Sunshine and socializing become too heavy a burden, leaving the cocoon of bed feels unsafe, nothing can get you to move no matter how hard you try. The captive isolation of depression, a pervasive condition in these modern times, requires some easy-to-reach solidarity to keep you free from harm in the shadow you’re confined to. These feelings are real and you’re not alone, but it’s impossible to fathom that this wickedly lonely feeling could be shared by so many. Solitude demands you now and connection is both your biggest fear and greatest desire. Friends require too much of you now, and maybe they don’t understand. But songs… Songs are a different. Songs meet you wherever you are, no matter how messy you feel. Here are some to keep you company on your dark nights.
DR. DOG “Night”
Typically known for peppier retro rock, Dr. Dog takes a sorrowful turn on their most recent album Critical Equation in the song “Night.” In it, the band escapes into the easy-to-please nighttime, making pleas with the moon to keep the demanding sun at bay. The band romanticizes the liberation of the after hours, when the expectations of the day fade and gentleness fills the air.
In a perfect world / Of my own design / I’d get rid of the sun / In favor of the moonshine
And if the natural order / Were mine to define / The light in the tunnel / Would be a neon sign
‘Cause I’ve always thought the nighttime / It feels like mine / If it were only up to me / The sun would never ever shine
Well the moon’s invitation / It’s gentle and it’s kind / And it leaves everyone alone / And to me that is divine
With its mightiest demonstration / I feel so much less confined / And towards that kind of light / I will always be inclined
If I could go out on a limb / And make so bold a leap / I’d tell you, sun / To go down / And sink into the deep
THE AVETT BROTHERS “No Hard Feelings”
On True Sadness, Seth Avett shares his crushing curiosity for death and the afterlife in this aching song. Seth’s quest for knowledge about whether he leaves this planet thankful for where he’s been or angry for his losses is as personal as it is universal. If he song brings you down a little too far, back up to the album’s opening track, “Ain’t No Man,” for an anthem-like reminder that you belong to no one and positivity abounds. If you still need some companionship, the album’s title track will explain quite clearly that we’re all deeply screwed and that somehow makes everything okay.
DAVID BOWIE “Rock ‘N’ Roll Suicide”
There are several Bowie songs that could have made this list, but there’s something about “Rock ‘N’ Roll Suicide” that’s explicit in its camaraderie and I appreciate that. What’s more comforting than Bowie not only understanding you, but offering his help with the pain?
Oh no, love, you’re not alone / You’re watching yourself, but you’re too unfair / You got your head all tangled up, but if I could only make you care / Oh no, love, you’re not alone / No matter what or who you’ve been / No matter when or where you’ve seen / All the knives seem to lacerate your brain / I’ve had my share, I’ll help you with the pain / You’re not alone
THE HEAD AND THE HEART “Let’s Be Still”
The world’s just spinning a little too fast / If things don’t slow down soon we might not last / So just for the moment, let’s be still
As a therapist, I know the most important thing I can say to a client in distress is to slow down, breathe, and try to bring their attention into the room instead of whatever mental roller coaster emotions can take us on. But they hate me every time I say it and I know that because I say it to myself on my bad days and I get annoyed with me, too. Mindfulness has become a sort of cliche which falsely belittles its power. But it is actually helpful to be still and to realize that this moment is all you have; everything you mourn from the past and worry about in the future doesn’t actually exist. Pop this song on, breathe, and be still.
FATHER JOHN MISTY “Ballad of the Dying Man”
In no time at all, this will be the distant past
Songs about dying really are just about the most relatable thing for a depressed person because in a depressed state is a loss of light. The dying man here has as much disdain for the absurdities of society as most depressed people do in their withdrawing from the world. And spoiler alert? Right before you die, you will check your Facebook news feed to see what you’re about to miss. It’s likely you’ll be relieved. More than anything, though, what I think you’ll be relieved to learn from this dying man is that in the end, the attempt to ask questions is more important than finding the answers. So rest assured, you’re probably right on track.
BIG BROTHER & THE HOLDING COMPANY, JANIS JOPLIN “Call On Me”
Baby, when you’re down and feel so blue / Well, no, you won’t drown, darling, I’ll be there, too.
In “Call On Me,” Janis Joplin is that forgiving friend that doesn’t care what you’ve done, how bad of a person you feel, or if you’re pretty sure you’re drowning in your own sadness, she’s there for you. Sometimes, even if it’s from a rock & roller from another lifetime who’s no longer with us, it just feels good to hear it.
CAT POWER feat. IGGY POP “Nothin But Time”
It’s up to you to be a superhero / It’s up to you to be like nobody
Cat Power wrote this 11-minute proclamation for her friend’s daughter who experienced bullying and struggled with depression. The young girl found solace in David Bowie’s “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust” (me too, kid – see above) so Cat originally asked him to be featured on the track. Iggy Pop stepped in to help when Bowie wasn’t able to and the two created a song that attempts to quell the angst of a young person drowning in inadequacy. No stranger to the struggle herself, Cat reported to Rolling Stone that she also sort of wrote the song to her younger self. Having evolved beyond the fears and general anxiety of her past, she calls forward the ultimate healer: perspective.
GRAHAM NASH “Better Days”
When your love has moved away / You must face yourself and you must say / I remember better days
The initial piano chord in Graham Nash’s “Better Days” immediately calms me. Quickly, his soft vocals trickle along top and it isn’t long before you know what, exactly, we’re mourning here. It’s a broken relationship that causes us to need reminders about holding on to what’s lost and losing ourselves in the process. In “Better Days,” Graham is offering solid advice to someone that isn’t himself, or so it seems, and essentially says “look, she’s moved on, that’s what moving on looks like. Why don’t you try it now?” He’s the friend who annoyingly keeps telling you that you need to let go and refocus on building a relationship with yourself. The memories of better days, though? Those will always be yours. Find them when you need them.
BILLY JOEL “Vienna”
When will you realize Vienna waits for you
Here’s another instance of an elder trying to share perspective with a youth to say slow down, everything’s fine, stop thinking you’re supposed to be somewhere you’re not yet. It’s calming, this idea that Vienna, whatever that is, will wait for you. That you won’t miss the boat because you’re not working fast enough or as many steps ahead as you think you ought to be. Your journey is yours, the pace you go simply determines the richness of your journey there. Slow your roll, calm your thoughts, take the phone off the hook and disappear for a while.