Monthly Archives: December 2012

Depression

Depression is a bitch!  The sufferers are so used to its presence that they would probably shrug off any notion of its cruel grip on their lives.  The family members of the sufferers are often so baffled and stymied that they usually develop a deep denial of the very existence of depression.  Close family members habitually convince themselves that their loved ones are simply experiencing the blues, or have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), or are going through rough financial troubles, or aren’t doing well in school, or are going through a break-up, or any number of reasons that most people feel low on a given day.  Certain that it is nothing that they won’t get over in a few days.

Sufferers of depression—and I refer to those seriously depressed who are clinically diagnosed, or at least should be clinically diagnosed—are masters of hiding the severity of their depression.  They may cringe every time that someone casually asks, “How are you doing today?”, but they have their prefabricated responses at the ready, along with a convincing smile and a bit of contrived conversation that’s only enough to satisfy the nosy bastards until they finally go on their way!  However, deep inside is a sadness that transcends sadness.  It is a form of grief, really; a bottomless feeling of loss and emptiness that most people only feel when a loved one dies, or when a loving relationship ends unexpectedly.  It’s the loss of hope for the outcome of their own lives.

I am in no way qualified to explain the clinical aspects of depression, but I have suffered from depression and anxiety for the majority of my life.  I have also known a few people who live with this debilitating illness to the extent that they are barely functioning.  I admit my depression gets worse in the winter.  To me, SAD is a very real thing, even though many people will just say that everyone gets a little blue when the clouds roll in and the temperature drops.  But my depression does not begin or end with SAD.

Although I have experienced anxiety and depression at least since my early teen years, I was not properly diagnosed until I was 33-years old.  After a few years of counseling, I had a psychiatrist diagnose me with General Anxiety Disorder with Major Depressive Disorder.  This was after my marriage fell apart, and during the time that I was learning to be a single father.  These casualties of life did not create the depression and anxiety, but they did make managing it almost impossible.  The fact that I self-medicated with street drugs when I was a teenager made perfect sense to my doctor since I was attempting to cure myself the only way available to me at the time.

And make no mistake: Depression is a disease.  It is the result of a chemical imbalance that can only be fixed with a change to that imbalance, if it can be fixed at all.  Anyone who says otherwise really has no conception of what depression really is.

Like many of the other sufferers that I know, I have tried everything imaginable to control, or even cure, my depression.  Diet, exercise, plentiful sunshine, vitamins, medications, counseling, therapy, acupuncture, and massage, and each one has only been a temporary fix.  I will say that I typically feel best in social situations, but the sad reality of depression is that getting me into a social situation is almost impossible in most cases.  It’s not quite agoraphobia, but the anxiety attached to having to put on an public act can be crushing.  Being around people often can create even more anxiety.

I have a friend, of whom I will refer to as Sara, and she has had a difficult time managing her depression.  Like me, she is a single parent (two beautiful young girls), and like me she has difficulty getting through each day of her life.  Sara once confided in me that aside from the girls, there is no joy in her life, and that if it weren’t for the girls, she would have no problem ending it.  For years, she says that is all she can think about; just ending the constant pain.  She claims that the constant struggle to survive sometimes outweighs her deep love for the girls, and that she has days in which she feels like she will lose the fight, which means that her girls will lose the fight, as well.  I think that it sickens her to imagine that day may ever really come, but I also believe that she believes there is nothing she can do about it anymore.

Sara has been on every anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medication available.  She has also tried meditation, various diet regimens, and Vinyasa yoga.  She has talked to psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors, life coaches, and various case workers.  The only thing that really helps her, she maintains, is living for her daughters.  Even though I feel as though I understand her, she believes that not even her closest friends really understand, and so she rarely confides in anyone.  I only know these things because she confided some dark thoughts to me one night after too many glasses of wine, and I now refuse to let her off the hook.

