The Fray’s song “How to save a life” was on the Billboard hot 100 songs for 58 consecutive weeks, and for a very good reason, it’s relatable, which I wish it wasn’t. When I first heard this song I thought it was about a man who was in conflict with one of his best friends, which wasn’t entirely inaccurate, but there is so much more to be said about this song. This is a post containing some talk about suicide, just a forewarning to any of my readers who may be sensitive to the subject. That being said, let’s get to it.
The opening of the song makes me believe that this is based off of a real personal experience, due to the the placement of the quotation marks. It’s written as,
Step one, you say “We need to talk” he walks, you say “Sit down, it’s just a talk”
Since the writer is using quotation marks in his lyrics, I assume that this song is based on an actual conversation he has had with someone. He talks about how he sees through his friends fake smile, and depression. He is there trying to help his friend deal with whatever it is thats weighing him down, but his friend keeps placing the blame on himself. Either his friend isn’t open to his help, or he isn’t willing to listen and take advice. Reaching out to someone with depression is the first step in trying to get them to realize that they aren’t alone, the man cares about his friend. He asks himself why he came to help, because he doesn’t feel that it’s working, or that he’s getting through to his friend.
The verses of the song I believe are explaining to the listener how to help someone who is on the brink of suicide, yet the chorus is him speaking in first person, which is why I believe this is a true story. The chorus is ” Where did i go wrong? I lost a friend, somewhere along in the bitterness, and I would have stayed up with you all night, had I known how to save a life” It now becomes clear to me that the writer is placing the blame on himself for not being able to help. He thinks that if he would have done more, his friend would still be alive. That is a hard line to swallow, I can feel his guilt. He couldn’t have known how to keep his friend from committing suicide, yet he still feels guilty for not staying with him and figuring it out. The word bitterness stuck out to me. As if the writer and his friend ended their talk with an argument, it’s hard to understand someone struggling with depression, he probably left frustrated, and feeling helpless, which could add to his guilt. Since these words are the chorus, which is repeated multiple times throughout the song, I feel like this is significant. Losing a friend to suicide is hard, but to have a sense of responsibility for it makes the loss that much harder to bear.
There is a line in the song that leads me to believe the writer went into the conversation with good intentions, but was doing more talking than listening. ” Let him know that you know best, because after all you do know best.” Nobody knows what the suicidal person is dealing with, only the one who is struggling. Going into a conversation like that, being a know it all, is the opposite of what they need. The best thing that you can do for some with depression is to simply listen. The writer seems like he did genuinely want to help, and at the time he thought what he was doing was helping. In his music video the word listen is written on a board, but that word is nowhere in his lyrics. I assume that the writer did reflect back and realize that maybe he just needed to listen instead of give advice. He did a fantastic job connecting with his listeners. I can visualize sitting with a friend trying to talk them down from their suicidal thoughts, or picturing his conversation with his friend. This you feel the song even deeper, because you are connecting with the two people.
The main theme that reoccurs in this song is helplessness, and guilt. Helplessness, because he couldn’t keep his friend from committing suicide. As his friend he wishes he could have been able to help him, let him see his worth through his eyes. Guilt, because he didn’t try harder, or stay longer with him. He didn’t just listen, he tried to tell him how to fix it, instead of being open to what his friend was trying to say. Now he has to live his life without his friend, and the what if’s are haunting. If you or someone you know is struggling with depression, or suicidal thoughts please contact the Suicide Helpline.