Weeping At The Wheel: Crushingly Sad Songs

300 a box of tissues sits on a car's dashboard
Yazid Azahari/via Flickr

Not every road trip is a symbol of celebration and freedom; sometimes you're just wallowing in grief, or perhaps fleeing the soul-shrapnelizing ruin you've created back home. Regardless of your misery's root cause — and, let's face it, it's probably your own dumb fault — there's no better place to mourn ostentatiously than alone in a car late at night, when no one's around to witness your pitiful, spluttering sobs.

These five songs all come from a bountiful crop of mid-'00s miserablism, with no shortage of guilt, disappointment, regret and even death in their grim words. But they're all beautiful, cathartic and useful in their own way — kind of like ipecac for your tear glands. Once they're over, when you've come back and are safely nestled beneath the damp covers of your musty futon, be sure to grab your laptop, click here and cry yourself to sleep.

For more entries in this summer's weekly Road Trip: Songs to Drive By series, click here.

Weeping At The Wheel: Crushingly Sad Songs

The Frames CD art

Locusts

  • Artist: The Frames
  • Song: Locusts
  • From: Burn the Maps

The Frames' Glen Hansard has a way of ripping out the listener's heart and massaging it tenderly before returning it in better condition than he found it. In "Locusts," he contemplates the emotional wreckage around him and ultimately opts to flee -- hey, just like you're doing! "I'm moving off / I'm packing up," he sings, adding, "I'm willing to be wrong." Fortunately, in Hansard's music, glimmers of redemption and contentment pop up in the grimmest of moments: "The bells that ring in hope are swinging from the ropes / we thought we'd one day perish on." That's the spirit!

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Song
Locusts
Album
Burn the Maps
Artist
The Frames
Label
Anti
Released
2005

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Wherever You Are CD art

Astronaut

  • Artist: David Mead
  • Song: Astronaut
  • From: Wherever You Are

A criminally under-appreciated singer-songwriter, David Mead is at his best when he's ruminating wistfully on places he's had to abandon or pass by altogether. Mead followed his 2004 sleeper masterpiece Indiana -- which uses the titular state as a metaphor for the space between home and where we find ourselves -- with the similarly winsome yearning of an EP called Wherever You Are. In "Astronaut," Mead laments leaving a city he loves, but adds a bit of motivation for his departure: "Then you tell me a lie and say you'll miss me when I'm gone." It's a painful roundabout admission that, while the places we leave exert a gravitational pull, they can never miss us the way we miss them.

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Song
Astronaut
Album
Wherever You Are
Artist
David Mead
Label
Eleven Thirty
Released
2005

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Sufjan Stevens CD art

Casimir Pulaski Day

  • Artist: Sufjan Stevens
  • Song: Casimir Pulaski Day
  • From: Illinois

Here's hoping that the specifics of "Casimir Pulaski Day" don't apply to your own tearful drive: In all likelihood, you're not a young man who falls in love at Bible Study and questions his faith after watching the object of his unconsummated love die of bone cancer. If you are? Wow, sorry to hear that. But either way, it isn't necessary to fully relate to Sufjan Stevens' ornate ballad: It just sounds like sadness, what with its solemn trumpet and its cooing mourners and, well, the fact that, in the song, someone dies of bone cancer. If you're sad, "Casimir Pulaski Day" isn't going to cheer you up; let's leave it at that.

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Song
Casimir Pulaski Day
Album
Illinois
Artist
Sufjan Stevens
Label
Asthmatic Kitty
Released
2005

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Knives Don't Have Your Back CD art

Our Hell

  • Artist: Emily Haines
  • Song: Our Hell
  • From: Knives Don't Have Your Back

The five stages of grief end with acceptance, right? In "Our Hell," Metric's Emily Haines reflects on a relationship and declares, however unconvincingly, that "our hell is a good life." It's a wrenchingly hollow victory -- taking comfort in the fact that an awful existence is worth striving for -- but as you drift along some dusty highway, "Our Hell" at least helps you count your blessings. And, of course, it'll remind you of their insignificance, in the process helping you overthrow the tyranny of hope. "I tried to save you," Haines sings, "but it can't be done."

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Song
Our Hell
Album
Knives Don't Have Your Back
Artist
Emily Haines
Label
Drowned In Sound
Released
2006

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Stars CD art

Your Ex-Lover Is Dead

  • Artist: Stars
  • Song: Your Ex-Lover Is Dead
  • From: Set Yourself on Fire

A bittersweet narrative unfolds in Stars' "Your Ex-Lover Is Dead," during which former lovers experience an awkward and accidental reunion before applying revisionist history to their difficult past. She's philosophical about their relationship, while he obscures his feelings beneath bogus bravado, but their ambivalence and sadness coalesce around one breathtaking line near the end: "Live through this / and you won't look back." No matter how bad it gets, at least "Your Ex-Lover Is Dead" helps you take a measure of solace in the fact that memories fade.

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Song
Your Ex-Lover Is Dead
Album
Set Yourself on Fire
Artist
Stars
Label
City Slang
Released
2005

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