Sufferers of depression and anxiety can often fake their way into relationships, romantic or otherwise, but those relationships usually fail.  One cannot be in an honest and open relationship with someone else if they cannot even be honest with themselves.  The desire to be “normal” and function in “normal” conventions is imbalanced against the desire to disappear within one’s self.  That is not to say that a depressed person cannot love deeply, only that the elevated mood that new love brings usually dissipates after time, like the buzz from alcohol or drugs, or the endorphin rush after a long run.

It is New Years Eve, and I called Sara tonight to see what she was doing.  She has her girls, and she will let them stay up past midnight to welcome the New Year.  Her sister may stop by later to say hi before she heads off to a club downtown.  I offered to come by and visit, but she made it clear that she only wants a quiet evening with her girls.  In the end, that is all I can do for her: make myself available when she needs me and then make myself scarce when she doesn’t, and then check in on her often enough that I do not seem overbearing.

For the most part, her family is blind to Sara’s depression, even if they are technically aware of all the past medications and doctor’s visits.  I think that it is too much of a burden for them to admit the seriousness of the problem.  Moreover, her family may feel that they will have to take the blame in some way for her condition, even though their role in some past event has nothing to do with Sara’s current problems.  Sara can go months without hearing from her family, and her condition is such that she will almost never make first contact.  That is the inherent problem with depression: the sufferer will never ask for help.

If Sara ever does take her own life, her family will cry and lament that they never saw it coming, but that cannot be a true statement.  Anyone who knows her—and I only know her marginally—should know that suicide is a very real possibility for Sara.  If anyone is blindsided, it will be because they chose not to see the seriousness of her suffering.

So, if you know anybody who suffers from depression, please, just reach out to him or her.  They probably won’t impose themselves on you, ask for money, ask to sleep on your nice couch for a month, or burn your ears off with some dreadful and honest tale of their depression.  They just want to know that the people who claim to love them actually do love them.  Often enough, that’s all it takes to keep a sufferer going through that day.

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Laguna Seca, 1988

It’s pretty funny to laugh about it now, but boy!, was Huey pissed-off at the time.  It’s his own damned fault for showing up unprepared, even though he would still argue that he had all the necessary preparations: a change of clothes, and six cases of beer.  The three-day concert festival at Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterey, California was meant to be the party of the year, with The Grateful Dead and Los Lobos providing the musical soundtrack.  However, Huey only had a single ticket for Day Two of the weekend, and when the raceway opened the gates on Thursday so that the campers could stake their claims and prepare for the three-day party, the festival security would not let him into the campground.  Only those with tickets for all three days were allowed to enter.

laguna seca 1988Allan was in a similar situation with only one single ticket for the second day of the weekend.  It is still a mystery as to why Allan and Huey only bought tickets to one show instead of all three.  They probably would have said that they only needed one ticket to get into the festival, and that they could have scored the other tickets later through some sort of wheeling and dealing.  On the other hand, maybe they believed that they could have heard the other shows from their campsites so the tickets were unnecessary anyway.

Nevertheless, on Thursday afternoon, Huey and Allan were stuck outside of the gates of the campground and would not be let in until Saturday when their tickets would be honored.  They stood watching Cody drive away in Allan’s 1972 Buick Skylark up the long winding path that led to the festival site.  Cody had tickets for all three shows.  However, Cody could not drive.

At eighteen-years old, Cody still never bothered to learn to drive since all his friends did drive and Cody usually just followed at least one of them around.  He certainly never expected to have to navigate the old 4-speed stick shift up a steep grade and around sharp winding turns for a mile until he reached the festival parking.  He made most of the trek staying in first gear, although he did manage to get it into second for a moment while accelerating up a rather steep hill, only to have some random hippie jump in front of the car, forcing Cody to stop abruptly, all to beg Cody for some spare change.

But Cody got to the campsite.  He unloaded all of the camping gear, including the three ice chests of food, and all of Huey’s beer.  Cody got comfortable and pondered the fate of his friends, worried that they might not make it in for a couple of days.

Huey and Allan cursed their luck and tried to find ways to scheme their way into the campground.  They tried crouching behind other cars as they passed through the gates only to be foiled by festival security.  They tried running up the steep hill when they thought that no one was looking, only to be chased down and returned to the outside of the gate.  Finally, in a flash of brilliance, their two brains collaborated on the perfect plan: If they walked backwards up the hill, facing the gate, then it would look as though they were walking away from the campsite and toward the gate.  It was foolproof!

