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"When I'm Gone" Song

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This song comes in three basic forms (assuming that a man is singing to a woman):

  1. The singer is singing to the other person from the afterlife telling her not to miss him while he's gone.
  2. The singer is singing to a person right before going somewhere from which he might not return for a long time, if at all, asking her to do something while he's gone.
  3. Very close to the first and second, this version has the singer close to death or questioning how long his life will be and has him singing out all the things he wants to tell people before he's gone.

This is different from a Break Up Song, because this kind of song isn't about the couple breaking up, and often carries the meaning that neither of the two really wants to part from the other, but they must because of forces outside their control.

Compare Grief Song, which is about death. These frequently appear as Album Closure.



  • "When I'm Gone" originated as a bluegrass song performed by The Carter Family in the 1930s. In 2009 it was recorded by a band called Landshapes, using cups for the percussion beat. In 2012 it was included in the film Pitch Perfect, and that version, by Anna Kendrick and also known as "Cups", became a massive hit. The singer of the song says "you're gonna miss me when I'm gone" and urges the listener to come along.
  • "Halfway Around the World" by A-Teens
  • "Generator ^ Second Floor" by Freelance Whales is a weird variation: it's told from the point of view of someone who is either about to die or is already dead, reflecting on their life and giving certain instructions regarding his funeral, such as telling his loved ones to smile.
    And since you are my friend
    I would ask that you lower me down slow
    And tell the man in the black cloak
    He doesn't need to trouble his good soul
    With those latin conjugations
    And if it's all the same to them
    You should tell your gathering friends
    Please not to purse their faces grim
    On such a lovely sunday
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  • "When I'm Gone" by 3 Doors Down has a dual meaning: The song is both about the singer going off on a tour and asking to be loved while he's gone, and the music video adds soldiers going off to war as another meaning.
  • "When I'm Gone" by Eminem subverts this. It's actually a song about Eminem regretting that he has to constantly leave behind his daughter Hayley when he goes on tour and that he has to keep brushing her off to get his work done. This culminates in a nightmare where Hayley tells him off, resulting in Eminem killing himself.
  • "When I'm Gone" by The Click Five is about asking a lover to love the singer after he dies in a car accident.
  • Subverted in Tom Lehrer's "So Long, Mom (A Song for World War III)", from That Was the Year That Was, which is supposedly the words of a pilot about to fly off to war. It ends:
    I'll look for you when the war is over
    An hour and a half from now
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  • "Good Man" by India.Arie, which is a strange version because it's from the point of view of the wife singing about her husband telling her this.
  • "Birds" by Neil Young
  • "And When I Die" by Laura Nyro. Covered by Blood, Sweat And Tears.
  • Musical In the Heights features a song, "When the Sun Goes Down," about a romantic pair about to separate, and their plans on making the relationship work.
  • Terry Jacks' "Seasons in the Sun" was a Type 3 as was the original French version, Jacques Brel's "Le Moribund" (that had been translated to English by poet Rod McKuen)
  • "A Tout le Monde", by Megadeth.
  • "Don't Forget Me (When I'm Gone)" by Glass Tiger.
  • "Leavin' on a Jet Plane" by John Denver is about a man, well, leaving on a jet plane, and promising his girlfriend that he'll be back.
  • "When I'm Gone" by Phil Ochs puts a more positive spin on things:
    Won't see the golden of the sun when I'm gone
    And the evenings and the mornings will be one when I'm gone
    Can't be singing louder than the guns while I'm gone
    So I guess I'll have to do it while I'm here
    • Sadly, Phil Ochs committed suicide on April 9, 1976, at the age of 35.
  • "Leave Out All the Rest" By Linkin Park is an example of the third type.
  • "Here Comes the Arm" by The Protomen. Emily's verse in the song was written as a letter to be given to Thomas as type 2, but it isn't read until 20 years later and is sung by her posthumously as a type 1.
    • Thomas inverts this trope at the end of the song, Before reading the letter, he was about to accept his death and go off to be with Emily in the afterlife. Upon finishing the letter he inverts type 2, as he won't be joining Emily in the afterlife because he "Still has work to do."
      • Type 2 parodied by Joe, in "Breaking Out." When he tells a girl that had been ignoring him all night not to miss him, as he steals a kiss from her, and leaves in hope of escaping the city.
  • "If I Die Young" by The Band Perry, where the narrator muses about what would happen if she were to die young, and is telling others things such as not to cry, and it references Tennyson's poem The Lady of Shallot (in fact, the video ends with a close-up of a book opened up to the poem). Listeners often interpret it as a suicide song, but that wasn't the intent, according to the band: "We wanted to write a song about making the most of whatever time you're given — whether it's two years, twenty years or two hundred."
  • "If You're Reading This" by Tim McGraw is written as if it were a letter a soldier wrote to his family in case he died: in it, the soldier reassures everyone that he's in a better place, and contains things he wanted to say to people, such as "Tell Dad I don't regret that I followed in his shoes" and "I won't be there to see the birth of our little girl, I hope she looks like you, I hope she fights like me".
  • "If Something Should Happen" by Darryl Worley. In the song, a man tells his best friend that he's preparing for surgery for a dangerous health condition, and gives his friend instructions on what to do just in case something happens to him, such as visiting his wife, and taking his son camping and teaching him how to throw a football and answer any questions he has. The song doesn't say anything about his fate, though the last lyrics are in a very hopeful tone. The video, on the other hand, starts with his funeral and then jumps back to him asking his friend, and shows some of the things he's talking about actually happen (such as the friend throwing the football to his son), with his spirit watching.
  • "If I Don't Make It Back" by Tracy Lawrence is about the narrator and his friends at a bar before one of them goes to fight overseas. The soldier leaves instructions to his friends on what to do if he doesn't come back.
    Have a beer for me
    Don't waste no tears on me
    On Friday night, sit on the visitors' side and cheer for the home team
    Drive my Camaro
    Ninety miles an hour down Red Rock Road
    With "Born to Run" blasting on the radio
    And find someone good enough for Amy
    Who will love her like would have
    If I don't make it back.
    • The last verse reveals that he didn't come back, as the narrator talks about them doing the things in his honor that he asked them to.
  • "If Heaven" by Andy Griggs is about the narrator talking about what he pictures heaven to be like, and saying not to cry for him if he dies. The song makes it seem that he's just thinking about death, but the video makes it look as if he's already dead, looking back over his life and seeing his wife cry at his grave.
    Don't cry a tear for me now, baby
    There comes a time we all must say goodbye
    And if that's what heaven's made of
    You know I, I ain't afraid to die.
  • "I'll Be There" by Escape Club is one of those "I'm dead, but don't miss me, because I'm always with you in spirit" types.
  • The traditional American ballad "St. James Infirmary Blues", based on the even older English ballad "The Unfortunate Rake" has been covered by everyone from Louis Armstrong to The White Stripes. Sevendust quote it in "Gone."
    When I die, I want you to dress me
    in straight-laced shoes, a box-back suit and a Stetson hat.
    Put a twenty dollar gold piece on my watch chain
    so the boys will know I died standing pat.
  • "Be Back Soon" from the musical Oliver!. The pickpocket boys sing to Fagin and he sings back as they prepare go out into the street to pickpocket. The song mainly references returning, but considering that stealing at the time could conceivably carry a death sentence by hanging, an ominous cloud hangs behind the cheery tune and lyrics. Some examples:
    • From Fagin:
      Fare the well, but be back soon
      Who can tell where danger's lurking''
    • and
      Give me one long, last look
      Bless you
    • And the boys:
      We must disappear
      We'll be back here
      Today... perhaps tomorrow
  • The song "Lost and Damned" by Kamelot is an example of type 2. Another song, "Don't You Cry", is a type 1 example.
  • Most songs on The Black Parade, a My Chemical Romance album, though "Dead!" is more of an inversion, because it's a narrator perspective speaking to the dying patient
    And if your heart stops beating
    I'll be here wondering
    did you get what you deserve
    The ending of your life
    And if you get to heaven
    I'll be here waiting, babe...
  • "Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport" (shortened version) by Rolf Harris. It amusingly details the dying requests of an Australian stockman to his buddies, including what to do with his various aussie animals and in the last verse, his "hide."
  • The Celtic song "Danny Boy" is from the point of view from someone who has died, talking to their love, the eponymous Danny.
  • "Gone 'Til November" by Wyclef Jean.
  • "If Tomorrow Never Comes" by Garth Brooks.
  • "No Reply" from the Cowboy Bebop soundtrack falls under type 3. A man commits suicide by jumping to his death, hoping that the love of his life, who has done nothing but good and supported him through everything, will forgive him for all the lies and ultimate betrayal he's shown to her.
    I close my eyes and watch as my life passes by
    The only thing I see is you
    For all the times you walked the line for me and standing by my side
    I say thank you.
  • "Let Me Go" by Enter The Haggis is an uplifting take on the third iteration of this trope
  • U2's "Kite" is mostly a Type 3 with occasional elements of Type 1. It is sung from Bono's perspective to his daughters. (It was later repurposed as a Grief Song when Bono's own father passed away a year later, during the Elevation Tour.)
  • "Each Coming Night" by Iron and Wine.
    Will you say to me
    When I'm gone
    Your face is faded but lingers on
    Cause light strikes a deal with each coming night.
  • "One of These Days" by Mitch Benn is about a guy apologising to his partner that he has to leave again, and promising that one day his work will be over and they can spend the rest of their lives together.
  • Based on his own mother's passing, Brad Paisley and Dolly Parton's "When I Get Where I'm Going" is an elderly woman describing all the wonderful things she thinks are waiting for her on the other side and says "don't cry for me down here."
  • "I'm Not Gonna Miss You" was written by Glen Campbell to his wife as his last song. It refers to how his affliction with Alzheimer's is slowly taking his memory away.
  • "I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues" by Elton John is a Type 2 example, with the narrator asking his girl to wait for him while he's away. The music video shows that he's leaving because he joined the military.
  • The Decemberists' "Yankee Bayonet (I Will Be Home Then)" is partly a Type 1—partly, because it's a duet between a young Confederate soldier (sung by Colin Meloy) killed at Bull Run/Manassas (First or Second is unclear) and his living pregnant wife (sung by Laura Veirs) in South Carolina. The soldier is telling his wife not to be sad and miss him, they will be reunited somehow (as he says, "I will come on the breath of the wind"); she accepts that, but says she'll be sad and miss him anyway. Oddly, the soldier's part seems to be based heavily on a famous Type-2 "when I'm gone" letter, namely the letter from Rhode Islander and Union Army officer Sullivan Ballou, who wrote to his wife in much the same vein (including the wind-based imagery) and was killed at First Bull Run.
  • Randy Newman wrote a song called "When I'm Gone" for the final scene of the Monk series finale.
  • Another song titled "When I'm Gone" was recorded by Albert Hammond in 1981, and covered by Rockell in 1998.


  • William Shakespeare's Sonnet 71:
    "No longer mourn for me when I am dead, then you shall hear the surly sullen bell give warning to the world that I am fled from this vile world with vilest worms to dwell. Nay, if you read this line remember not the hand that writ it; for I love you so that I in your sweet thoughts would be forgot if thinking on me then should make you woe."
  • The classical Roman poet Horace wrote the fourth epistle of his first book around 20 B.C.E on the theme of wanting his friends to remember him fondly after his death: "When you have a mind to laugh, think of me and you shall find me, fat and sleek, a true hog of Epicurus's herd."
    • These lines are quoted by the title character in the film version of Hannibal, where they take on a less pleasant connotation.
  • The Victorian writer Christina Rosetti's famous poems "Remember" and "When I am dead, my dearest..." are both on this theme.
  • Henry Scott Holland's 19th century poem "All Is Well" is about asking his loved ones to remember him sweetly.
  • Alfred, Lord Tennyson's poem "Come not, when I am dead."


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