Musicians, probably more than any one group, are opening up their mental-health struggles. For so long, many people have battled mental illness silently while putting on a happy face for the world.
But for the last two decades things have slowly started to change thanks in large part to celebrity talk-show hosts. They have introduced high-profile guests suffering from mental illness in hopes of destigmatizing everything from suicidal depression to bipolar disorder.
Musicians who have shared their struggles are Bebe Rexha (bipolar disorder); Big Sean (depression); Bruce Springsteen (emotional breakdowns); Demi Lovato (bipolar); Janet Jackson (depression); Kendrick Lamar (depression, suicidal thoughts); Lady Gaga (post-traumatic stress disorder); and Miley Cyrus (depression). And they are just a small fraction of musicians experiencing distress.
Here on the home front, St. Albert trio ThinLine Sid released a rock album on Oct. 12 dedicated to individuals struggling with their mental health.
I Am You Today was initiated by Craig Baker, the trio’s main songwriter, as well as Doug Atkinson, the secondary writer.
Baker’s older brother, Rob, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of eight. When Rob shared his personal diary written over several decades, Baker felt his brother’s story was too important to push aside.
“He’s had a life-long struggle. He’s on medication. He’s been in Alberta Hospital. It’s been a very difficult struggle, and this is an homage to Rob,” said vocalist Donovan Weihmann.
I Am You Today is ThinLine Sid’s fourth concept album after Suburbahood (2017), Soft Machine (2015), and Evil-lution (2013). As the trio’s chief songwriter, Baker has a reputation for adopting a socially conscious tone. However, this 12-track is the most personal and intense.
“It’s very raw in some places, and one of the most powerful we’ve done. There’s a specific message about the realities of how mental illness can affect not just an individual, but an entire family. It’s very moving,” Weihmann said.
The compelling songs follow a linear pattern from when Rob was first diagnosed as a child through to hallucinations, heavy doses of medication, going off medications, and three hospitalizations.
“Rob kept a journal, and when we went through it there were some bizarre dark things, even a chart to end his life,” Baker said.
At first Rob rejected the idea of publishing his life story, but eventually relented and provided Baker with excerpts from his journal. Baker then pulled catch phrases from the musings and used them for inspiration.
My Way to Go represents the end-of-life chart Rob drew, while A Hero’s Word is a special salute to Rob and every individual who battles mental-health issues on a daily basis.
“If I’m ever asked to do his eulogy, I’d say he’s my hero. He’s accomplished a ton of things in his life with unbelievable pressures,” Baker said.
Baker is protective of Rob and doesn’t want people to get the wrong idea about his brother. One of Rob’s passions is playing bluegrass music on guitar and mandolin.
“When he came back from one hospital stay, he couldn’t play a note. He just couldn’t make it happen. It could have been the treatment, but he persevered. He had to start from the beginning. And now he’s an emcee at the Blueberry Bluegrass Festival.”
Lizard Thing is a reflection from one of Rob’s hallucinations. If I Die, You’ll Go Away describes his suicidal thoughts while trying to banish the voices in his head. Unbroken Dreams touches on the setbacks he endured, but also the pride of those who love him. And I Am You Today is Rob’s realization and acceptance the voice in his head is simply another side of him.
I Am You Today is the title track and was deliberately written as a bluesy-soul ballad, said Weihmann. He described the entire album as a “labour of love” for everyone involved.
“For me it was right in my wheelhouse. They wrote the song specifically knowing that’s where I exist. I could let go and show the pain. I was able to do that in just two or three takes. It was pretty quick,” Weihmann said.
At the end of the day, Baker wants the world to know that despite fielding massive stumbling blocks, Rob is an artistic individual who is a carpenter by trade, plays bluegrass music, spins incredible yarns, and even drew the art for this album cover.
“Mental illness is all around us. A lot of people are embarrassed to talk about it with family. Start talking about it. Don’t judge. People who suffer from it internalize it, but it’s more widespread than people think. Embrace it. Find a way to live with it. It’s very treatable.”
I Am You Today was recorded at TLS Studios and was engineered and produced by Sheldon Zharko of Vancouver’s Zed Productions. Morinville freelancer Chad Melchert provided drum tracks. The album is on all digital platforms. Hard copies can be obtained at www.thinlineside.com.