Actually, they were right.  It did work, and Huey and Allan made it up the hill undetected and eventually to the campground.  What a hassle!  The long walk up and down steep hills followed by a seemingly eternal walk through the maze of tents and circus freaks in a campsite that would ultimately house some 20,000 Deadheads was enough to drive anyone a little crazy.

But that’s not why Huey was so pissed-off!

Once Huey and Allan finally found Cody relaxing at the campsite with a few new friends, Huey had discovered that at least half of his beer was gone.  Cody, despairing at the loss of his best friends, decided to barter with the locals for other various party favors.  Folks stopped by asking for a few beers and volunteered to trade weed, acid, opium, hash, veggie sandwiches, and bagels to procure a few cans of the cheap brew.

Cody didn’t really like beer very much; he liked pot.  Lots and lots of pot!  Huey was not much of a pot smoker; he liked beer.  Lots and lots of beer!  And now much of that beer was gone.  Six cases of beer was probably not going to last Huey for a weekend anyway, but now with that supply diminished, Huey seethed at the misfortune created by his friend and brother, the now extremely high Cody.

Allan was as happy as ever.  He like beer, and weed, and hash, and acid, and every other sensory-heightening substance known to man, so his weekend was going to be fine.  Cody’s actions only made Allan’s weekend that much easier.

Tensions loosened as the first beers were drunk, and the first chemicals were ingested.  The three friends wandered around the campsite watching the strange characters and carnival performers running amok.  Musicians playing their guitars and singing, while stilted jugglers threw fiery projectiles at each other near the tents.  Cody would have the most surreal moment of the weekend when a very convincing Captain Beefheart lookalike made a random comment about the entire tent village going up in flames.  Was it really him?

It was a magical weekend for everyone, regardless of the amount of preferred substance each person had.  The music was great, and the camaraderie reached an all-time high amongst the friends.

Jerry Laguna Seca 1988Huey and Allan would leave early Sunday morning, since they did not have a ticket for the third day, and all of the party favors had been used up.  They left Cody behind to find his own way home.  Cody was blissfully soaking in the Grateful Dead finest sets of the weekend, and did not realize he was abandoned until after the last notes had rung across the festival site like the peals of church bells. There was probably no ill-will on Huey and Allan’s part attached to leave Cody behind, but after the dust had settled, Cody came to a very important revelation:

Don’t fuck with Huey and his beer supply!

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Singer-Songwriter Blues

Music has always been a huge part of my life.  Listening to music, playing music, seeing live shows, collecting live bootlegs, reading musical biographies…you name it, if it’s music-related, then I am all over it!  I have been playing guitar since I was 5-years old, and over the years, I have played piano, clarinet, drums and other assorted percussion, and bass guitar.  I have played in church ensembles, concert and jazz bands in school, and rock bands that graced house parties and nightclubs.  But the hardest gig for me has always been as a singer-songwriter performing solo in front of intimate crowds.

As a songwriter, I had always believed that the song itself should be showcased in its purest form, without all the extra instrumentation that you get from bands.  For me, a singer alone with his or her guitar or piano is the best way to convey the beauty of a song.  Some of my favorite music in the world is Bob Dylan or Neil Young’s solo works, or Jerry Garcia’s solo acoustic performances.  I have always preferred Dave Matthews’ acoustic shows with Tim Reynolds to The Dave Matthews Band.  The lyrical beauty and musicality just shines through without all the other noise (sorry drummers).

joel 84            I started my erratic and otherwise unknown music career in rock bands; Rock and Roll Bands, Jam Bands, Metal Bands, and Hard Rock Bands.  I have played at The Light Rail Inn, Old Ironsides, Club Me (Cattle Club), Malarkey’s, and various other Sacramento locales.  I loved playing in bands and found it easy enough to perform on stage.  I almost never got stage fright, and I enjoyed the camaraderie of sharing the experience with others.

joel 87         However, by 1995, I had had enough of playing nicely with others and decided that since I was the main songwriter anyway, that I did not need anyone else.  In bands, I was always the bass player, since I was pretty good, and we could never find anyone else to play bass.  Yet, I was always a guitarist at heart.  So I decided to start off on my own as a solo performer, play and sing my songs, and show the world just how amazing I was on my own.

