Songs That Matter | Something’s Wrong

Listen here | Download here

written by Karen Hogg

photo by Andy Benson

When I committed to organizing The Murder Ballad Project at the beginning of 2019, I intuitively knew that I needed a song that encapsulated my reasons for doing the project in the first place. Several of the participating artists mentioned “The Body Electric” by Hurray for the Riff Raff as that song. They were right. The song – a protest against our collective resignation to violence, specifically to violence against women- is a heartful, visceral response to murder ballads. 

And I was originally going to write about that tune for this Songs that Matter blog. But the universe and the rabbit hole of YouTube algorithms had other plans. As I was listening to “The Body Electric,” the next song up, unbeknownst to me, was another Hurray for the Riff Raff song that I had never heard before, “Something’s Wrong.” 

Something’s wrong that my heart can’t fix
I got stuck in this big old ditch
Try to climb my way out this hole
Singing something’s wrong I just can’t control

Forty nights and forty days
Some survive, some just washed away
And we listen to those church bells toll
Singing something’s wrong we just can’t control

But cheer up brother, don’t you cry
We’ll understand it all in the by and by
I hear those shots ring out and it hurts my soul
Singing something’s wrong we just can’t control

Well something’s wrong and I’m feeling strange
Nothing seems to be the same
Hear that wide muddy river flow
Singing something’s wrong we just can’t control


This song is a gut punch. I listened to these words as I sat alone in my apartment on April 17th, 2020, during the Coronavirus pandemic. While the song, written by Hurray for the Riff Raff frontwoman Alynda Segarra, is another incisive protest against violence, the lyrics also feel particularly raw right now, in our current situation. I cried as I listened to it. 

The first verse speaks to the isolation that I am currently feeling. Each of us have been dealing with the quarantine in our own way. Each situation has its own challenges. I am single.  I teach students every day online and I am staying connected with friends and family. I have my dog with me. But I am not physically seeing people. This is hard, harder than I could have imagined. Because how can you even imagine something like this??? I have been crying and I have had trouble concentrating on the tasks that I still need to do. I am doing my best to stay positive and to be there for others. Despite my feelings of isolation, I know how lucky I am. I have a roof over my head. I have money coming in. I have the luxury of being able to work from home, a privilege that many do not have during this time, including some of my students (or their parents) who are currently on the front lines. Who am I to cry over feeling lonely? I’ve talked to people in the last week who have lost parents and other family members. But the loneliness is still there and there is more: the realization is there in the back of my mind. I’m trying to squash it down, but it is there. There will be no easy fix for this. We are in this for the long haul. We have to hunker down. I have to hunker down. And that means, for now, putting one foot in front of the other when I have very little motivation to do so.

Something’s wrong that my heart can’t fix
I got stuck in this big old ditch
Try to climb my way out this hole
Singing something’s wrong I just can’t control

The second verse describes the grief that I feel when I see and hear the news – either of a public figure or someone that I am connected to – losing their own lives or losing a loved one. The biblical reference of the forty nights and forty days feels appropriate. Just how long is this going to last?? When do I get to see my friends and family again?? When will I get to hug people??? The sense of helplessness is there – “Singing something’s wrong we just can’t control.” 

Forty nights and forty days
Some survive, some just washed away
And we listen to those church bells toll
Singing something’s wrong we just can’t control

The third and fourth verses aim towards understanding and acceptance. 

But cheer up brother, don’t you cry
We’ll understand it all in the by and by

But the song does not provide any easy answers. I think that this is something about music that puts it in a sacred realm. Sound, and the marriage of words with sound, manages to delve deep into difficult truths that we cannot always get to on our own. We need this more than ever. As we navigate whatever our new normal will be, we cannot forget this time and what it felt like. We must move forward, but we must move forward in a way that initiates change. For years, I have read spiritual tomes that have spoken about the interconnectedness of our world. I realize that that concept was only an intellectual idea for me until now. Look at how easily our system has collapsed. We REALLY do need each other – every single one of us – whatever our roles are in this life. We are a house of cards all holding each other up. What alchemy do we need to turn into a mountain?

And now, here we are, on May 31st. So much has happened since April 17th, when I originally wrote these words. More innocent people have died, not only from COVID 19, but from the virulent hand of systemic racism. This, of course, is nothing new. The 2nd half of the of the 3rd verse states:

I hear the shots ring out and it hurts my soul
Singing something’s wrong we just can’t control

Protests are springing up across the country. People have had enough. I will repeat what I wrote before: We REALLY do need each other – every single one of us – whatever our roles are in this life. We are a house of cards all holding each other up. What alchemy do we need to turn into a mountain

Honestly, I don’t have any easy answers as to what that will or should look like. No one does (and beware of those who say that they do.) What I do know is that we cannot continue to live in the way that we have been living – on all levels – economically, physically, emotionally, spiritually. My hope is that we move forward with the alchemical force of love. And by love – I don’t mean love in the Hallmark card, created in the marketing department, new age-y oversimplification, gloss-over-the-real-issues way. I mean love as a powerful action and agent for change. Don’t forget that we need each other. None of us are expendable. Feel that deeply. Remember it. Live by it. Know it with every fiber of your being. 

In the meantime, if you see me walking my dog in the neighborhood, wave hi and say hello. I really need it. I’m sure you do too.  I’ll be humming this tune through my mask:

Well something’s wrong and I’m feeling strange
Nothing seems to be the same
Hear that wide muddy river flow
Singing something’s wrong we just can’t control

Karen Hogg is a multi-instrumentalist, educator, and writer from Connecticut. She recently organized The Murder Ballad Project: Reframing Song of Violence, a concert of solely women performers that explored the threads of violence that run through society and our collective resignation to it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *