“Darkness” has two major narrative themes with musical histories going back into the mid-20th century. It’s one of a long line of songs to address the causes of murder and mass shootings, entering the mind of the shooter to showcase the possible causes behind their actions.

A favorite early example of mine is Elton John’s somber 1974 song called “Ticking,” which tells the story of a quiet young man under pressure from a Catholic family who became provoked into a shooting at his local bar, only to be shot when law enforcement asked him to come out with his hands up. The 1991 song “Jeremy” by Pearl Jam is based off of two people from Eddie Vedder’s early life. The first, Jeremy Wade, he heard about in the newspaper after he killed himself in front of his high school classmates as an act of revenge. The other was a junior high student named Brian whom Vedder knew in junior high who committed the same act, but first shot up an oceanography classroom. Further along in time, “Pumped Up Kicks,” the debut 2010 single by Foster the People, gained mainstream success despite its similar story of violence. The story tells of a poor boy named Robert with a presumably neglectful and/or abusive father who finds his father’s gun and uses it against the wealthier kids in his school.

All of these songs tell of young (and, most likely white) men with feelings of repression and both suicidal and homicidal tendencies who chose to take them out on peers, or even strangers. A common theme in these songs and others seems to be mistreatment or ignorance on the part of parents, particularly as younger people are in transitional periods in life. While Paddock, the subject of “Darkness,” did not commit mass murder in his youth, he too was without a father starting from childhood, and thus his is a cautionary tale similar to the previous songs.

While it is also sampled in the song, I think the 1965 Simon and Garfunkel song, “The Sound of Silence” is key to the development of “Darkness” with its themes of disillusionment, and delving into one’s isolated mind. This kind of song had a resurgence in the 1980s, and was popularized by the Tears for Fears song, “Mad World” from 1982, which has since been covered by artists like Gary Jules and Imagine Dragons. These dark, introspective works eventually found a place in hip-hop with songs like Notorious B.I.G’s 1994 song “Suicidal Thoughts,” in which he fictionally commits suicide while on the phone with a friend. In fact, Eminem popularized them even further on albums like Relapse and Curtain Call. All of these songs show how dangerous mental rumination can become if unchecked.

While it’s likely not directly related to “Darkness,” Lana del Rey released a song in 2019 called, “Looking for America,” which laments the days before epidemic gun violence forced her to be paranoid about what she does or where she goes. It’s one of few songs explicitly about the mass shooting epidemic and its impact on public consciousness, and I wonder if it will inspire similar works in the future.