Suffer Well



Single?
Yes, released March 27, 2006


"Suffer Well" was released as a single and is the third track on Playing the Angel.

Lyrics

Where were you when I fell from grace
A frozen heart, an empty space
Something's changed and it's in your eyes
Please don't speak, you'll only lie
I found treasure not where I thought
Peace of mind can't be bought
Still I believe
I just hang on, suffer well
Sometimes it's hard, it's hard to tell
An angel led me when I was blind
I said take me back, I've changed my mind
And now I believe
From the blackest room I was torn
You called my name, our love was born
So I believe
I just hang on, suffer well
Sometimes it's hard, it's hard to tell
I just hang on, suffer well
Sometimes it's hard, so hard to tell


Dave's Take

"When it started out, it was a much slower song and we just decided to go in a really pop way with it. Which is a contrast to what it's saying lyrically, which is: Suffer well, because whatever it is you're suffering, if you suffer well enough, you won't have to suffer anymore. It's something that was said to me a long time ago, which I did not understand. A guy who was sitting with me and had a lot more experience in life — an older gentleman — said, 'You know, David, suffer well.' And I was like, 'What the f--- are you talking about? Thanks a lot, man!' It came back to me a few years ago, what he was really saying: Suffer well, and if you suffer well enough, you can move on."1

"It was definitely a little dig at [my bandmates]. I didn't write it like that but when I sang it, I did picture Martin. It was, What didn't you understand that I needed you the most then. Where was the fuckin' answers when I needed them most? When I finally hit a wall, of crawling across the floor of that apartment in Santa Monica, I felt myself dying. I felt my soul had gone and inside I was screaming, Where the fuck are you?!"2



My Take

This was Dave's very first Depeche Mode song! And it's a banger...it has a heavy, driving beat and Martin Gore's guitar adds a gritty sound to this song. Lyrically, it's very autobiographical, following on the themes first presented on Dave's solo album from two years prior, Paper Monsters. I have to ask...who is he addressing in this song? Is he addressing multiple people? The first verses sound like a cry for help and no one was there or listening. This eerily sounds a lot like what he went through in the 1990s when he was harming himself, saying that at least one of his suicide attempts was "a cry for help."3 It paints a bleak picture of being abandoned and alone, but the second verse picks up with a ray of hope, as he is being "led" by an "angel," and being "torn" from "the blackest room." This sounds a lot like how Dave described his near-death experience on May 28, 1996 when he blacked out and literally died for two minutes after injecting a speedball: "All I saw and all I felt at first was complete darkness. I've never been in a space that was blacker, and I remember feeling that whatever it was I was doing, it was really wrong...It certainly wasn't a place I'd like to visit again."4 This song is ripe with the classic Depeche Mode themes of darkness and death juxtaposed with feelings of hope and love. So, you have to wonder if Martin, who spearheaded that theme in the first place, and his songwriting had rubbed off on Dave at all in all of the time that they worked together.

Finally, I can't leave this section without asking the question, what does it mean to "suffer well?" Those two words aren't usually used together so it's an interesting phrase...does it mean to suffer thoroughly? Or to enjoy suffering? Or perhaps make the most of out of suffering (reminds me of the phrase "work smarter not harder")? This also reminds me of a verbal exchange that Dave said he had with a "very old" and "very wise" man in New York about suffering that he talks about in this video (starting at the 3:55 mark):

This video is from a couple of years after "Suffer Well" was recorded but the exchange sounded interesting, nonetheless.



