So, How Exactly Would the Clouds Get Between Your Knees?

9 Songs That, Intentionally or Not, Make the Life of a Superhero Sound Less Than Appealing

1. “Superman (It’s Not Easy),” Five for Fighting (2000)
Whatever singer-songwriter John Ondrasik paid the gods of synchronicity back when he wrote this song, he got his money’s worth. First released in 2000 on his America Town album, the song soared up the charts after the 9/11 attacks and, naturally, found its way onto the Smallville soundtrack, also in 2001. It’s not hard to figure out why; while the song doesn’t mention Superman by name, it’s pretty clear who the “pretty face beside a train” is supposed to be, and the notion that even someone as mighty as Superman can admit “it’s not easy to be me” struck a chord among Americans suddenly aware that even the mightiest country can feel pain. Nationalistic metaphors aside, what’s striking about the song is that you have someone who can literally change the course of mighty rivers admitting to feelings of inadequacy and abandonment issues, while also coming to the realization there’s literally no one else on Earth who can possibly begin to understand or empathize with his problems. That’s… pretty damn depressing, when you think about it.

Up, up and away, away from me
It’s all right, you can all sleep sound tonight
I’m not crazy, or anything…

I can’t stand to fly
I’m not that naive
Men weren’t meant to ride
With clouds between their knees

I’m only a man in a silly red sheet
Digging for Kryptonite on this one-way street
Only a man in a funny red sheet
Looking for special things inside of me…

2. “Superman’s Song,” Crash Test Dummies (1991)
The first single off the Crash Test Dummies’ debut album The Ghosts That Haunt Me, “Superman’s Song” was the Canadian folk-rock group’s first hit in the U.S. — which may have caught some music fans by surprise, given the song was a slow funeral dirge with lead vocals by one of the deepest baritones to come out of the Great White North. Released a few years before the much-ballyhooed “Death of Superman” storyline, the eerily prescient song itself wasn’t too downbeat — even though it does note Superman got paid bupkis for his selfless acts of heroism (and how gross must it have been “changing clothes in dirty old phonebooths” all the time?) — but the video itself was a damn depressing affair, with obviously aging superheroes shuffling in and paying their last respects to the deceased Man of Steel. So to recap: superheroes grow old and die, often without a penny to their names because that’s not what heroes are about. Good to know.

Tarzan wasn’t a ladies’ man
He’d just come along and scoop ’em up under his arm like that
Q
uick as a cat in the jungle
But Clark Kent, now there was a real gent
He would not be caught sittin’ around in no junglescape
Dumb as an ape doing nothing

Superman never made any money
Saving the world from Solomon Grundy
And sometimes I despair the world will never see
Another man like him

3. “Paradise City,” Guns N’ Roses (1987)
Take your average patriotic American boy, raise him during the depths of the Great Depression, offer him a chance to serve his country by dressing in the colors of Old Glory and fighting as a super-soldier during WWII, and then fix it so that he’s literally put on ice until, oh, let’s say around the time Appetite for Destruction hit record stores. Question: how likely is it that this time-displaced American hero will feel just a little bit bewildered, perhaps even terrified, by the world of 1987? Especially the world as described by Guns N’ Roses in this song, in which the narrator talks of living on the streets at a young age and rails against an American Dream that promises a “rags to riches” story but instead treats you like you’re “strapped in the chair of the city’s gas chamber.” Front man Axl Rose has never pinned down the exact location of “Paradise City” or (as far as I know) has ever commented on whether he meant the actual Captain America or another ultra-patriotic authority figure (one online source claims it’s actually Rose’s disapproving father), but either way the song offers some insight into how an idealistic superhero from the ’40s might feel in a heavy-metal, post-modern world populated by punks that will happily tell you the American Dream is for suckers, man.

Captain America’s been torn apart
Now he’s a court jester with a broken heart
He said turn me around and
Take me back to the start
I must be losin’ my mind
“Are you blind!?”
I’ve seen it all a million times

Take me down
To the paradise city
Where the grass is green
And the girls are pretty
Take me home

4. “That’s Really Super, Supergirl,” XTC (1986)
Listen to the words of this song by British New Wave band XTC and you hear the anguished cries of someone in a relationship with a girl who’s powerful enough to “stop the universe from dying,” but that still doesn’t excuse her from having to deal with his messy emotional neediness. Is the song’s narrator hurt because Supergirl has been sneaking around on him? Is he upset because she spends more time out saving the world than staying home and making him feel special? Is he frustrated because she compartmentalizes her life to the extent that he feels stuck in her Fortress of Solitude waiting for her to change identities and come back to him? It’s not entirely clear what his issue is here, but one thing appears certain: that even Supergirl can’t escape from fragile, emotionally stunted jerks who can’t handle being with someone that can take care of herself.

That’s really super, Supergirl
How you saved yourself in seconds flat
And your friends are going to say
That’s really super, Supergirl
How you’re changing all the world’s weather
But you couldn’t put us back together
Now I feel like I’m tethered deep
Inside your Fortress of Solitude
Don’t mean to be rude
But I don’t feel super, Supergirl

5. “Ghost Rider,” Suicide (1977)
Truth be told, it would be hard to find anyone (anyone sane, that is) who would covet the life of Ghost Rider, given he’s a guy who sold his soul to the devil and ended up hosting a demon that fights him for dominance over his physical body (and let’s not even talk about how well the flaming skull look does not go over with the ladies). But the chance to punish evildoers would be appealing to some people, and you would get a fine-looking ride out of the deal, so…  At any rate, “Ghost Rider” appears on Suicide’s self-titled debut album, and it has been covered by many musical acts since, including R.E.M. and (most recently, in 2010) M.I.A. In it, our hell-spawned hero’s main message is America is killing its youth, which… look, it’s not that I want to disagree with that sentiment (Bowling for Columbine tells it like it is, y’all), but if I were ever to make a pact with the devil that guaranteed me supernatural powers, I’d like to think that part of the deal would include not having to give a demonic rat’s ass about social injustice. That the Ghost Rider in this song takes it upon himself to become a scary-ass PSA for better parenting is… well, not what I would have signed up for, that’s for sure.  Plus, who you callin’ cute, punk?

