The song that’s improved me most lately is not a fists-raised, come-together, look-on-the-bright-side tune, but Brian Jarvis’ “Surrender,” which he has revealed is about the experience of living with depression.
What I love about this song is that it’s not a dark, dramatic song—it sits with the reality that depression intertwines itself with ordinary daily life in a way that’s different from momentary sadness.
The alt-pop instrumentation, led by acoustic guitar, keeps putting me in the relaxed state that those nature-sounds tapes are supposed to. It’s not that “Surrender” is New Age-y. It’s that there’s a sense of organic cycles within cycles, and the artist is doing all the work, so the listener’s brain can just float on the waves. Put it on repeat: when you start developing opinions on the why the muffled-heartbeat percussion vanishes and changes pace, your brain is functioning well enough to tackle an item on your to-do list. (Spoiler: what’s going on here is complex, and it’s meant to be experienced, not described.)
Lyrically, it’s “I spend all my time pretending, just left empty-handed” is the phrase that guts me. That’s exactly my experience with high-functioning depression—putting on a reasonably good performance as a competent human, while feeling like it’s accomplishing nothing. Chase the adrenalin, feel better when there are long sunny days and the flow of a creative project (but it’s ephemeral as firefly wings), constantly revising one’s self-worth in endless shades of gray. (I keep wanting to go back and revise the second sentence of this paragraph because what if it’s conceited to think my performance of competence is reasonably convincing? Brian Jarvis gets it.)
If my self-talk was in Brian Jarvis’ vocals, my internal life would be so much more interesting. When a single vocal thread untwines from the layered chorus, to go into the bridge, it feels like reaching up toward light. At the same time, there’s a gentleness to Jarvis’ voice that finds the self-care in the struggle.
(Insert pause to get wistful about seeing him live in the Before Time. Solo acoustic on a sparkling late summer afternoon on the patio at MGM Springfield. Full-band at Chamard Vineyard for an EP release. I went to the vineyard show, swore that was my fix and I didn’t need to go to Springfield, then went to Springfield. I miss doing stupid things like that, and I miss musicians getting to see that people do stupid things like that.)
Listen to the song.