Climbing Conor Oberst’s Upside Down Mountain

The last time I was hospitalized (following my latest bout with suicidal ideation), I sat with about 20 fellow patients in a group, where we were discussing positive coping strategies. The subject of music came up, and the group leader–an astute young mental health professional–was asked to recommend singers and bands that she thought would have a positive influence on our recovery.

She thought for a moment, and then said: “The Black Eyed Peas. I think that’s a wonderful group to listen to.” To which one of the patients quickly replied, “For YOU, maybe. Me? Just thinking about them makes me want to kill myself all over again.”

I bring this up just to point out how tricky the subject of music can be when it comes to mental illness. Under the best circumstances, musical tastes are subjective. That gets magnified times 10 for someone with a mental illness who is using music as a healer/mind-tricker/friend. My musical tastes vary, but when it comes to my recovery, I’m much more attracted to artists who explore the dark side. Especially if they’re very good, they don’t depress me. Ironically, their songs help my depression lift, because they make me realize that someone else thinks the same crazy thoughts that I tend to conjure up.

Which brings me to what’s easily my favorite CD so far this year–Conor Oberst’s Upside Down Mountain. I don’t know if Conor has a mental illness, but he certainly knows his way around the subject. Several songs take on isolation and disillusion directly, such as Time Forgot (I’m gonna work for my sanity/Give it everything I’ve got), Double Life (Don’t look down./Just cross the bridge./And when you get there/you’ll know why you did./There’s a better life on the other side.) and Common Knowledge (If I had half his guts I’d want it/To chase that fatalistic comet/Die young in the dark; that’s poetry. But it was not to be, it was not for me.). Several other songs tackle the subject indirectly, like Zigzagging Toward the Light, a quirky love song that includes lines like My mind’s a weathervane/It spins around just like a top. Then there’s Kick, a sly, biting tune supposedly inspired by Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s daughter, Kathleen “Kick” Kennedy. The song includes this piece of advice: If you don’t collide with the traffic in your mind/I think you’ll find your way out of this.

As someone who always seems to have a lot of traffic in my mind, I’d say that this is sound advice for me, too. So, here are a few tunes from the CD. If these kind of introspective songs are your thing, give a listen.




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