way and I guess that we are not so distant afterall, there is hope. We really don't know how the rest of the world is really doing, unless we stop and ask. Now I feel normal and also somewhat better. #loveandkindnessmatter!

i dedicate this song to all of the medical staff and front line workers all around the world. you are not alone. we are all here for you when you need a shoulder to cry on or someone to scream at. thankyou

RESILIENCE ! ! ! YOU ARE AN OVERCOMER & YOU CAN & WILL OVERCOME ANYTHING THE UNIVERSE THROWS AT YOU ! ! !

I'm hopeful and glad 2021 is here - glad that I have a beautiful, loving family & songs like this one to help me through the tough times.

Here's a toast to those of us still hanging on.

It must in some way be helpful for those who came to the comments full of sadness to see that others have a “hang on” message to share. But unless any of those commenters are mental health professionals reaching out to the people who posted comments, I wonder if something more can be done.

Something Important is Missing

If we know that people considering suicide and/or dealing with depression are coming to this particular YouTube page, and the song exists to discourage suicide, why does the page not mention any of the resources that can help people?

At the very top of the video description, why hasn’t R.E.M. put a link to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline? Why doesn’t the video include one of those YouTube overlay cards telling people that if they need to talk to someone, they should call the Lifeline at 800-273-8255?

I have no personal experience with this issue, so perhaps there’s some amount of ignorance in making this suggestion. (In fact, I was afraid someone would tell me the Lifeline is actually a recruiting tool for Scientology or something, but as best as I can tell, it’s legit.) I’ve seen the Lifeline mentioned in so many articles and TV shows that deal with the topic that I assume it must be a helpful resource.

Does anyone know someone at R.E.M. HQ who can add some resources for people in need of help? I don’t see any contact info on their website, but I’ll reach out via Twitter and see if I get a response.

Is “Everybody Hurts” a Sad Song?

The results of Rolling Stone poll found “Everybody Hurts” to be the #3 saddest song of all time, after “Hurt” by Nine Inch Nails at #2, and “Tears in Heaven” by Eric Clapton at #1. And, sure, it has a sad theme. But it also has a message of hope and positivity, and is meant to be uplifting. I guess emotions are complicated enough that the song can be both hopeful and sad.

But an interesting thing I learned recently is that “Everybody Hurts” is in a major key.

It’s sometimes said that minor keys are sad, and major keys are happy. In fact there are several examples on the internet of happy songs transposed into minor keys and vice versa to see how different they sound, including this example where R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion” is reworked in a major key and becomes a happy little ditty:

But if “Everybody Hurts” is in a major key, then what makes it so sad?

An article from the School of Composition suggests:

Well the lyrics explain how everybody hurts so they’re bound to make us sad. But musically, the biggest contributors to the mood of this song are:

  1. Tempo: For a radio song, Everybody Hurts is quite slow and that plays a significant part for the overall effect.

  2. The fragmented melody: The melody is sung in bits and pieces (from a few beats to 2 bars long). Having those spaces between verses makes it more introspective as if giving us time to process our emotions between thoughts.

  3. The shape of the melodic fragments is also notable: Throughout the song we often hear a leap followed by a short descent. This shape in combination with the tempo and the spaces in between creates quite a melancholic mood.

There are examples in the other direction, too. Some happy songs in minor keys include “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music, ABBA’s “Money, Money, Money,” and Pharrell Williams’ “Happy.”

Other sad songs in a major key include “Nothing Compares 2 U,” Adele’s “Someone Like You,” and the saddest song of all time, Eric Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven.”

The Cover

This look at “Everybody Hurts” began, you’ll recall, when I heard a cover version of the song. So I figure I’d close out the newsletter by sharing the cover. It was this recording by Puddles Pity Party, the sad clown alter ego of Mike Geier:

And that brings us to the end of another newsletter. Thanks for reading. See you next week. In the meantime, hold on.

David