Welcome back everyone. I trust you all got as hopelessly drunk as your Professor did this weekend. Something has to make the pain of the week go away, right? Well, that’s probably a lesson for another day, and perhaps another, more proper Professor.Last week we had a bit of a reprieve. We took a look at some ridiculous and silly videos to help us recover from the previous week’s tunneling into phobias. Well, this week we’re getting back to form with strange tales handed down from the shadows of modern society. Some folks call ‘em “Urban Legends,” some folks call ‘em “Bullsh*t” – either way, the nature of their origins and the appeal allowing them to transcend generations makes them creepy, and that children, makes Rolo Fiendy the proper Professor for this lesson.
We’re gonna kick open the doors of Professor Fiendy’s Music Room 138 for this week’s introductory madness. Put down the violins and muted trumpets and grab your razors and nooses, for today we’re talking about “Gloomy Sunday” or as it has been branded, “The Hungarian Suicide Song.” Written by Laszlo Javor and Composed by Rezso Seress (sorry, I don’t know how to accent letters) in 1933, the song has the rather austere reputation for causing its listeners to take their own lives. The singer speaks of a deceased lover and the romanticized contemplation of joining them in death. The song was supposedly written after Javor broke up with his girlfriend. Legend has it that the girl killed herself shortly thereafter leaving behind only a note that said “Gloomy Sunday.” Sound like bullsh*t? It sure do, but that don’t make it any less creepy, particularly considering Seress actually did commit suicide in 1968, and on a Sunday no less. Weird.
The song was supposedly linked to a rash of suicides in Hungry following it initial release. People left similar notes saying “Gloomy Sunday,” or quoted it depressing lyrics in their notes, or even were clutching it’s sheet music when the bell tolled. Some people were stated to have been found dead on floor with gramophones looping the song over and over again. I find this to be perhaps the most unsettling image of all, particularly considering the song – and I don’t care which version either, always creepy.
It was supposedly banned in Hungry, the UK, and even here in the United States. It’s a whole lot of speculation though, as are most legends of this sort and little actual evidence can be produced to substantiate these claims. The truth of the matter is this: the song is depressing as f*ck and when listened to with the legend in the back of your head, it takes on a whole new life as a breathing, murderous dirge reaching out to have it’s revenge. Spooky sh*t, right?
There are basically 3 versions of the song. It’s initial Hungarian lyrics, translated with supposed accuracy HERE
Which is weird, because I don’t see anything there about a dead lover or suicide contemplation, but it certainly sounds like the kinda sh*t someone writes after getting their ass dumped, that’s for sure. Then there’s the initial English translation written by Desmond Carter, which makes no secret of it’s suicidal tendencies. Then, there’s the popularized English version written by Sam Lewis which, if you’re familiar with the song, is the version your likely familiar with. This is my personal favorite version of the lyrics. The lines are beautifully crafted with an overwhelming, haunting sadness. “Not where the black coach of sorrow has taken you” being chief among my favorite lines. This version is strange however, in that it adds the third verse where the singer awakens to find their loving laying next to them very much alive. The singer takes this dream as a testament to the love they feel for this person. I wonder if this addition was constructed in response to the wild accusations floating around about the song. Seems like a good PR move, but I think it ultimately turns it into a truly heartfelt love song. This is good and bad. It’s sorta like taking all the balls out of it, yeah, but at the same time, I don’t think it makes the song any less powerful or sad.
This song has been covered by just about anyone you can think of. It’s particularly popular among female artist as the most famous version of the song was recorded by Billie Holiday. Some are better than others, to be sure. I’m particularly fond of Billie Holiday’s myself, as well as Heather Nova’s. Bjork’s is pretty Bjorky, and I’m not huge on Sarah McLachlan in general, but her stab is ok. Emilie Autumn’s version is particularly creepy as it sounds like she’s in a bathtub about to actually kill herself. Vocally, it’s a bit over dramatic, as she tends to be, but it’s none the less effective.
A Hungarian film called “Gloomy Sunday” directed by Rolf Schubel exists which tells a very fictionalized story of the song’s birth and incorporates many elements from the legend. The Professor has never seen it to comment on its quality.
I have placed below a strange youtube clip I found while looking for footage of Billie Holiday singing the song for my own personal enjoyment. After seeing that someone had made this video, I had to do a column on it and it’s checkered history, which has fascinated me for years. Unfortunately, I was unable to find Billie actually singing it, just pictures of her edited to the song. This video claims the version playing is the original, and it may very well be. While the music to all the versions remains very similar, I still prefer the popular English version of the lyrics best, and Billie’s arrangement the most. If you’re interested, please search the other versions out. Wikipedia has a list of artists that have recorded it, and I’m sure you can find someone you like on