The Librarian Is In



May is mental health awareness month, so I’ve selected a CD in our collection called “Mental Illness” by my favorite artist, Aimee Mann. If you like beautiful melodies with acoustic guitar, keyboard and strings, check out this collection, which won the Grammy for best folk album in 2017.

Why would she call it “mental illness?”  Mann has been public about her own lifelong struggle with depression, something rather common amongst artists, musicians, actors and people from all walks of life and occupations. In “The Making of Mental Illness” interview (available on YouTube), Mann gives us a hint about what the songs are about — some of her own experiences as well as people she has known who live with and manage bipolar disorder and other mental health disorders. She says her song “Goose Snow Cone” was written while she was “on tour in Ireland, and it was snowing and cold and depressing outside” (much like Vermont in winter) … and she was feeling “lonely and homesick.” 

In writing her music, she says she wants to understand people’s complicated feelings and, in turn, have people understand hers. Besides covering the theme of mental illness in just her music, she has discussed her struggles with depression, anxiety and writer’s block as a guest on the podcast “The Hilarious World of Depression,” which includes interviews with other famous and not-so-famous people who have suffered from depression. 

 Back to the album, Aimee Mann is a musician known particularly for her skill at songwriting. My favorite song on “Mental Illness” is “Lies of Summer” with its beautiful melodies and the steady drive of perfectly timed percussion. Many of its lines directly reflect struggling with mental illness: “Now you’re waiting for the meds to take, but it / Takes a miracle to heal this break…” Another great song is “Patient Zero.” It has lines to which I think we can all relate, such as “Life is grand, and wouldn’t you like to have it / go as planned.”

Her song “Simple Fix” resonates with its lines reflecting paralyzing doubt, uncertainty and hopes for a “simple fix”: “So here we go again / But let’s call a spade a spade, I’m going nowhere / I’m stuck in this hole afraid to make a move / So once more around the track, another lap / And I think I can get it back, to where we prove: There’s a simple fix / For the wrong mix…” 

“Stuck in the Past” also has a familiar theme whether it be missed opportunities or circumstances gone awry. And the lyrics and piano on the song “Poor Judge” are particularly well done: “You might have had some other reason / To leave me in that dark ravine / My heart is a poor judge / And it harbors an old grudge…”. Also performing on her Mental Illness album (and co-writer of a few songs) is Jonathan Coulton. You can also check out his new album “Solid State” in the library (and yes, I’m a big fan of him too).

So if any of this appeals to you, give it a listen. And if you want to take a break from the stress and listen to more great music, use the subject search option in MIDCAT (the library catalog) and type in some of these subjects: folk-rock music; rock music — [date range]; or popular music — [date range]. Happy listening and good luck with those final papers and exams!

Brenda Ellis is a Research & Instruction Librarian in the Davis Family Library.

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