It’s not unusual for fans to credit their favorite musicians for “saving” them through the power of a song. Music can positively influence someone’s life whether it be through making them feel less alone, boosting their mood or inspiring them to find their own path of creativity. We spoke to some artists who recall the songs that made them want to pay the inspiration forward.
1. Dan Campbell, THE WONDER YEARS
The Mountain Goats, “Broom People” (The Sunset Tree, 2005)
I just love the Mountain Goats’ “Broom People.” I think it is the purest distillation of mundane depression. I think that when people think about depression, they think about these massive collapses and something that has tension or drama or has a catalyst. But I think “Broom People” is a true-to-life song that just [stresses], “Remember how hard [it is] to get out of bed sometimes? Remember how hard it is to pick up your trash off the floor or vacuum the carpet, or throw out that ice cream that’s been rotting for a year?” Everything seems like an insurmountable task. I think that’s the truer reflection of depression. I think John [Darnielle, Mountain Goats frontman] does such an amazing job with it.
The line “I write down good reasons to freeze to death/In my spiral-ring notebook.” The first time I read that, it was so arresting to me as someone who creates art that is in dialogue with my mental health. I’m constantly writing down the ways that I feel terrible, so that line was particularly striking to me.
I think the biggest thing that music does is often makes you feel like the thing you’ve been suffering with alone in silence is no longer a thing to suffer alone with in silence. Like, “Oh wow, this artist and this lyric really strikes a similar chord in me or reverberates at the same frequency, so immediately I know now I am not alone in this feeling.” And then, “Hey, maybe I’m going to go see that artist play. And now I’m in a crowd full of people that all now feel like I’m not alone in suffering this way.” I think it makes it feel like it’s a little less insurmountable.
I think that goes back to a basic misunderstanding of depression. For people who don’t suffer from it necessarily, maybe clinically, they think, “Oh, depression is when something bad happens, and I get sad from that thing, and then eventually I get over it, and I am happy again.” And that’s not really what we’re talking about. What we’re talking about is how it feels like it would be impossible to brush your teeth today. Where it feels like how could you possibly take a shower. Like, how could you even think about going to work? It all feels so awful and terrible. When you see other people experiencing joy and you think to yourself, “That looks like it must be nice. I wonder what that feels like.” I think people don’t want to burden others with it because I think there’s a fundamental misunderstanding of what it is, and you get these responses of, “Well, you’ll bounce back. Give it some time, and you’ll feel better.” And you’re like, “It’s not a thing that made me feel this way. It’s a constant state that I’m always swimming against.”
I guess it’s a measure of fighting against ignorance and misunderstandings. I think it’s just telling people if you think that it’s this one thing, I am telling you that it is different, and maybe just listen to me on it. People get very set in their ideas, and those things become unchanging constants instead of dynamic sets of thought that allow for adaptation. And no one is suffering the exact same way.
2. FRANK IERO
Nirvana, “Aneurysm” (B-side to “Smells Like Teen Spirit” single, 1991)
I don’t know if I would say this song particularly saved my life. However, the moment I heard it, my whole outlook changed, and it sent me on a path that I am forever grateful [for]. It enforced my desire to start a band, write songs and dedicate my life to music. I even covered this song at the first gig I ever played. There’s something about how powerful Nirvana sounded without being macho: It was dirty and broken yet somehow still classy and melodic. I think this also solidified my obsession with finding beauty in ugliness and having a disdain for anything too polished and clean.
Janis Joplin and Big Brother & The Holding Company, “Piece Of My Heart” (Cheap Thrills, 1968)
It was a song that made me feel I wasn’t alone in my ache. It handed power to me on a platter and encouraged me to really give myself a chance at happiness.
8. Mitchel Cave, CHASE ATLANTIC
Owl City, “The Saltwater Room” (Ocean Eyes, 2009)
I know it’s not regarded as being cool or super-inspiring—and even the lyrics lack a little depth in terms of what should change your life—but this song and the whole Ocean Eyes album changed everything for me. I had never been so addicted and so intrigued in one artist or sound like I was with Adam Young.
I remember sitting in the car during long drives on the weekend to stay with our grandparents, and I had won an iPod shuffle out of one of those prize machines at the mall (as we couldn’t afford to actually buy one). I would listen to the album over and over like it was some kind of drug. And I can still imagine that childlike wonder when I reflect on the strong emotional response that it brought to me. It was just so magical and made me feel as if anything was possible.
Shortly after a few months of listening to the album, I started producing my own music. I can thank Owl City for single-handedly inspiring me to start creating my own music, and I will always love that man with all my heart.
This feature originally appeared as part of The Songs That Saved Our Lives special in AP 363 with cover star Tilian (Dance Gavin Dance). You can check it out here or below.