Songs We Love: Hayden, 'No Happy Birthday' This moving song about a father's love for his daughter becomes truly wrenching when you hear the story behind its cryptic words.
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03No Happy Birthday

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Songs We Love: Hayden, 'No Happy Birthday'

Songs We Love: Hayden, 'No Happy Birthday'

03No Happy Birthday

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Hayden Desser released his eighth album, Hey Love, in March. Christie Greyerbiehl/Courtesy of the artist hide caption

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Christie Greyerbiehl/Courtesy of the artist

Hayden Desser released his eighth album, Hey Love, in March.

Christie Greyerbiehl/Courtesy of the artist

Toronto songwriter Hayden Desser, who performs and records under his first name, has a lengthy history of hard-hitting sad songs. He rose to (college radio) fame in the late 1990s along with Elliott Smith, Low and Red House Painters as part of a brooding style dubbed "sadcore."

Hayden released his eighth studio album, Hey Love, in March, and its standout track is "No Happy Birthday," a moving but cryptic letter to his daughter. He sings, "As you go through life, they may be unkind / and I won't always be there by your side / And that's on my mind, that's on my mind / that's on my mind almost all of the time."

We asked Hayden if he'd mind sharing the story behind "No Happy Birthday." His answer changes the tenor of the song entirely, transforming it from a simple epiphany of parenthood into a wrenching vignette.

"My incredible 5-year-old daughter has a developmental disability and is non-verbal. I play a lot of guitar around the house, and often try out new songs for her. Unfortunately, usually within seconds, she gives her sign for 'all done' by vigorously rubbing her hands together. I try not to get offended, but I must say it's a little insulting. Her favorite song is 'Happy Birthday,' which I can only perform so many times, so I wrote a song for her with the words 'Happy Birthday' in it in an attempt to trick her into liking it. She's too wise, and after about a minute of first hearing it, she once again signed 'all done.'"

Hence the song's titular phrase: "It's no happy birthday, but it's my way / Maybe one day you'll sing along." Cue the waterworks.

Hey Love, which includes more than a few great songs, is out now on Arts & Crafts.