Irony, Heartbreak, Depression

I’ve become obsessed with a 1966 hit by The Statler Brothers: “Flowers on the Wall.” A bluegrassy-sounding song, it won a Grammy that year, and yet it’s weird and chockful of irony. I can’t stop listening to it. See if you think it’s one of the most ironic and sad songs you’ve ever heard:

(Take a look at those Mad Men outfits!)

Anyway, do you know the song or did you just listen? Here are the lyrics:

I keep hearin’ you’re concerned about my happiness
But all that thought you’re givin’ me is conscience I guess
If I were walkin’ in your shoes, I wouldn’t worry none
While you and your friends are worried about me, I’m havin’ lots of fun

Countin’ flowers on the wall
That don’t bother me at all
Playin’ solitaire ’til dawn with a deck of 51
Smokin’ cigarettes and watchin’ Captain Kangaroo
Now don’t tell me, I’ve nothin’ to do

Last night I dressed in tails, pretended I was on the town
As long as I can dream it’s hard to slow this swinger down
So please don’t give a thought to me, I’m really doin’ fine
You can always find me here, I’m havin’ quite a time

Countin’ flowers on the wall
That don’t bother me at all
Playin’ solitaire ’til dawn with a deck of 51
Smokin’ cigarettes and watchin’ Captain Kangaroo
Now don’t tell me, I’ve nothin’ to do

It’s good to see you, I must go, I know I look a fright
Anyway my eyes are not accustomed to this light
And my shoes are not accustomed to this hard concrete
So I must go back to my room and make my day complete

Countin’ flowers on the wall
That don’t bother me at all
Playin’ solitaire ’til dawn with a deck of 51
Smokin’ cigarettes and watchin’ Captain Kangaroo
Now don’t tell me, I’ve nothin’ to do

Don’t tell me, I’ve nothin’ to do

Source: Musixmatch

Songwriters: Lewis Dewitt

Flowers On the Wall lyrics © Unichappell Music Inc.

The song was written by Statler Brothers tenor Lew DeWitt. The lyrics are astonishing with irony (and the sound of a ripping heart) just dripping out of every line. What an amazing description of deep depression.

Do you think the irony makes the story even more tragic?

Can you think of other songs that are equally ironic and yet heartbreaking?

Irony works the same way in poetry (of course). My top choice of an ironic poem is probably Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art,” a villanelle that is one of my favorites.

One Art

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.
playing card deck
Photo by Israel Garcia on Pexels.com

34 Comments

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34 responses to “Irony, Heartbreak, Depression

  1. Funny, I just read a different Elizabeth Bishop poem a few minutes ago. This villanelle is really wonderful.

    I didn’t know the song. (My husband did.) The lyrics are quite wonderful, but I can’t say I love the song (at least not to listen to over and over). 🙂

  2. I remember the song. One of the old heartbreak songs.

  3. I didn’t know the song, but agree with your analysis, especially the value of irony. They put me in mind of their contemporaries, The Chad Mitchell Trio

  4. Okay, I’m going to ‘fess up. I’m old enough to remember that song, and in its day I liked listening to it. I thought it was kind of funny at the time because I didn’t really get into the depression side of it as a young person. Both the song and the poem about loss are not meant to be dwelled on too much. We all have down times in our lives, but we need to work through them and come out smiling. Still, doesn’t hurt to admire the art that people have made from it. Thanks for the trip down memory lane, Luanne. I haven’t heard that song in decades.

  5. At one point, this song was a big part of my adult life. It’s definitely an earworm for me. It must have gotten some air play on whatever radio station I listened to at the time. You’re right that it’s ironic and very sad, with the catchy tune and the vocal harmonies contributing to the irony. The Elizabeth Bishop poem is new to me (and painful to read).

  6. I always liked this song and feel whoever is in this state needs some help.

  7. I’ve never heard this song before. It’s unique but I have to wonder if the real meaning was lost on the audience– or am I selling those people short? Did they get the irony?

    • Ah good point. I think when most people listen to a song on the radio which is how they would’ve heard this one they don’t pay a lot of attention to what a song is about. So I bet you are right!

  8. I have to admit I never thoroughly digested Flowers on the Wall, but it’s always been one of my favorites to hum along!
    I can’t ever remember words…I won’t ever hear it again without remembering your take on it. Bravo.

  9. I knew this song well, but it must have been a cover version. I love the way the Statlers come in high and cutesy. Perhaps I knew Pat Boone’s which is quite different.
    But I never really thought about the words until you brought attention to it. I love, love, love the reference to playing solitaire with a deck of 51. One card is missing. Subtle. Love it.
    Roy Orbison with “Crying” makes his heartbreak much more obvious.

    • You’ve just ruined my ears! I checked out the Pat Boone version. Good grief it’s awful! I had no idea he had such a bad voice or maybe it’s not the right song for him. When I was ten many of the other girls in my class had a crush on him. His voice is boring, too! I love that one card short of a full deck reference too hahaha.

  10. Just reading the lyrics, I did not recognize the song and agreed with your take on it – depressing ! (And the poem, too – maybe it needs a catchy tune😁). Then I listened to it and recognized it. It does not come off the same, for sure, as reading it.

    • Yeah the juxtaposition really makes it easier like a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down haha. I know someone who makes hilarious jokes when times are very dark. Very similar.

  11. That is quite a song and it certainly gets the point across. It has the kind of tune you don’t forget once you have heard it. The poem is much the same, not the sort you would forget. It also gets the point across loud and clear! The last stanza says it all.

    • I first heard earworm as the German Ohrwurm. It’s such a perfect word for tunes like this! In the poem I love how she leads up to that last stanza, taking us to the loss of her lover kind of unaware!!!

  12. Amy

    I know this song. We used to sing it at camp when I was young enough to focus only on the chorus and the seeming humor of it (it is pretty funny, and anything that mentioned Captain Kangaroo has a special place in my heart). I never thought about how sad it really is until I read your post.

    And I finally found a quiet day to read your poems. I will email you.

  13. I remember this song, but I never knew all the lyrics so I’m glad you included them in your post. I just remember the chorus and how I thought those lyrics were odd. Generally, the song has a “peppy” beat and I can imagine people were more attracted to the music than the lyrics.

    Of course, now that I read the lyrics, all I can think is “poor soul!” It makes me think of a breakup where the guy runs into his ex-girlfriend and tries to project an image of being okay but instead essentially confesses that he spends his time smoking cigarettes and watching Captain Kangaroo among other things. I’m sure I heard songs similar to this. Right now Roy Orbison’s Crying comes to mind although it’s not so ironic, if at all.

  14. I remember the song well. It was a catchy tune. Depression? I think they were writing about their music that was being swallowed up by Janis Joplin, The Who, Jimi Hendrix, Fleetwood Mac….and many others.

  15. Hi Luanne. You might enjoy Susan Cain’s new book, Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Can Make Us Whole. (I just reviewed it). I love Roy Orbison’s crying. I’ve never heard Flowers on the Wall. I don’t quite hear the melancholy as much as others such as: Unchained Melody by the Righteous Brothers.

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