Music Video

A limo pulls into a town and Dave gets out of it. He looks sharp; he is clean-shaven and is wearing a fancy suit. He is wearing a wedding band on his left hand and a close-up shot shows him taking it off and putting it into his pocket. He then goes to town within the town. First, he breaks into a jewelry store and steals some items to wear, including a big cross necklace. His clothes then instantly change and he looks a little more rugged to boot, wearing sunglasses, the cross necklace that he stole, and a partly-unbuttoned black dress shirt. Coming out of the jewelry store, he sees a woman dressed in all-white with wings- an angel, across the street in front of a garage that has a sign emblazoned with the word, "Heaven" on it. Dave immediately tries to go to her, but when he steps into the street, cars whiz right by him, nearly hitting him. The angel fades away into thin air and Dave runs back to the sidewalk, continuing his journey through what seems like a hedonistic town (though there aren't actually any inhabitants, it seems). The next place that he stops at appears to be the shop of a fortune teller, as the sign above it reads, "Future." He stops in front of the window and looks at it. There's a neon sign on it that reads, "we sell HELL and suffer well." He turns away as a wind starts blowing, revealing a more rugged look on him as his shirt is completely open revealing a white "wife-beater" tank top and ill-fitting gray pants. He walks into a building labeled "Tavern" next and sits down at the bar, pours himself a drink, passes out, and immediately awakens with his dress shirt gone. He seems disoriented, but he then gets up and goes to the dance floor and starts dancing by himself. After his lonely and brief drunken shindig, he walks out of the tavern and finds that it's raining outside. He carefully makes his way along the sidewalk, finds a newspaper on a bench and covers his head with it to try and keep dry. It doesn't really work, though, so he throws it on the ground and walks on. Next, he comes upon "DM's Bridal Shop" and he takes shelter within the alcove at the front entrance, and he examines the two bride and groom mannequins closely through the windows. They are both alive and the bride even sings, much to Dave's bewilderment. Soon, it starts snowing, and a very cold and lonely Dave seems to be struggling to stay standing. He changes before our very eyes again- sporting long, disheveled hair, and definitely still not dressed appropriately for the weather. He emerges from the alcove and weakly ambles on, finally collapsing on his hands and knees on the snow, crawling along until he comes to a complete stop and is next seen sitting against the outside wall of a building, not moving. The snow continues to fall, completely covering him. The scene then cuts to Dave from the beginning of the video, looking healthy and sharp, and he has a wistful look on his face as if he had imagined (or remembered) all that we saw up until now. His sad reverie is then broken by someone approaching- his wife. They smile at each other, exchange a kiss, and then both climb into the car together (which is now just a regular car- not a limo). Dave begins to drive with his wife in the passenger seat. They exchange a few words, and then all of a sudden, Dave looks out the window and points; she looks where he is pointing and we all see a dead man sitting on the sidewalk covered in snow. Dave's wife just turns away from the sight, smiles, and then the video closes on them sharing a kiss.



My Take

First, I must expose the funny and touching cameos galore in this video. The chauffeur that lets Dave out of the limo at the beginning is Jonathan Kessler, Depeche Mode's manager. The angel in "Heaven" and the woman at the end of the video are both played by Jennifer Sklias-Gahan, Dave's wife. And finally, who can forget the living bride and groom mannequins, who are played by Martin Gore and Andy Fletcher, respectively? Yes, Martin in a dress! A wedding dress, no less! The storytelling in this video is excellent, and it remains my favorite Depeche Mode music video of all time. Watching this video is also like watching a four-minute biopic of Dave Gahan. He goes from fresh-faced gentleman to delinquent to town drunk and back again in a span of a few minutes. It's also quite appropriate having his wife, Jennifer, play the angel (no pun intended) because as I understand it, she had quite the hand in bringing Dave back from the abyss in real life. Jonathan was a key player in that, as well, as I believe it was he who staged the intervention that got Dave into serious rehab once and for all. But Martin and Andy...playing a bride and groom...no idea what purpose that served but, man, it was great. This video is like a mini-movie, and I absolutely love it.



References

  1. "Depressed Mode", The Wave Magazine (Retrieved on January 18, 2021)
  2. "Songs of Innocence and Experience", Mojo (November 2005)
  3. "Dead Man Talking", Arena (April 1997)
  4. "Cash for Questions", Q (June, 2003)