One of my favorite singer-songwriters is Julien Baker, who first appeared on the music scene with her debut album, “Sprained Ankle,” in 2015. Last October, she released her second album, “Turn Out the Lights.”
Her music speaks to me for several reasons: it’s simple (her songs usually consist only of her singing and playing either piano or guitar), yet also breathtakingly beautiful and deeply insightful into the lives of those struggling with mental health issues.
Many of Baker’s songs, especially from her 2017 album, appear to describe her own battles with mental illness, as well as substance addiction and her struggles to maintain her religious faith.
In the title track, “Turn Out the Lights,” Baker describes what it’s like for her to be left alone with her depressive thoughts. In the opening line, she likens her depression to a hole in a wall that she’s had to get used to:
“There’s a hole in the drywall, still not fixed.
I just haven’t gotten around to it.
And besides, I’m starting to get used to the gaps.”
A few lines later, she describes a conversation between herself and those wanting to help her. She says they tell her to “not be so hard on myself,” but this just leads her to ask: “So why is it easy for everyone else?” In other words, she’s pointing out that it’s much easier for those not suffering from mental illness to feel good about themselves on a regular basis.
In verse 2, she sings:
“And I’d never do it, but it’s not a joke.
I can’t tell the difference when I’m all alone.
Is it real or a dream, which is worse?
Can you help me?
I just wanted to go to sleep.”
Here, she hints at feelings of suicide, (or doing “it”) but says she’d never actually follow through with it. However, when she’s alone with her thoughts in the dark, she still has to wrestle with and try to make sense of those feelings. This, in turn, prohibits her from falling asleep at night, which is all she really wants in the end.
Afterward, the song builds into a crescendo as Baker proclaims:
“When I turn out the lights,
There’s no one left
Between myself and me.”
Listening to Baker’s music gives the listener a glimpse into not only her own life, but also into the lives of countless people worldwide who suffer from mental illness. Her music reminds us that it’s OK to talk about our mental health and invite other people into that conversation if we need help.
Take a listen to “Turn Out the Lights” in the official music video below: