Just Can’t Let the Devil In: The Everyday Experience of Mental Illness and Logic’s “Never Been”

In which children are led by rope like tiny drunk criminals, Daniel’s soul writhes in intellectually unstimulating agony, and clinical depression is reflected in four chords.

Logic

To my dear reader,

Let me paint you a picture. You teach a class called “Mini Musical Explorers” at the YMCA. You take ten children from Day Care and bring them to the mirror-laden dance room. You transport them by having each hold onto a rope you are pulling. This reminds you of a chain gang, which is fitting, because children are like tiny drunk criminals, attempting to escape authority while screaming, crying and peeing (sometimes all at once).

You are faintly envious of the fact that they can do all these things publicly. You wonder whether you should do them too. You resist because that’s not what you get paid for (technically).

The whole experience is a dull, occasionally rewarding, but usually frustrating experience. The worst part, however, is each time that you sing a little song to make the children stand up and walk/run/march/skip/hop to change seats. This is because, when you stand up and walk/run/march/skip/hop with them, you catch your own vacant expression in the mirror and have this out-of-body experience and you think a combination of “Is this real life?” and “Da fuq is dis shit?”

So that’s my Wednesday and Thursday afternoon. Don’t get me wrong – as I always say, there are worse things (i.e. weak coffee, cannibalism, chlamydia, etc), and many aspects of that job teaching music at a YMCA, as well as aspects of my other jobs, are quite wonderful. That said, teaching “Mini Musical Explorers” sometimes kills a bit of my soul. And by sometimes, I mean every time. And by a bit, I mean my soul is writhing in intellectually unstimulating agony.

Why bring all this up? I do so because I suffer from clinical depression, and despite any dramatic/poetic/theatrical preconceptions you might have, my experience with depression is not very exciting. It’s more like that moment seeing my own reflection and thinking a combination of “Is this real life?” and “Da fuq is dis shit?” except it’s every waking moment, mostly involving an extreme lack of motivation, a lot of crying silently in public, and generally feeling the way I look in this picture…

Shower

…a.k.a. absolutely GOREGEOUS. But I digress.

Like any self-pitying, upper middle class, first world citizen, I have often found refuge in pop music. Many different musical artists have served this purpose over my life, and most have been exactly the sort of artists you’d suspect a self-pitying, upper middle class, first world citizen would listen to. A relatively recent surprise among them, however, was the hip-hop/rap artist Logic, and specifically, his song “Never Been.”

Given my lack of experience in this genre, I struggle to examine what I like about this song. In part, it’s the wording of the line “I struggle every day but I just can’t let the devil it” and the way that it reflects the everyday difficulty of living with mental illness. In part, it’s the variety in musical texture, from the initial chorus’ combination of Logic singing melody and a (highly processed) sample from Edwin Hawkins and Music and Art Seminar Mass Choir’s “Call On Jesus” as a countermelody, to the final chorus’ addition of strings, thick vocal harmony, and a soprano soloist to compliment Logic’s tenor. Mostly, however, it’s the song’s final four measures.

The last four chords of the song (Bbm – F7 – Bbm/Db – Ebm7) are the same chords played throughout the entire song, and at the exact same harmonic rate. The difference here is instrumentation. Without the volume or the driving force of the percussion and bass, the song’s defiance wilts, and to me, what it becomes sounds most like resignation. The fact that this song – which is, essentially, a declaration of defiance and a resolution to persevere – ends so gently adds beautiful musical and emotional nuance, as if to say “Yes, I won’t give up, but why does it have to be SO GODDAMN DIFFICULT.” Up to this point in my life, it is the best musical reflection of my depression I have yet seen.

So, come Wednesday afternoon, you know what I’ll be up to. It won’t be a party, but the bills don’t pay themselves, and for now, that’s how it’ll be done. I’m still going to sing that song to make the kids stand up and walk/run/march/skip/hop to change seats. I’m still going to see my own vacant expression in the mirror and have an out-of-body experience. I’m still going to think a combination of “Is this real life?” and “Da fuq is dis shit?” as I make children run around like tiny drunk criminals. I’m hoping, however, that it’s helped to illuminate the everyday experience of mental illness for someone, or at the very least, revealed that I would scream, cry and pee in public if I could get away with it.

Which I totally would.

With all due respect,

Daniel Wolfert

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