What I didn’t know was that I had no idea what the fuck I was doing.

Apparently, doing everything on your own requires some skill and practice.  I had no natural internal meter to keep a steady beat, and without a drummer, my timing was all over the place.  Without a lead guitarist, I had nothing interesting going on during the instrumental breaks between verses.  And how could I have known that without all the noise of amplified music and drums drowning out useless PA systems that I couldn’t sing for shit?  And hearing myself loud and clear for the first time made me very self-conscious and nervous on stage.  I closed my eyes, played each song in rapid succession with no interaction with the crowd, and basically tried to pretend that the crowd was not even there as I attempted to hide behind my guitar.

On top of that, my songwriting style is very different from the conventions of the era.  I could never write Pop Music, and my songs could sometimes go on and on without a hook to bring the listening audience back to a familiar place.  It never dawned on me that only a small portion of the human population listened to the same music as I did.  My influences would only be attractive to one out of ten people, and there were usually only nine people in the crowd.

Needless to say, my first performances were awkward and shockingly bad.  My family and friends were a little too supportive, and it took a long time for me to figure out that these performances were virtually unlistenable.  And so I practiced.  I played my songs along a metronome until I had the timing of each song clicking in my head like an army’s marching footsteps.  I learned how to actually sing, even if my voice quality is still questionable.  I practiced telling weird stories between songs and attempted to be funny.  Finally, I arranged my songs so that they did not have long instrumental breaks…for the most part.

I gave up a few times, and tried it all again in an odd love/hate affair with performing music.  I am glad that I had these experiences, however cringe-worthy they may have been.  If I could go back and give advice to my younger self, it would be to own that stage the moment I walked upon it.  Don’t act shy and insecure (act?), and don’t worry about any mistakes.  Own the stage, and own the crowd.  For the entire time that a person is on stage, all eyes are on them.  Make it count!  If you are up there to entertain, then you need to be entertaining.

joel 11-2           I still have the desire to perform, just as sure as I continue to write songs and play my guitar.  But live music is a young person’s game.  I am 44-years old now, and I feel like I ought to be staying home instead of trying to get people interested in my songs.  And that’s okay with me.  There are plenty of great new songwriters out there in this overcrowded arena.  I have my memories and the knowledge that I attempted something that not many others have tried.

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Okay, here goes…

I’ve always wanted to be a writer, but I’ve never really written anything outside of academia and songwriting.  I have a B.A. in History, and I have nearly finished a M.A. in International Relations.  There is a lot of writing involved in those two fields, but it’s not the kind of writing that I would like to do.  I have written songs since I started playing guitar at age 5, so I know that I have the creative spark necessary for prose writing, but I just have never sat down and written anything prose-worthy.

I have a complete novel in my head, and I just need to write it out.  I have outlined it, and even wrote the introduction to the story.  I’d like to even write a screenplay version of this story.  I have lots of ideas, but no experience in writing stories.  The novel I want to write might suck, just like all my little ideas might suck as well, but I’ll never know if I don’t write them out, right?

So, I decided to start with a blog.  I figure that I can get all the necessary practice by doing this, and then I can see if I actually have what it takes.

I will write about any of the random thoughts that come to me.  I love music, so I can guarantee that there will be many articles on various musical topics.  I love the Grateful Dead, and I will most definitely write about my own experiences as a Deadhead, the concerts I’ve seen, and the music that I love and have collected over the years.

And I will probably just write for the sake of practice, so that I will see what is interesting and what is crap.  I have no idea how often my entries will occur, but as Stephen King once wrote, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”  I read plenty, and now I must try to write just as often.

Wheeeeeeeeeee!

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