Song of the Day #1,309: ‘Carrying Cathy’ – Ben Folds

I was all set to write that another previous weekend artist was showing up on Random Weekends, but then I realized Ben Folds hasn’t gotten the weekend treatment (yet).

I guess I just assumed he had because I’ve featured so many of his songs on the blog, including the entirety of his first album with Ben Folds Five.

I was totally bummed when Ben Folds Five broke up but I never doubted that Folds himself would continue recording. Rockin’ the Suburbs, released two years after the Five’s final album, made it clear that he wasn’t going anywhere.

The album is primarily made up of character sketches, mostly of women, and it has a short story writer’s eye for detail — paired with Folds’ exquisite melodies and piano virtuosity. It’s hard to top what he does here, though he’s managed it more than a few times since.

‘Carrying Cathy’ is a song about a young woman whose depression leads to suicide, told by a man who blames himself for not preventing it. The song’s second verse is its most poignant: “There were times when I’d find myself saying to friends, ‘You don’t understand, she’s different when it’s just me and her.’ I
closed the door and I tried to hang on as she sank into the dark. I was over my head.” Like so many of Folds’ lyrics, the conversational tone adds to the poignancy.

The final image of Cathy being literally carried in a coffin feels a bit obvious. I wonder if that could have been hinted at a little more obliquely. But then, it’s usually the directness of Folds’ songs that I find so rewarding.

Her window was hung like a painting
She worried it might come to life
She stared for hours
So obsessed was I and self-absorbed that I
Didn’t see that she was
Crying

There was always someone carrying
There was always someone carrying
Always someone’s carrying Cathy

There were times when I’d find myself saying to friends,
“You don’t understand,
She’s different when it’s just me and her”
I closed the door and I tried to hang on as she
Sank into the dark
I was over my head

There was always someone carrying
There was always someone carrying
Always someone’s carrying Cathy

We gave you everything
You could have been anything
We gave you everything
You could have done anything

But to imagine a fall
With no one at all to catch you
There’d always been someone

Then one night she climbed into the picture frame
Out in the frozen air
And out of sight

Woke up sad from this dream I’ve been having
The last couple nights or so
With her father and brothers we’re all at the funeral
Carrying a box through the rain
Then somebody says that it’s always been this way

Always someone’s carrying
There was always someone carrying
Always someone’s carrying Cathy

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2 thoughts on “Song of the Day #1,309: ‘Carrying Cathy’ – Ben Folds

  1. Dana says:

    I don’t know if I ever listened closely enough to the lyrics of this song to realize just how dark it is. Perhaps the last verse could have been less obvious or less tied in to the double meaning of “carrying,” but, as you said, subtledly is not what Folds sets out to achieve in his lyrics. He saves the subtlety and nuance for the music.

    There is something in the beauty of Folds’ melodies that seems to make the medicine of the darker lyrics like these go down a bit sweeter. “Brick” is another one that comes to mind. You find yourself humming along, getting lost in the tune, without thinking too deeply about the fact that the song is describing the experience of abortion or, in today’s song, a suicide.

  2. Amy says:

    I actually like that obvious reference of the title and the final stanza (verse), as it allows the listener to explore the other, more nuanced and complex meaning of “carrying.” The truth that neither the speaker, nor anyone else, could truly carry her, which is why there is such a sense of guilt and helplessness by those left behind after a suicide. Such a great songwriter.

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