(Feature Image Photo by Spencer Imbrock on Unsplash)
ADHDers have a special relationship with music. It can provide the background stimuli needed to get our work done, it can motivate us to get moving a bit faster, and it can bounce around in our heads for hours and hours and hours…
But every now and then a song comes into one’s life that really resonates – songs where the lyrics seem to speak directly to one’s individual experience. This is especially true for ADHDers – who can find clarity, empathy or catharsis in songs that explore – or can be interpreted as exploring – their disorder.
While there are many lists out there about songs that are ‘about ADHD’, here are two that I haven’t seen included, and one that is so apt that it can’t be excluded (#2). So hopefully this will give you a couple of new tunes for your own ADHD playlist.
Before getting into it, though, I do want to emphasize that this is just my take on these songs. It’s not my intention to put words in the songwriters’ mouths, or to distort what they were intending to communicate. I’m merely sharing what I’ve taken away from the songs (and I’m pretty confident that I’m at least on the right track in that regard). I’d love to hear your thoughts on these songs and my interpretations in the comments below. Here goes!
Corb Lund’s ‘Hard on Equipment’
‘Hard on Equipment’ is a lively and positive take on impressions of someone who sure sounds like they have ADHD. On the surface, the protagonist talks about a fellow’s odd use and handling of tools, as well as his approach to fixing things. It’s a refreshing and playful take on the manifestations of ADHD symptoms in a person that, one can assume, is just trying to get through life, and finds creative fixes to handyman dilemmas. ADHDers will see themselves in the lyrics – always using the wrong tool for a job (because they can’t find the right tool), taking the ‘wrong’ way to solving a problem (read: taking their own approach, using workarounds, making do with what’s at hand) – generally just being a bit of a mess. The chorus (‘I sure do like him, but he’s hard on equipment’) will likely resonate with many ADHDers, confirming their suspicions of how they’re regarded by their peers.
And while this may sound like it’s ridiculing the subject of the song, it’s ultimately a positive portrayal of ADHD, and there is a sense of acceptance and tolerance for this unnamed person’s different way of doing things. Respect for ADHDers doesn’t always have to be rooted in an understanding of the disorder and its manifestations – but I would say that it does require a distinction between the person and the disorder. Again – I don’t want to see meaning that wasn’t intended, but one could interpret this song as doing exactly that.
Elliot Smith’s ‘Between the Bars’
Between the Bars is a pitch-perfect portrayal of the incessant desire to close one’s eyes and escape the negative thoughts that can plague the ADHDer. That said, it can equally be said to be about depression, or perhaps other disorders or states of being – but that shouldn’t disqualify it from being on any ADHD playlist.
This song is unique in many ways, but perhaps most strikingly is that it is told from the point of view of alcohol – or rather, the pull of alcohol personified, seeming to know exactly the right things to say to lure the sufferer into escaping reality and falling in to a state where he/she is accepted, loved and generally okay. Substance abuse rates are high for ADHDers, and this song goes a long way in illuminating why. But in naming these desires, perhaps we are better able to conquer them. Touching on so many elements of ADHD – big dreams but little action, promises made and broken, reconciling with past ‘selves’, and isolation – this song cuts to the dark heart of suffering from ADHD with a compelling invitation that (one hopes) serves as a warning to those seeking an escape.
Ben Folds and Nick Hornby’s ‘Practical Amanda’
‘Practical Amanda’ is a song that struck me before I realized it was quite possibly about ADHD. Although I was diagnosed when I first heard it, I really underestimated my symptoms and the impacts on my life. I was in the ‘Oh, I’m just a dreamer’ stage – thinking that the disorder’s reach was minimal and that it could be easily curbed or ‘fixed’. This song helped me see the widening scope of ADHD and its role in my life. While the details of the lyrics leave some room to interpretation, the basic story is about a relationship in which one person (conceivably) suffers from ADHD while the other (Amanda) is neurotypical. Ostensibly, the protagonist is expressing his gratefulness to his partner for her practical nature – but at the core, it’s her patience, love and dedication to making a go of things that he is recognizing. The central image is one of a house that the couple has bought/moved into. It was certainly a fixer-upper, maybe even previously a school or institutional building – but through her talents with (‘the nuts and bolts of living, curtains, blinds and kitchen tables’), Practical Amanda turns it into a home. Then the parallel is drawn between the house and the protagonist’s life (head and heart and soul fucked up), which Amanda has again helped to strengthen and support. This is a positive portrayal that is rooted in an acceptance of what ADHD is and how it can steer one’s life – and how someone suffering with the disorder can be helped. More importantly, the resolution sees the protagonist thriving despite his ADHD and being part of a family (how Amanda ‘saved one life, and made two others’).
I think this song could also serve as a bit of a blueprint for making a relationship work when one person has ADHD. Understanding the disorder is key, sure – but it also means divying up the day-to-day based on each individual’s strengths. This is how my spouse and I have adapted our lives: she covers the financials, long-term planning and the like, whereas I focus on larger projects that are on a more fluid timeline (house maintenance, birthday parties, renovations, etc.). She gets the kids ready and brings them to school in the morning, since the timeline is very tight – and I pick them up after school and make them dinner because that timeline is a bit more relaxed. But more importantly, and in keeping with the messages of the song, I do feel like my spouse has saved my life. I honestly don’t know where I would be without her, and I certainly wouldn’t be the person I am today. ADHDers will know that it’s not a stretch to say that. That’s the spirit at the heart of this song.
I hope that these songs, if they’re new to you, will give you a fresh perspective on ADHD. They may also be helpful in having discussions about ADHD within your home or circle of friends. At the very least, they may give you some good riffs to bounce around your head at 3 o’clock in the morning.
What do you think of my interpretations? Am I way off? What songs would you add to an ADHD playlist? Go ahead and leave your thoughts in the comments below.
Thanks for reading!
One thought on “3 Songs for your ADHD Playlist”
This was really nice to read! I listen a lot to music, in order to be able to focus or not get overwhelmed by the world around me. But until I read this, I’ve never thought about the music I’m listening to and the relationship these songs have with my ADHD. Funny enough, I listen to Between The Bars almost every day! Maybe I should start paying a bit more attention, there might be a reason for my choice of music!