Way back when, Motown singer Jimmy Ruffin, warbling a wonderfully depressing little song called "What Becomes of the Brokenhearted", uttered the following line:

"Happiness is just an illusion, filled with sadness and confusion."

And a lot of people might actually have agreed with that sentiment; enough of them bought the single (Soul 35022, 1966) to propel it to #7 on the pop chart, #6 on the R&B chart. This was a time when most 45s were presumably bought by young people, and as a general rule, no one seems to embrace depression quite so enthusiastically as adolescents.

Yet here I am, thirty-four years later, still haunted by Ruffin's prefab desolation. Maybe it's just that it's a darn good song Dave Marsh's list of the 1001 greatest singles ranks this one at #241 but maybe there's something else at work here. Ruffin's bad dream, if you take the lyrics at face value, is about nothing more than the consequences of a failed love affair: pretty horrible stuff, yes, but not enough to cause ongoing paralysis of the spirit. With some notable exceptions (can you say "Ophelia"?), most people survive this sort of thing. Even I have.

So I must be finding subtext here, even if producer/writer team Mickey Stevenson and William Weatherspoon hadn't intended it. Am I suffering from some form of anhedonia? I don't think I buy it. The true anhedonic, if I understand the concept correctly, doesn't have any connection to pleasure at all; anyone who's seen me for more than a week has seen me laugh out loud. And while I do score appropriately on Web tests designed to measure rough levels of anhedonia, I always suspect that they're trying to sell me yet another self-help book or something.

Or maybe it's just what John Mellencamp ascribed to those two American kids, Jack and Diane: "Life goes on, long after the thrill of living is gone." And, of course, if the thrill is gone, we've finished up Jimmy Ruffin's record, and moved on to B. B. King's.

The Vent

24 July 2000

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 Copyright © 2000 by Charles G. Hill