Thoughts and illustrations on living on the autism spectrum.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Spectrum Soundtrack: Just By Myself

Spectrum Soundtrack is songs that speak to me as a person with Asperger’s, even though they may be about something entirely unrelated. Greg Brown’s “Just By Myself” is one of those songs.

This song is about moving on after a breakup. It’s about rediscovering all the mundane, everyday things you can do now that you’re single again. But for me, it’s also an ode to enjoying your own company.

I first heard this song come on WRNR radio in 1996, living in Baltimore in my junior year of college. After two years of living on campus in the dorms, with roommates, I now had my first apartment on my own. It was a milestone that I both looked forward to, and found scary. At the outset, I didn’t know what to do with all this freedom. I was not socializing or joining groups on campus. I went to class, and I came home. I was on my own, quite literally.

I fell into a routine of grocery shopping, bill payments, and laundry. I listened to the radio, wasted time on usenet, and watched TV. I ventured out in the car to explore. And I went for walks around Charles Village and Hampden. When Greg Brown came on the radio, he was telling me I was doing just fine.

I'll walk around
some ancient city,
scribble in my notebook,
and drink my tea.
I don't have to make love,
'cause love made me,
and I'll be happy, happy, happy, happy, happy, happy, happy by myself.

I very much prefer the live version of “Just By Myself.” It has a rhythm to it, in just the guitar and vocals, that you can really get caught up in. The studio version on the “Dream CafĂ©” album is much more somber and serious, and kind of makes you question whether this guy is really happy, or still trying to convince himself. But in the live recording, there’s no doubt. Brown is an upbeat wiseguy here, comfortable in his solitary skin. He even throws in a nice “nyah-nyah-nyah” to really stick it to his ex, or in my mind, to those who don’t know the joy of solitude.

Is it joyful to be by myself? Yes, sometimes. Sometimes not. I must say I’m by myself more by nature than by choice. There were good things about having roommates, but it got to feel like a perpetual performance. When I’m in my home, I don’t want to have to “perform.” I want to be myself, and I want to be tuned in to whatever that little voice in my head has to tell me.

Way down in my dreams, find sweet release.
and I'll be happy, happy, happy, happy, happy, happy, happy by myself.

Toward the end of the song, Brown revisits his earlier lyrics with an extra punch of humor, making it clear he’s not out to please anyone else.

I fold the laundry like I want to, I might not even fold it, I might just wad it up and stick it in a bag, happy happy happy…
I put the sheets on like I want to, I might not even tuck the ends in tight, I might just leave ‘em loose so I can kick my legs out if I want to, happy happy happy…

Well, I still fold my laundry, and I still tuck my sheets in. But, I have my peculiar indulgences like anyone else. When I’m by myself…
… I can let out that sigh I’ve been stifling all day.
… I don’t have to “fix” the look on my face.
… I can let a song stop me from what I’m doing and transport me somewhere.
… and I can generally be quirky in ways I don’t care to share with others.

There’s an oft-repeated joke about the parent who found a cure for autism. She sent her child to his room and closed the door, and all his symptoms miraculously disappeared. Sometimes, alone is where we are most happy.

What makes you happy, just by yourself?


  1. Love this song Matt. Thanks so much for sharing. I don't remember what it's like to be by myself, but I sure would welcome a little alone time! Hope you had a great weekend.