Mark Schirmacher’s single “Are You Okay?” is a stark, honest question set to music. Shirmacher’s sincere singing voice is set against a folky electric guitar accompaniment and a politely quiet rhythm section. A Neil Young-ish harmonica solo is smartly placed within the track, as well. It’s both quiet and sweet.
This song/question suggests all is not well with its recipient. Usually, whenever we ask another, ‘How are you?’ we most times expect an automatic ‘Just fine’ in return. However, when a greeting question is phrased as ‘Are you okay?’, there’s the unstated suggestion that the person isn’t completely okay. Something that person has said or done, gives the other cause for concern.
“I find your smile tired and sore,” Schirmacher observes with concern. “When was the last time you cried?” Schirmacher asks at one point. And then, “Was it back in your homeland or maybe last night?” This is obviously a song directed at one specific person, and not a generic lyric of empathy for just anyone that might be struggling.
This song’s obvious honesty and vulnerability is what makes it especially good and noteworthy. It can be oh so tempting for a songwriter to write intentionally vague lyrics — for self-protection, or to protect the subject (of subjects) of a song. Schirmacher, though, leaves plenty of detail in his song; almost as though he wants the subject of his song to hear it. One even begins to wonder if putting this person’s issues into song form is, perhaps, Schirmacher’s last resort at reaching out to this individual. Such analysis might be a bit of a stretch, but with all the candor invested in these words, such a theory cannot be completely ruled out.
Schirmacher has said of this track, [it’s] “a love song that takes form in concern and curiosity towards a friend. It doesn’t say “I love you,” but it is rooted in the idea that we’re all connected here, and we have to look out for each other.” Although this is not an overt love song, one can easily get Shirmacher’s meaning. We can say we love each other until we’re blue in the face, but the best way to say, ‘I love you,’ is to actually show love. By being concerned, and intentionally verbalizing concern, one is demonstrating they love another with their actions, not just with their words.
“Are You Okay?” is a rare example of gut level, honest songwriting, filled with poetic sincerity.