In college I went through my first and worst depressive episode, but I tried not to burden anyone with it because all my friends were even more depressed than I was and had been dealing with it longer. I don’t know why the impulse to weigh two pains and deem only the heavier valid was so ingrained in me, but it was. I was losing the hardship Olympics, so I felt like I had no right to complain.
Maybe if I were fifteen I would have turned to emo, but at twenty I found comfort in country, a genre of achy breaky hearts and rock bottom drunkenness. Stuck in a coal mining town, forever indebted to the company store. Pregnant again and your man done run out on you. Of course, there are also trucks and tractors, front porches and fishing, sunshine and honkytonks and falling in love, but what country music does best is pain. I reveled in it.
I was stuck between two extremes: self-effacing denial as my friends shared their own struggles and myopic wallowing while Patsy Cline played. It took “Relatively Easy” by Jason Isbell, the final track off his 2013 masterpiece Southeastern, to bridge the gap.
“Relatively Easy” is one of those songs that almost means too much to me for me to be able write about it. It’s a song I’m hesitant to tell anyone to listen to because if they don’t like it, I’ll take it as a personal affront. Opening with deceptively cheery acoustic guitar and Isbell casually, sympathetically asking the listener if it’s been “a long day,” it goes on to be a miracle of perspective and contextualization, a reminder that things may be bad, but they could be worse. That things could be worse, but that doesn’t mean they’re not bad.
Here is your fair warning: I have very rarely been able to listen to it without crying.
(Song recommendation by Phoebe Cramer)