STORYTELLER Vol. 4 “I Need You to Help Me Move On”
The Art of Saving a Life
I’m not sure how to start this story. I’ve started it five times now, and I’m still having difficulty putting the words together, something with which I’ve very rarely had a problem with in my life.
I wrote this song with a friend of mine, Vanessa Paletta. Vanessa recently experienced a terrible loss. Her story isn’t mine to tell, but when we sat down to write this song together, and we we talked about the crippling effect that great loss can have, the extent to which we sometimes lean on others to carry our sorrow, a particular lost friend was on my mind.
I was reminded of how alone I felt in grieving for my friend and how I didn’t feel like I was allowed to feel the way I did. I wanted someone to understand that because he ended his own life, MY heart beats a little bit harder when I think about him, because I’m the same as him, and some small voice inside me asks “why haven’t I done that yet”?
The answer is that I’ve sought help when I’ve gotten low, and I’ve held on with white knuckles to the people who’ve made themselves available to me. I’ve talked to professionals and I’ve cried with friends. Because suicide is not the answer, and it can be prevented.
*** The last time I saw Ben Reagan was October 4th 2012. We had been friends in high school, we’d even lived together during my junior year, in the southernmost wing of New Dorm at Hyde School in Bath, Maine. We’d not stayed well enough in touch since he graduated.
Ben was a nerd. At times he achieved a Michael Cera-esqe level of social awkwardness. He had a way of making my adolescent shame and discomfort feel infinitely more manageable. Like so many of my friends in high school, I hero-worshipped Ben, because he was more comfortable being him, if only marginally, than I was being me.
When I came through Washington DC on tour for the first time, the night of October 4th, I played a little club called the Electric Maid with my friend Brian Allen Thompson. On the music venue spectrum of fantastic to serial-killer basement, the Maid is so far down that it’s emblazoned on my mind as the very picture of a place not to play.
Ben had seen on Facebook that Brian and I were playing, and alone among our friends in the area, he enthusiastically came out to see us perform. For a guy that had only recently sobered up and gotten out of jail, he was healthy, and happy. So happy.
So many of our boarding school contemporaries, myself included had monumental struggles with drugs, alcohol and depression, so it wasn’t a surprise to Brian and I that Ben had struggled with that stuff, because we both certainly had. What was shocking to me, was that THIS was the Ben Reagan that I’d known when he graduated a year ahead of me at Hyde. He looked me in the eye and when he did, I swear there might have been a noticeable twinkle.
We talked for an hour or so after the show, hugged and parted ways to wherever it was that we stayed that night. As we left, I could feel Ben deflate a little bit. Just for a split second, I think his shoulders dropped, and I could sense the sadness and desperation with which I have been familiar for so many years. I ignored it, and I hate myself for that.
Two months later, Ben jumped off the Chesapeake bridge, to his death. The service was stiff, and profoundly sad. When I tried to engage with some of Ben’s other friends from school, I felt unwelcome, and I was stricken with that certain special kind of loneliness that is the province of people like me… and Ben.
I pictured my own funeral, that is was me in the casket and in the pictures on the wall. I imagined who would come, and who would cry. I got into my car, and I left. In the following weeks I sometimes wondered if I was suicidal too.
I wrote songs, I talked to friends, professionals, and even sympathetic strangers, and over time, I got better.
We all experience loss, and mine isn’t special. In the wake of Ben’s death and the deaths of others close to me, I’m finding that one of life biggest blessings is that as a result, we’re all outfitted with the tools to help another sufferer.
Don’t do it alone, ask for help. It will be there. ***
Do you have any stories about loss, needing to lean on someone, or someone needing to lean on you?
I want to hear your stories! You can email them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and they might end up in a song at the end of the year!
Thanks for reading STORYTELLER Vol. 4. See you next week!
STORYTELLER Vol. 3: "Sleep Easy"
Home Is Where The Mountains Are
Sleep Easy is a song about taking home with us wherever we go; about the people, places and memories that make up who we are and the ways in which they can ground us and, like a hobo with a bindle, carry our homes with us wherever we go...
But really it's just a song about how I'd like to die in Colorado, because it's cooler than all the other places.
