A friend of mine prompted me to revisit Rilo Kiley’s music via a fantastic article on Pitchfork Media in anticipation for Jenny Lewis’ 2019 album On the Line. Lewis started her career as a child actress in the 1980s, but she grew tired of telling other people’s stories and started Rilo Kiley in 1998 with another child actor, Blake Sennett. The band became known for Lewis’ insightful and clever lyrics overtop fun and bright pop music, often a little at odds with the despondent lyrical content.
Revisiting Rilo Kiley took me back to my later years of college, listening to melancholic indie rock like Death Cab for Cutie and apprehensively thinking about my future after college. The song “The Good That Won't Come Out” is the opening track from the band’s 2002 album, The Execution of All Things. The song has a country-tinge to it, with the wonderfully somber pedal steel guitar flourishes, and does a great job of highlighting Lewis’ lyricism. At the song’s onset, Lewis sings of well-meaning progressives complaining about how we are ruining the environment but then not doing anything themselves to remedy the problem:
“Let's get together and talk about the modern age
All of our friends were gathered there
With their pets, just talking shit
About how we're all so upset
About the disappearing ground
As we watch it melt...
It's all of the good that won't come out of us
And how eventually, our hands will just turn to dust
If we keep shaking them
Standing here on this frozen lake.”
If we keep complaining and not doing anything about it, eventually that frozen lake is going to give and we are going to plunge into that cold water. Despite being written almost 20 years ago, this message is still very timely in 2021.
Lewis then turns this notion into a metaphor for those suffering with depression and mental illness, not admitting to their own struggles and never seeking help. She starts this by examining her own reluctances:
“I do this thing where I think I'm real sick
But I won't go to the doctor to find out about it
'Cause they make you stay real still in a real small space
As they chart up your insides and put them on display
They'd see all of it, all of me, all of it”
She then casts the net wider to speak of others, those who lost their own battles with depression and are no longer alive:
“Let's talk about all our friends who lost the war
And all of the novels that had yet to be written about them.
It's all of the good that won't come out of them
And all the stupid lies they hide behind.”
If you are dead, you will not be able to impart any more good on the world. There is help for you if you are struggling mentally, though you need to be willing to seek it out.
Another poignant line:
“You say I choose sadness
That it never once has chosen me
Maybe you're right…”
An acquaintance of Lewis’ suggests that she is deliberately choosing to be sad, and that she is at fault for her depression. The person suggesting this likely does not suffer from a mental illness themselves, and does not fully understand the ramifications of them. Depression is not just the result of a collection of misfortunes, but rather stems from a complicated set of biological, psychological, and environmental factors. Lewis is not the cause of her own depression. But, as mentioned earlier, if you are suffering from a mental illness, there is help available, but you need to be receptive to finding it.
If you are not familiar with Jenny Lewis and her music, make sure to change that.
Buy Jenny Lewis’ music here.
If you are in need of mental health services, find help here.