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‘Recovery is ongoing.’ Aimee Mann on mental health, music

Transcript

Hari Sreenivasan: Singer-songwriter Aimee Mann won a Grammy in 2018 for a deeply personal album called 'Mental Illness.'

Following that release, she was asked to write songs for a stage adaptation of the bestselling memoir 'Girl, Interrupted,' the story of a young woman in 1968 - aspiring to be a writer- who was committed to a mental hospital.

NewsHour Weekend Special Correspondent Tom Casciato has more on her latest album, 'Queens of the Summer Hotel,' and its relation to her own mental health.

Tom Casciato: Aimee Mann has no trouble relating to the women described in Susanna Kasens memoir of being confined to a mental hospital.

Aimee Mann: I certainly know people who are bipolar, who have eating disorders, who were severely traumatized, to do a lot of self harm. You know, I mean, drug addiction, like I have been fairly close with one from each of those categories. You know, a lot of it as I try to do justice to what I thought was being expressed in the book.

Tom Casciato: One song describes the alarming speed with which a doctor could - quote - "diagnose" a young woman.

Aimee Mann: In the time it takes to walk around the block / I can have you scheduled for electroshock…

Tom Casciato: Another, a self-harming woman seeking to extinguish her feelings with flames.

Aimee Mann: Can you just burn it out…

Tom Casciato: A third, accompanied by a somber video, a meditation on the feelings of those whose loved ones have taken their own lives.

Aimee Mann: Suicide is murder / You've got to have motive means and opportunity…

Aimee Mann: And also, I just really felt like this is really in my wheelhouse. I was born in 1960. I know what it was like to be female in 1968. I know the kind of things that men said about women. And the persistent underestimation of your intellectual ability. Nobody told you you can be whatever you want. And if you go against that system, your behavior can be interpreted by a doctor who's diagnosing you in 15 minutes as you know you're a crazy person for not accepting the reality of the of the world you live in, but you're like, "Yeah, but that's a crazy world. that says, like, I'm - I can't do things just because I'm female or because, you know, I want to be a writer," which was Susanna Kasen's thing, you know, something is essentially wrong with her because she wanted to be a writer? I mean, that's crazy. So, I feel crazy Just talking about it.

Tom Casciato: Mann first gained attention in the 1980s as an MTV favorite fronting the New Wave band, 'Til Tuesday. In the next decade she emerged as a solo singer/songwriter. But though her early solo albums garnered raves, they also failed to produce big hits, and soon she found herself without a record label. She spoke on a podcast about how that period affected her own mental health.

Tom Casciato: You said something to the effect of starting to view yourself the way your record label viewed you.

Aimee Mann: When they're the only people hearing the music, and they're the only people giving you feedback, you know, and the feedback is always, 'it's not good enough." And of course, for them, it's not good enough means like "I don't hear a single. We don't think it's commercial. So we don't feel confident about it." But it's very discouraging because like one hundred percent of the feedback you're getting is you're not good enough.

Aimee Mann: Nothing is good enough for people like you.

Aimee Mann: So you start to go like, I guess I'm not good enough, you know? I would have these sort of internal dialogues and say, you know, Well, I feel like I'm a good songwriter. And then like the other side, we go, like, people don't want good songwriting. Like, maybe people just don't like that. But I mean, you do make yourself crazy when you start thinking, What do people want? Like, I don't (expletive) know. There's a lot of people in the world. People want different things.It's hard enough to know what you want. You know, like, focus on that. That's achievable.

Aimee Mann: Critics at their worst could never criticize the way that you do…

Tom Casciato: Mann took the opportunity to start her own label, Superego Records, releasing two acclaimed albums, 'Bachelor No. 2 in 2000', and in 2002, 'Lost In Space.'

Aimee Mann: 'Lost In Space' was - I had a nervous breakdown. You know, like severe dissociative episodes, so I went into treatment and that - most of the songs in Lost in Space are about that. I mean, you could tell, there are songs about metaphors for being disassociated that, you know, like aren't too hard to figure out.

Tom Casciato: For example, 'Lost in Space.'

Aimee Mann: Yeah, yeah, exactly.

Aimee Mann: Close enough for just pretending to care / And I'm pretending to care…

Aimee Mann: I was diagnosed with PTSD. I think I had very severe PTSD symptoms. Um…

Tom Casciato: And was that a childhood trauma?

Aimee Mann: Yeah, I think and you know, which is tricky because I'm like, "well, my experience can't be that bad, right?" I don't like losing my family in the earthquake or something," but my mother left when I was three.. And I was always also taken away from the other parent, you know? So - And eventually, I was returned to my father, but it was after a long period of time, so he was kind of like a stranger. I guess that is traumatic. I mean, it obviously is because you don't have, like, symptoms out of nowhere.

Aimee Mann: But baby beware / I'm pretending to care…

Aimee Mann: You know, I mean, I just shut down. I was like a very shut down person and there was a period time where I didn't talk and…

Tom Casciato: As a kid.

Aimee Mann: Yeah.

Tom Casciato: Were you writing verse in your mind when you weren't talking?

Aimee Mann: No. I don't think trauma is like, really? I don't know. There's like a level of trauma that isn't, you know, is really conducive to art.

Tom Casciato: Yeah.But there's also - I think you're also very good at writing the uplifting, sad song like this. Like -

Aimee Mann: That's funny.

Tom Casciato:This is such a bummer. I love this song. I want to play it again.

Aimee Mann: Right, My attitude in a lot of those songs, you know, the really depressing ones, there's an uplifting quality to me in describing something with exactitude especially a complicated emotional state. I feel like I've heard that when you know, when you tell the truth, you get a little head of dopamine.

Tom Casciato: In a song from her 'Mental illness' album, Aimee Mann sings of being 'Stuck In The Past.'

Aimee Mann: Stuck in the past / I plan it only on paper…

Tom Casciato: But one gets the impression from her latest work that far from being stuck, she's using the past - whether hers or someone else's - to push her music - and herself - forward.

Aimee Mann: You know, I mean, recovery is like an ongoing thing. I think, you know, your brain is a delicate machine and you have to keep adjusting and tinkering and you know, reading the manual to try to figure out how it works.

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