Thoughts on ‘I Wish There Was A Pill’

This month’s Featured Modern Track is I Wish There Was A Pill.

A lot of time has passed since I wrote it. And, as with The Big Striptease, I occasionally wonder whether I still stand by what it says. With the latter, I feel I’ve changed. With the former, I feel perhaps the world has changed. I get the sense that in this country in the 10 years since the song was written there has been much more recognition of the importance of, and difficulty of, treating mental health issues.

I think I was frustrated with what seemed to me like a society that was only capable of dealing with depression with some form of pill. Dealing with a problem in the hardware rather than the software, so to speak. But over that decade I’ve really come to appreciate that the antidepressants that I name-check at the start of the song can literally mean the difference between life and death for millions of people who take them. For so many people it really is a hardware problem, and the purpose of the drugs is to allow those who take them to live a normal life, or something close to it, rather than some blissed out existence.

I wanted to make that point in its own blog post, because I think that the song could seem just like a glib dismissal of mental health problems far more severe than anything I’ve ever had to deal with.

In fact, if I was writing that song again, I think I might change that first verse entirely, as it isn’t really relevant to the point I was trying to make. The point I was trying to make is that many people who are living superficially happy or successful lives are deeply unhappy, and there doesn’t seem to be enough discussion about why that is and what we can do about it.

Sometimes people are caught in terrible circumstances that those around them don’t see. But sometimes, the problem is nothing to do with circumstances, and it doesn’t seem to be to do with a clinical condition like PTSD or OCD (emphasis on ‘seem’, as I’ll be the first to admit I’m no expert in this area). We just carry around a great weight of unhappiness that can be temporarily escaped from with recreational drugs, but only for as long as the drug effects last.

I think I really resented anything that was a temporary escape, and that was the main focus of the song. I resented the glamorising of drugs and alcohol as a way of dealing with this problem. And particularly the glamorising of unfortunate artists who clearly felt that great weight to be unbearable, and eventually suffered a drug or alcohol related death because of it. In Tom Waits’s words, the critics and public who expect you to “go to hell with gasoline drawers on and bring me back some chicken chowmein while you’re at it”.

Although, even then, I get the sense that the last decade has seen a bit of a change in attitude. Since the financial crisis that was bubbling up just as this song was written, I think the “hey, just shut up and take a chill pill” of the previous decades has morphed into “okay, everything appears to be a bit fucked and we don’t even really know where to start”. You exchange one set of problems for another, perhaps.

At the end of it all, though, I do stand by this song. If there was a way to overcome rather than temporarily escape that ‘great weight’, I wanted to find it. And I’ve been obsessed with how to do that ever since.