I Started A Joke: Barry Gibb

Copied from Songmeanings, this is one of four candidates for the greatest songs of human despair of all time.

I started a joke which started the whole world crying
But I didn’t see that the joke was on me oh no
I started to cry which started the whole world laughing
Oh If I’d only seen that the joke was on me

I looked at the skies running my hands over my eyes
And I fell out of bed hurting my head from things that I said
‘Till I finally died which started the whole world living
Oh if I’d only seen that the joke was on me

I looked at the skies running my hands over my eyes
And I fell out of bed hurting my head from things that I said
‘Till I finally died which started the whole world living
Oh if I’d only seen that the joke was on me
Oh no that the joke was on me

Also from Songmeanings, the highest rated comment:

General Comment  by musiclover68on October 08, 2005Link

Let’s say for every joke you tell, you cause others to cry. Lets say every tear you shed causes laughter in others. Imagine that your death is the cause of the people in this world living. Not existing, but living. You are not a Christ figure. The tone from the music suggests the speaker is more of the reason that people aren’t enjoying life at the present. Your mere existence is simply a hindrance to the world. The speaker is tormented. Crying to an empty sky and hurting from “things that he said”. The speaker is tormented by his past words. For he now realizes that they have placed him out of love and acceptance from the world. They have left him abandoned and it is all his fault. In short, the song is about the remorse and isolation that comes from words and actions that have caused irreparable harm to many. It is the realization of youthful immaturity, that, in itself, only hurts the self. End to End, the joke is you

   Except that Barry Gibb never harmed anyone, most likely. Still, at Christmas, the song reminds us of the despair and loneliness of Jesus. His mother, too, is not told at the Annunciation what she will face at the foot of the cross.
   Hey Donney, was he a “success?”
   Here is an old comment I left on Songmeanings:

   This is a very hard song to read, and we will try to comment on it in a way that does not detract from the meaning. At any rate, we are the “listeners themselves” who “have to try to interpret it themselves,” as Barry said. The inspired song came to him following a bit of nervous collapse. Mr. Gibb heard the melody in the four engines of a plane he was riding in, knew immediately what he had, and stopped the plane to work out the song. Were he not a wealthy songwriter, he might be considered abnormal and drugged. The reaction to things said is like things said in awakened states, and the way these things can grate one as they come back later upon reflection. Socrates would say he had a little man at home with a stick who would beat him for his errors in speech. Prudence in speech is a high virtue, and the “bridle of speech” perhaps the highest continence. The things he said, in line four, is the joke that opens the song in line one. That the joke started the “whole world” crying is difficult, and in trying to understand the universal effect, people have mentioned Jesus, the Devil and Hitler. Another possibility is that the Joke is this song, which everyone in the world has now heard. In 1967-8, he may be introducing a new kind of despair into the expression of ballads, as such things were not said in public previously. But in what way is the Joke on him? Around the time of this writing, he had gone into a fit where he could not stop crying. They had just done the song about the mining disaster, for example, then he saw a train wreck and was unable to help the injured on the scene. The joke being on him would fit with the sorrow expressed by inspiration in the song shattering his soul a bit, as it does to see the deeply sad things covered over so we can just get through our days. If one will look at the skies and run their hands over their eyes, one will see into the meaning of this line a bit: it is an involuntary gesture of anguish universal to man, as is waving and such. It means that we look to the highest things for an explanation one does not expect to find, and clear our eyes as though they must be blurred over, given what we are seeing (while perhaps exclaiming: “Arrgh!”).  Mary Lee Foote, at NaPathon.net, mentioned above, reads his falling out of bed to mean “out of his dream state into reality.” Has he seen the principle of tragedy, that Providence upholding the just is not what the world is about, or is not quite what is going on here? That his death starts the whole world living is indeed like Jesus, but is also like the poet, whose “words trickle down from a wound” he has “no intention to heal” (Simon). The poet, and indeed the soul, is an image of God, though those who do not look above the soul can become confused by this. The alienation is that of one whose joke makes everyone else cry, and whose death allows others to live. The “schizophrenic” can be that alone, that alienated from human community, which makes even parrots pull out their feathers. The scapegoating of the mad is half their malady, or causes an additional injury to the soul. That the joke is on him, though, is that the sorrow he saw brings him down, and this is part of the principle of tragedy that he has seen.

mmcdonaldon September 07, 2015   Link

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