As the famous 19th-century anecdote goes, a depressed, near-suicidal man goes to see a physician, who recommends as a cure two tickets to see Grimaldi, the greatest clown in Europe, who happens to be in town that night.
"Ah, but doctor," sighs the patient, dejectedly, "I am Grimaldi."
Gary Lightbody might not be that dejected yet, but he can certainly relate. As frontman for the multi-platinum Snow Patrol, the Irishman has made millions swoon with unforgettable — but decidedly forlorn — love songs like "Run," "Chasing Cars," and "Hands Open." Still, he can't seem to find any romantic happiness himself, no matter how hard he tries.
"It's been a long, long time since my last girlfriend," says the singer, who continues to write paeans to the perfect relationship, from memory apparently. "I've met loads of great people, but for one reason or another, it's never quite worked. And I'm happy, but it's just that I'm 35 and I'm not settled down — that's the only problem I have. That's the only distinction between my ideal life and the life that I have now, so I'm not in need of any therapy just yet!"
To get a clearer picture of Lightbody's current mindset, pick up the latest Snow Patrol epistle Fallen Empires, its sixth. Whether it's the stomping title track, the synth-frothed "I'll Never Let Go," the jittery "Called Out in the Dark," or the acoustic-plucked "Lifening," the composer is in a deeply reflective mood, brought on in part by the birth of his new niece, Honey. The lyrical themes of the album, he says, are mortality, continuation and the warm comforts of home and family.
"I never really thought about my place in the world before, and there's never been a bigger-picture thing with me," says the musician. "But my sister has a daughter now, and that just brought the whole thing into reality for me."
Lightbody is also godfather to Snow Patrol producer Garret "Jacknife" Lee's two children, and many of his Belfast chums are starting families, as well.
"So it's very obvious that I don't have any kids," he adds. "And it's made me think, 'What do I really want out of life?' And that's definitely a family and kids and some more stability. Because my life is still just a clusterfuck."
At this point, though, Snow Patrol's frontman is practically buried in work. He and Lee have an upcoming project called Listen... Tanks!, and he'll soon start work on a second batch of tunes with Tired Pony, his alt-country supergroup with former R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck.
"We just had a Pony e-mailing session last night, and there's talk of going to New Orleans and making a much darker, brass-infused kind of thing," he reveals. "Call it Tired Pony 2 — The Revenge."
The former Q magazine columnist has also begun writing for the Huffington Post, and he's considering trying his hand at a movie script, possibly even a young adult novel.
Meanwhile, Lightbody's publishing company Polar Music just signed the buzz band Here We Go Magic. Polar also represents ex-Vega 4 leader Johnny McDaid, who is now part of the Snow Patrol touring lineup.
And still we all wonder, will Grimaldi ever find true love?
"Hey — it's something that I want, but I know not to go looking for it," he concludes. "That's the worst thing you could do, because women can smell desperation a mile off!"