Black Dog

Album: Collapsed In Sunbeams (2020)

Songfacts®:

  • Winston Churchill suffered from cyclothymia, a chronic disorder consisting of repetitive periods of depression followed by periods of normal or slightly elevated mood. He referred to them as his "black dog," popularizing an old phrase that describes the mood disorder. The term refers to the medieval association of a black dog with the devil, and was used by the 18th century English writer Samuel Johnson in a letter to a friend: "What will you do to keep away the black dog that worries you at home." Here, Arlo Parks sings of her struggle to keep a depressed friend above water.
  • Parks sings of doing anything to fix the enduring the debilitating day-to-day of depression of her friend. She references the singer of the English gothic rock band The Cure by saying she'd be willing to "lick the grief right off (the) lips" of her Robert Smith eyeliner. Parks would even "jump off the fire escape" if that would make her friend's black dog go away.
  • Released on May 4, 2020 at a time when the isolation and uncertainty of the COVID lockdown was distressing people worldwide, the song became something of a pandemic-era anthem. Parks explained: "It's supposed to make people who are struggling feel less isolated and start a conversation surrounding the prevalence of mental health issues in today's world."
  • The lyrics came from fragments of conversations Parks had with her friend. "The first time I played it live she was there in the front row, looking at me, it was so intense," she recalled to The Independent. "It brought us closer together, to experience that song and the reaction to it. It was something I wrote for her and about us and in homage to this difficult time in our friendship."
  • Tragically, Parks' sick friend died by suicide. The songstress told New York Times the public reaction to the tune has helped her with the grieving process. "Getting messages from fans who were really lonely saying songs like 'Black Dog' had soothed them, made them feel safe and held, really warm my spirit," she said.
  • Parks wrote the song with her longtime producer, Gianluca Buccellati. The New York-born musician is a member of the band White China.
  • The NME writers ranked "Black Dog" as the fourth-best song of 2020.

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