If you’ve watched a chick flick or listened to the radio anytime in the past several years, you’ll have heard Florence + The Machine’s “Dog Days are Over.” It’s an energetic, frenetic, percussion-laced ditty about accepting happiness. And I hate it.
Let’s listen, shall we?
The theme of the song is about a woman being hit by happiness in rather violent ways. In one verse, it hits her like a train, while in another it hits her like a bullet. And she doesn’t seem happy about this happiness: she hides from it around corners and under beds and even dumps that shit down the kitchen sink. She is then advised to leave all her love and her longing behind, because she can’t carry it with her if she wants to survive. What’s more, she needs to tell her whole goddam family about it.
This song has a fucked up relationship with happiness. While the upbeat drums and the refrain of “Dog Days are Over” invoke sheer joy at finally experiencing happiness, the whole process seems rather terrifying. After all, happiness arrives in forms that can literally kill you. It’s hardly surprising that the woman in the song is wary.
For many, this song is a powerful anthem about coming out of the depths of despair. And if you’ve had a bad day or week or month (or even your year”¦) this can be a great feeling and a great song to dance to. It gets trickier for those whose depths of despair are not simply the melodramatic whining of a red-headed Anne Shirley. If that despair is deeper, more like depression, then this song is just insulting.
Full disclosure: this song was on a playlist I created last year titled “Please stop being so fucking depressed.” It also included “Sabotage” by The Beastie Boys and “Little Acorns” by The White Stripes (which I think is a wonderful song about being depressed).
I listened to it as if singing about the Dog Days being over could make them go away. Then, they did go away. Happiness did not hit me like a train; it came on slowly until one day I was doing my dishes and I was like, “Hey, I’m not depressed anymore!” So I thought I’d put on that song and dance around and really mean it this time. Only I got annoyed.
Because here’s the thing: Learning to manage this disease is about turning off that loop in your head that tells you that you are awful and dwells on all things bad, and because of this, it’s not really about happiness. It’s about managing your perceptions of yourself and the world so that everything isn’t so very bleak all the time. So happiness hitting you and you having to accept it lest it kill you is a way of telling depressed people that if they only looked for happiness, they’d be okay. They’d survive. And that’s not a message I care for. It also suggests that should depression return, you just must not have let go of your loving and longing. And maybe you forgot to tell your family.
So, Florence, I don’t like your song. I’ll take the gentle feelings of being lifted out of despair, thanks, like how my legs no longer feel like they’re going through mud or how I don’t feel like I do everything as if through cotton gauze. These feeling are not violent, like bullets or trains and they won’t kill you if you fail to leave behind everything that came before. No, they’ll only make you realize that the the black dog is at bay and yes, you may experience joy when you recognize these feelings. I think for that, I prefer this song: