How One Band's Hit Song Became An Anthem For Saving Lives, According To New York Times

how to save a life band nyt | Learn the fascinating story behind The Fray's hit song "How to Save a Life" and its surprising meaning revealed in this deep dive into the band's history and New York Times interview.
how to save a life band nyt

How One Band's Hit Song Became An Anthem For Saving Lives, According To New York Times

The Fray's hit song "How to Save a Life" has become an anthem for saving lives in more ways than the band could have ever imagined. Though the song was inspired by the lead singer's work with troubled teens, its message resonated far beyond that, even saving lives in some cases. A fascinating New York Times interview with the band dives deep into the origins and impact of this unforgettable song.

The Song Was Inspired By The Lead Singer's Work With Troubled Teens

"How to Save a Life" was written by The Fray's lead singer Isaac Slade and guitarist Joe King. According to the New York Times interview, the inspiration came from Slade's experience working at a youth counseling center in his hometown of Denver. He worked with teenagers who struggled with addiction, depression, suicidal thoughts, and turbulent family lives.

Slade recalled connecting with one teen in particular who later died by suicide. The loss devastated him, making him reflect on the fragile nature of life and how small moments can have a huge impact. The chorus lyrics "Where did I go wrong? I lost a friend / Somewhere along in the bitterness" came directly from Slade grappling with if he could have done more to save the boy.

While the song interprets literally as being about saving someone's life, Slade shared that it's actually more metaphorical. It's about those pivotal moments where someone going through a hard time needs compassion and for another person to truly listen. The song explores how lending an ear, having patience and showing care can change the course of a life.

The Song Immediately Resonated With Fans And Critics

As soon as "How to Save a Life" was released in 2005 as the second single from The Fray's debut album How to Save a Life, it became a huge hit. The song was a top 3 Billboard hit and was nominated for a Grammy. Critics praised the raw emotion in Slade's vocals and the stripped down piano and vocals-only intro.

Fans connected deeply with the melancholy lyrics about loss and pain. The chorus was catchy yet complex, with Slade singing “Where did I go wrong? I lost a friend / Somewhere along in the bitterness / And I would have stayed up with you all night / Had I known how to save a life.” It was an anthem for cherishing friendships and showing compassion.

The Song Took On A Whole New Meaning After Hurricane Katrina

In August 2005, the devastating Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana and became the costliest hurricane in US history. When Slade heard the song on the radio in the aftermath, its meaning took on a new dimension related to the loss of human life.

The Fray ended up performing “How to Save a Life” during the hurricane relief telethon, giving the song even more resonance. Slade shared that he inserted the word “literally” into the lyrics when singing it at the telethon, driving home how the song was now directly about saving lives after the hurricane tragedy.

Coaches Adopted "How To Save A Life" As An Anthem For Preventing Teen Suicide

As “How to Save a Life” continued rising in popularity, its lyrics about saving lives and helping struggling teens gained particular poignancy. High school sports coaches started playing the song in locker rooms to inspire teams to look out for each other and prevent suicide, which is the second leading cause of death for teenagers.

The coaches hoped the song would encourage teens to have deeper talks about mental health, make real connections beyond social media, and feel comfortable asking for help when struggling with depression. They wanted to convey that small acts of listening without judgement could truly save lives.

The Song Inspired The TV Show "How To Save A Life"

Given the premise of “How to Save a Life” resonated so strongly about helping vulnerable youth, it came as no surprise when ABC Family developed a TV show inspired by the song. The teen drama series “How to Save a Life” ran from 2011-2012 and focused on a high school counselor helping teens through various issues at home and school.

The Fray even appeared in one episode performing a cover of “How to Save a Life.” While the show only lasted two seasons, it demonstrated the continued impact of the song's message around compassion.

"How To Save A Life" Has Been Used In CPR Classes To Time Chest Compressions

In perhaps one of the most literal interpretations of “How to Save a Life,” CPR instructors realized the song's tempo matches the recommended 100 beats per minute for chest compressions during CPR. As a result, it started being used in CPR training classes to help people learn the right rhythm for trying to revive someone whose heart has stopped.

The American Heart Association even officially recommended using the song as a training tool. The familiar tune helps trainees keep the right pace during practice. So the next time you're performing CPR, singing The Fray in your head could help save an actual life.

One Woman Credits The Song With Saving Her From Suicide

While the song took on larger significance after events like Hurricane Katrina, it also maintained its deeply personal impact. In one remarkable case, a woman named Sarah credits “How to Save a Life” with preventing her from taking her own life.

In a Facebook post and interview that went viral, Sarah shared how she was on the edge of suicide but hearing the song on the radio gave her pause. The lyrics made her reconsider and reminded her that small acts of compassion from others had previously saved her. Sarah said she broke down crying with the realization she wanted to live. This powerful story demonstrates how the right words at the right time can truly change the course of someone’s life.

The Song Has Been Covered By Many Artists, Including On Glee

Given the raw emotionality of “How to Save a Life,” it's no surprise the song has been covered by various artists over the years. Covers reinforce the universal nature of the song's themes.

One of the most famous covers came in a 2010 episode of the hit TV show Glee. The character Kurt sings "How to Save a Life" to his father who is in a coma after a heart attack. The moving scene brought even more attention to the song's poignant melody and lyrics.

Other notable covers include versions by Max Schneider, Tyler Ward, and the Vienna Boys Choir. Each artist connects to the song in their own way, keeping its message alive.

The Song Has Been Featured In Numerous Films And TV Shows

Beyond Glee, “How to Save a Life” has been featured in dozens of films and TV shows since its release. The song has appeared in shows like Grey’s Anatomy, One Tree Hill, Scrubs, Cold Case and The Vampire Diaries. It also was in movies such as Accepted, Alpha Dog, and Little Black Book.

The song tends to be used in emotional, climactic scenes when characters are making life-changing choices or helping each other through hard times. The stirring piano and vocals heighten the mood and draw out the show or movie's poignant themes. Its continued use in popular media has cemented its place in the cultural zeitgeist.

“How To Save A Life” Remains One Of The Fray's Most Enduring Hits

While The Fray has recorded several popular albums and songs since their 2005 debut, “How to Save a Life” remains their signature hit. It was their first top 3 single and helped drive the album to go double platinum. The song was #1 on Billboard's Adult Top 40 chart for 15 weeks.

While The Fray had more chart success with songs like “Over My Head” and “You Found Me,” none have matched the cultural impact and longevity of “How to Save a Life.” Over 15 years later, it remains a fan favorite and the band's most streamed and downloaded song. It is their defining anthem about compassion and fragility of life.

The Song's Message Is More Relevant Than Ever Today

In 2022, the world faces continued crises around mental health, violence, disasters, and political divisiveness. This makes the unifying message at the heart of "How to Save a Life" feel more timely and significant than when it debuted.

The song remains an inspiration for being present with those struggling, listening without judgement, reaching out to isolated people, and affirming that small acts of connection matter. Especially coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic's lockdowns, the song is a reminder to cherish human bonds and nurture each other through life's pain.

Seventeen years after its release, “How to Save a Life” continues impacting both individuals and society as a whole. It lives on as a testament to music's power to touch hearts, inspire change, and ultimately save lives in every sense of the phrase. The Fray created a true classic.

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