Ghost Rider, motorcycle hero
Bebebebebebebe he’s lookin’ so cute
Sneakin ’round ’round ’round in a blue jumpsuit

Ghost Rider, motorcycle hero
Bebebebebebebe he’s a-blazin away
Packin’ stars stars stars in the universe

Ghost Rider, motorcycle hero
Bebebebebebebe he’s a-screaming the truth
America, America is killing its youth

6. “Jimmy Olsen’s Blues,” The Spin Doctors (1991)
Is it possible for anyone to think back to the early ’90s and not hear the Spin Doctors play on their mental soundtrack? Pocket Full of Kryptonite was the band’s best-selling album, going five times platinum by the time the American public had had its fill of “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong.” Another top-selling single off that album was opening track “Jimmy Olsen’s Blues,” a light little ditty that posits Superman’s pal and ace cub reporter as a potential rival for the affections of Lois Lane. So take note, all you bigshot superheroes: you can have all the super powers you want and get the girl, but you’re still going to have a hell of a time finding a real friend that you can trust enough not to carry on his person the very thing that can kill you. (Unless Jimmy is being cute here with the “pocket full of Kryptonite” line, suggesting to Lois that the lump in his pocket is big enough to make Superman look weak by comparison, which… oh, snap.)

Well, I don’t think I can handle this
A cloudy day in Metropolis
I think I’ll talk to my analyst
I got it so bad for this little journalist
It drives me up the wall and through the roof
Lois and Clark in a telephone booth
I think I’m going out of my brain
I got it so bad for little miss Lois Lane

Lois Lane, please put me in your plan
Yeah, Lois Lane you don’t need no Superman
Come on downtown and stay with me tonight
I got a pocket full of kryptonite

7. “Cartoon Heroes,” Aqua (2000)
Better known for their “Barbie Girl” single, Danish dance-pop group Aqua released this tribute to the superheroes on their second album, Aquarius, in 2000; it’s the kind of fast-paced, bubblegum pop song you’d expect to hear as a station ID for a youth-oriented network (which in fact it was for the Disney Channel a little while back). While the song sounds like a high-spirited paean to all the neat things superheroes can do, the fact the words are sung by the heroes themselves suggest a certain level of self-awareness among fictional characters who realize they’re only lines and dots on a page, forever doomed to repeatedly “do the things you wanna see” and live life “to the extreme” because they are the avatars created by us boring humans and specifically designed to do all the things that we ordinary humans can only dream about doing. Knowing that your every thought, word and deed — not to mention every soap-opera twist in your secret identity civilian life — is nothing more than the by-product of someone else’s fantasy life? Doesn’t get much more existentially depressing than that.

We are what we’re supposed to be
Illusions of your fantasy
All dots and lines that speak and say
What we do is what you wish to do

We are the color symphony
We do the things you wanna see
Frame by frame, to the extreme

Our friends are so unreasonable
They do the unpredictable
All dots lines that speak and say
What we do is what you wish to do

8. “Kryptonite,” 3 Doors Down (2000)
I can’t really improve on what the Wikipedia writer who described the video for this song said, so here goes: “The music video presents an old man, who was either a big-time action hero on TV, or possibly a real hero in his heyday (it is never specified). The scene cuts between the band hanging around on the roof of the apartment where the old man lives, spying on a man harassing a woman. When the man drags her away, the old man dons his trusty suit and follows. In between shots of the old hero chasing the bad guy and failing to protect himself against a group of goths, the band is shown playing in a club with several other elderly people dressed as caricatures of comic villains. The video comes to a close when the old man dives through the skylight and ‘catches’ the bad guy off guard, possibly knocking him out by falling on top of him.” Yeah, can’t really see that footage making the final cut for the next Justice League membership recruitment campaign. The song itself sounds like a reflection on true love or friendship, with one partner asking the other if he/she will still be there when times get rough… but sorry, just can’t get that old guy in his tighty whities out of my head.

You called me strong, you called me weak
But your secrets I will keep
You took for granted all the times I never let you down
You stumbled in and bumped your head
I
f not for me then you would be dead
I picked you up and put you back on solid ground

If I go crazy then will you still call me Superman
If I’m alive and well will you be there holding my hand
I’ll keep you by my side with my superhuman might
Kryptonite

9. “The Ballad of Barry Allen,” Jim’s Big Ego (2003)
Remember the last time you were stuck walking behind someone who couldn’t move as fast as you, and you couldn’t get around them? Remember how frustrating it felt, even if you weren’t in a rush to get anywhere? Multiply that feeling by a million and you get some idea of what it’s like to be the Flash — a hero who, as this song says, has enough time to think about his past while dodging bullets, but never has enough time to stop and talk to the people he’s saving because there’s always another person somewhere who needs saving right away… and on top of that, everyone around him is moving so. damn. slow. “And I’m there before you know it/I’ll be gone before you see me/And I’d like to get to know you/But you’re talking much too slowly/And I know you wanna thank me/But I never stick around/Because time keeps dragging on…” And on and on and on…

And you say the time goes rushing by
But it seems so slow to me
And you complain I’m gone
B
efore you blink your eye
But it takes too long
It seems so slow to me

And you say the time goes rushing by
But it seems so slow to me
And I want to be there
When you laugh or cry

But it takes too long
It seems so slow to me

 

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