***I LOVE REDROCKS.
The greatest music venue on planet earth resides about 25 minutes west of downtown Denver, right at the foothill base of the rocky mountains. You can see it from miles and miles away: the two gigantic towers of angular red sandstone on either side of an open-air amphitheater built to house 10,000 warm bodies. From the stage looking up, it feels like the entire human race could fit into the stands to watch some monumental performance or other.
I have so many incredible memories of great Red Rocks experiences, but one particular performance stands out:
When I was about 18 or so, on the fourth of July, I went to see Blues Traveler perform their annual residency at Red Rocks. They have a different opener each year, but the show is always remarkable. This year, they had Jonny Lang. Of course these days, Jonny is a household name in the blues world, and he's revered among guitar players. At that time however, I'd never heard of him, and being only a journeyman guitar player myself at the time, I really hadn't started digging into the modern greats yet.
When my friends and I got to the amphitheater, it was severely overcast, and threatened to rain in a violent way. From any row above the 20th or so, you can nearly always see a storm coming from many miles away, and as Jonny was gearing up to start his set, people were already starting to retreat back to their cars and down into the visitor's center, to take refuge from the big, nasty black clouds coming our way.
I decided that, being a newly minted adult, I was not going to be scared away from a show I had paid good money for by a little rain, and so I stayed as Jonny Lang and his band started their set.
And then the rain came.
To this day, I've seen maybe two or three rainstorms in my life that rivaled the one I sat through that afternoon. It was torrential. You know that scene from Forrest Gump, where he's describing the different phases of rain in Vietnam? I'm fairly certain that we covered all of those bases.
About two or three songs into the set, the stage crew started coming through and covering the speakers, lights and the monitors etc. with tarps, and began shutting down the show, to try again once the rain had subsided. The band packed up and hurriedly ran inside, and didn't notice that Jonny hadn't stopped playing. Nor did he. Not to be daunted, Jonny Lang stayed on stage by his lonesome, wide stance, dripping from head to toe, and put on a volcanic exhibition. He wailed and squealed and ripped and crooned...and he sang too. It was bonkers. Eventually, his band started trickling back, spurred by what I like to think was shame and chagrin at Jonny's unflappable manliness. They finished a great set, and once the rain subsided, and the audience returned, Blues Traveler put on a killer show. But for about 15-20 minutes, Jonny Lang became my spirit animal. He totally knew what Colorado was all about.***
**Do you have any stories about why your home is the best?**
Please share Vol. 3 on your chosen social media, and tell me a story!
You can also email your stories to me at email@example.com
See you next week!
STORYTELLER Vol. 2: "Drive On"
A Tale of two Families
"Drive On" is one of several songs that I've written with my good friend Olivia Rudeen. Hanging out with Liv is like a warm slice of apple pie, a scoop of ice cream and a "world's #1 dad" mug of hot coffee while sitting in a recliner in front of a medium sized fireplace; total comfort food. She's also one of the most prolific songwriters I know, and every time we sit down to write together I feel like my odds of creating a masterpiece go way up.
A lot of songwriters are cursed with a wanderlust, and for me that manifests by way of a lot of romanticized travel songs.
This song ruminates on traveling with two families- the family you're born with, and the family that you choose, so this week's story is a two-parter:
It's Thanksgiving week 2012, and I'm traveling to Austin, Tx with my father in my tour van, Ruth.
We left Denver after dark, and headed south on I-25 down into the northwest corner of New Mexico, which is basically Mars.
Around midnight, we were dead in the center of the 100 mile stretch of New Mexico highway with small towns on either side, and we heard our left rear tire rip wide open.
It was something like 25 degrees outside, and the wind was punishing all of our exposed skin as we endeavored for what felt like two hours to change the tire on the highway's shoulder. Once the tire was changed, we kicked back into gear and started to roll down the road for about 50 feet... when the spare exploded.
When AAA finally arrived at around 3am to tow us to the next town, we boarded the tow truck like a conqueror's chariot; brothers in arms against the forces of bad fortune; vanquishers of the great inconvenience.
We made it to Austin without further incident, and over the next several days, my family retreated to a tiny desert hills resort outside of the city for the Thanksgiving vacation.
We cooked, we ate, we watched football, and every night I would drive into the city and have a late night meal at my favorite eatery on planet earth: El Taquito.
I would come back every day and tell my family about the world's best al pastor, and the cinnamon sweetness of the homemade horchata.
