My favorite song from Julien Baker’s 2017 album is track No. 8, “Happy to Be Here.”
Like many of her songs on the album, this one puts Baker’s struggle with mental illness front and center. Throughout the song, she uses an extended analogy of faulty wiring to allude to her mental suffering.
In the first lines, she explains how, if things went her way, she would just fix her brain’s wiring and then live a normal life:
“If I could do what I want
I would become an electrician.
I’d climb inside my ears
And I would rearrange the wires in my brain.
A different me would be inhabiting this body.
I’d have two cars, a garage, a job
And I would go to church on Sunday.”
I think this is an excellent analogy because it represents how mental illness is a problem not always visible on the surface, just like how wires aren’t always visible sticking out from a wall. However, the analogy also implies that, unlike fixing wires, fixing one’s mental health takes a lot more time and isn’t nearly as easy.
In the next verse, Baker describes her experience going to a therapist and speaking to them about her mental health problems. The therapist, whom she refers to as “the engineer,” explains her mental illness to her using a diagram that depicts the “faulty circuitry” of her brain.
While the song could be seen as her simply seeking treatment for her mental illness, Baker’s lyrics could also be seen through the lens of her religious faith, where the therapist is actually God whom she’s talking to.
For example, in the following verse, when she sings about going to the clinic for another therapy session (“the sickening repair”), she ends by saying:
“I know I should be being optimistic,
But I’m doubtful I can change.
Grit my teeth and try to act deserving,
When I know there is nowhere I can hide
From Your humiliating grace.”
In her despondent state of mind, Baker struggles to believe she really deserves the help from both the mental health professionals and even from God Himself.
She ends the song by admitting she wants to believe what God is telling her, yet she still sometimes feels His grace doesn’t reach her.
“…if there’s enough left after everyone else,
Then why, then why, then why
God, why not me?”
When Baker spoke about this song in an interview with Pitchfork, she said the process of recovery for mental illness is an ongoing one: “There’s no point where somebody puts a big red stamp on your manila folder and says, ‘You are normal now.’ No one is.”
You can watch Baker perform the song live in this video: