Why “Someone Great” by LCD Soundsystem is the Best Song About Loss Ever Written

kristen hellwig
May 8, 2016 · 5 min read

It’s a bold statement, I know. I also know that loss is personal, and everyone experiences it in different ways. And music itself is extremely personal, with one single song potentially leading to hundreds of different interpretations. But I’m sticking to my statement. “Someone Great” is the best song about loss ever written.

The Lyrics

“Someone Great” was written by LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy, one of the most influential musical geniuses of our time. Murphy’s lyrics are consistently raw, honest, emotional, and poetic. And, especially in this case, incredibly easy to relate to.

In “Someone Great,” Murphy takes you on a journey through the entire grieving process, starting at the very beginning — the moment you get that phone call. Even if you were expecting it, even if you feared it was going to happen soon or were thankful it didn’t happen earlier, you’re never ready to hear those words.

To tell the truth I saw it coming
The way, you were breathing
But nothing can prepare you for it
The voice, on the other end

Murphy has this incredible ability to use seemingly mundane thoughts and everyday truths to convey the multi-faceted experience of grief. The statements that he makes, about weather, about coffee, seem simple at first. But they reflect the intensity of mourning and the fact that even the most basic things can trigger extraordinary amounts of pain.

The worst is all the lovely weather
I’m stunned it’s not raining
The coffee isn’t even bitter
Because, what’s the difference?

After losing someone close to you, there are moments when you look around and are shocked that everyone around you is able to smile, to laugh, to enjoy this moment. Don’t they know what the world has lost? How can happiness exist in any form? Everyone in the universe, even the universe itself, should be feeling this overwhelming heartache.

Wanting the world to feel what you are feeling doesn’t stop at that point. It transforms. You may not need the world to feel your pain, but you want them to understand the significance of your loss. You want them to understand how great that person was. The person you’ve lost continues to live on through you and the stories you tell and the memories you share.

You’re smaller than my wife imagined
Surprised you were human

When you lose people you love and they live on through you, they have a tendency to become larger than life. They take up so much space in your heart, it’s hard to imagine that they only took up a small amount of physical space when they inhabited this world. It seems unbelievable that they had powers of mere mortals, when to you, they were real-life superheroes.

When it comes to the lyrics of “Someone Great,” the beauty doesn’t simply lie in their meaning, but in the delivery as well. Lines are repeated over and over in a hauntingly beautiful way, almost like a meditation or a Catholic prayer right there in the middle of the song. Repeating the same words with varying intonation makes you feel the words more. You feel every emotion they evoke, as you are forced to take them in.

And it keeps coming
And it keeps coming
And it keeps coming
And it keeps coming
And it keeps coming
And it keeps coming
And it keeps coming
Till the day it stops

And it does. It keeps coming. But it doesn’t stop. It just transforms.

The Music

Of course, you can’t discuss the genius of any LCD Soundsystem song without mentioning the music. “Someone Great” is not the saddest sounding song in the world. In fact, it’s straight up danceable, which allows you to experience the song in a completely different way than you would experience almost any another song about loss.

James Murphy has been known to show a keen interest in how sound affects his own body, and ultimately how it affects others. The musical choices he makes in this song are purposeful and powerful. Every single element, from the build up at the beginning to the abrupt stop at the end, is designed to make you feel this song. You feel this song in a way that is actually very similar to grief — your heart races, your emotions run wild, and your entire body is overtaken by its magnitude.

The Mystery

Perhaps one of the most powerful arguments for “Someone Great” being the best song about loss ever written is the fact that James Murphy refuses to give a definitive answer as to who or what the song is about.

“Songs are songs and to reduce them is to waste them,” Murphy says.

To go into a detailed account of the story behind the song takes away from the listener’s ability to transform it, to make it one’s own.

The mystery surrounding the song almost makes the song even more personal, because Murphy is not sharing unnecessary details about the loss or about the relationship. You don’t need to know those. He’s keeping that for himself. But he is sharing the most important fact — that someone great is gone.

This line, this fact, the title of the song, is ultimately what makes it relatable to virtually anyone listening. Whether you’ve lost a parent, a sibling, a lover, or a friend, who they are to you personally isn’t always the most important thing. Sometimes it’s bigger than that. It’s bigger than you and who that person was to you. What matters more than that is just the most important fact — that someone great is gone.

The Reality

Finally, “Someone Great” is the best song about loss ever written because loss is personal, and this one is mine. This comes from my story, my experience, and my grieving process. This is what I’ve chosen as the best song about loss ever written.

There shouldn’t be this ring of silence
But what, are the options?

Murphy is right. There shouldn’t be a ring of silence when it comes to loss. And with “Someone Great,” he has inspired me to change that. His music has provided me with a tool to speak about my loss — to dissect it, to confront it, to share it, and feel it.

The song has helped me, and I’m sure thousands of others, make sense of the insurmountable pain that comes from losing someone great. It has given me hope and has even allowed me to dance through the pain.

The reality is that loss is incredibly personal, and “Someone Great” may not be your definition of the greatest song about loss ever written. But it’s mine. And it has allowed me to let you know the most important thing, the whole reason for writing this — someone great is gone.

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