On the last day, I finally prevailed on my entire family to come to El Taquito.
18 hours later,my brother, my mother and I were all beset by the worlds worst case of food poisoning. You guessed it...all three of us had the al pastor and the horchata.
That same fall of 2012, in September and October, I had toured all around the eastern half of the country with my best friend Brian Allen Thompson. He's a quirky little MC that doubles as a singer/songwriter, and he's got a propensity for causing me trouble.
We were playing our second or third show on the tour in Chicago at the Elbow Room. Earlier that night we'd been given raw lobsters from another friend of ours in town, and we were canvassing the neighborhood for a place to cook our lobsters. Failing that, we ate no dinner, and Brian filled himself up with more alcohol than was appropriate for a person not living in a Chi Omega fraternity house. , Our good friend Pete Mason (I hope you're not reading this Pete) had flown in from Philly to see us play, and at the end of the night, offered us a place to stay in his fancy pants hotel on the waterfront downtown. We went to bed that evening around 2am. At approximately 3:45 am, I woke up to what I assumed was a loud rainstorm outside. I looked around and saw in the corner of the room, Brian... pissing on the hotel armchair.
I yelled, "BRIAN! What the hell are you doing!?". He responded, with a contemptuous, if hazy eyed look, and said matter-of-factly, "I'm pissing on the chair." as if that was the obvious and appropriate action to be taken when a civilized man has the need to relieve himself.
We left early the following morning.***
**Do you have any nutty travel stories with your family?**
Please share Vol. 2 on your chosen social media, and tell me a story!
You can also email your stories to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
See you next week!
Thanks for checking out Volume One of my STORYTELLER releases.
We'll be doing one each week on Wednesday's until Christmas!
I co-wrote this tune with Randall Kent Ramirez, a brilliant talent and my great friend. He's been a long time member of my FamLee; one of an unaccountable list of people that have supported me in my incredible musical adventure.
I'll write more about Randy in weeks to come, but for now suffice it to say that when we sat down to write this song together, as the song started to unfold in front of us, I had one particular story in my mind:
***In the fall of 2006, I was in my first semester at Western State Colorado University. I had a tight knit group of friends, a passion for my classes, a starting spot on the University lacrosse team, a pick-up truck with a tape deck... and a severe predilection for drugs and alcohol.
Within eight weeks of the beginning of the school year, I'd burned through all of my savings, and my appetite had outstripped my capacity to earn, or even steal enough money to provide myself with the requisite amount of "stuff" to get me through the day.
Not being particularly crafty, I lost my friendships, my place on the team, my relationships with my professors, my family and even my suppliers at an olympic clip.
On October 18th, my situation reached critical mass; terminal velocity, in the words of the recovery community, I had reached my bottom.
I was faced with a paralyzing reality: I could go not one more day in this fashion, but I could not make it through the day without feeding the beast.
I picked up the phone and called my old high school mentor, Kevin Folan. Without judgement, Kevin lent me his ear, patiently and sympathetically. I cringe thinking about what I must have sounded like on the phone that day; confused, drug addled and self-obsessed, but he listened and provided me with much needed comfort and reassurance.
More than that, Kevin offered me a way out. I was to come to Connecticut at the end of the Semester to work for him at the new school for which he had just been named the Head Dean. I was to be his assistant.
For the next several months, Kevin was my whole world. He was mentor, brother, friend, boss, colleague and safety-net. For a while, I had no sense of self, so I borrowed his. What he found funny, I laughed at loudly. What he prided himself on, I made my purpose to master. What he believed, I parroted. I had no model for living, so I borrowed the one that was generously lent to me, and realized that it was possible to be a part of the world.
Somewhere during that time, I learned how to be my own man, and I started to have real dreams, like I had when I was a kid. I came to believe that the world was open to me, and that not only was I going to be ok, that I could be way more than ok. I could be fucking spectacular. I think Kev was the one to really give me permission to be fucking spectacular.
When I think about the beginning of my life as a musician, as a STORYTELLER, when I think about chasing the stars, I think about Kevin, who pointed them out, and showed me how to take my first steps. ***
I want to hear your stories too!
Please, re-post the video and when you do, tag me and tell me a story!
***Who's helped you in a time of need to follow your dreams?***