The Kids Are Alright

the-bandLet’s talk about music. The way I remember it Bob Johnston had married a gal from Detroit, and that’s why we met. Johnston came to Michigan by way of Nashville where he was a record producer working on a number of important albums including Bob Dylan’s Nashville Skyline, not to mention Leonard Cohen and Johnny Cash. I was an agent in a, you might say, boutique concert promotion company in Ann Arbor known as Prism Productions. Run by great guys, I loved that job though I had not entered recovery yet, if you get my meaning. And we were bringing The Band to town, in the early 80’s.  Don Tapert, a musician and old friend of my brother’s, had asked me if I could find Johnston some work, maybe solo piano club work. On the day of the Band gig, Don and Bob showed up and Bob asked if I could take him backstage (actually downstairs) to speak with the venerable Band singer and drummer Levon Helm. Now I knew enough about Johnston and all to figure they were acquainted but I felt compelled to ask Levon first. You never know if the two might have some kind of resentment, let’s say over an ill- fated relationship with one fellow’s kin, for example. And I found myself genuinely nervous, a rare event for me. The Band were so iconic to me that I was pert ‘near tongue-tied. I will outline some of the reasons The Band could be called America’s most important group of the rock era, but first, back to Levon. I’m standing there asking him if I could bring Bob J down and I say to Levon, “He says he’s your friend” and in fact I am rambling a bit due to my star-struckedness and Levon looks at me, and says (imagine his singular Arkansas drawl now), “Jimmy, I need all the friends I can get so bring him on down”.  A flush of relief and man Levon was just too cool for school.

That tour they were paired with The Cate Bros, a superb band, Levon’s friends from Arkansas who had a hit, Union Man. And at the end of the night they were all on stage, 11 musicians and there were three mandolins going at once and it’s truly magical and you realize this has been an original creative journey through American music of the last half century.  Everybody stands on the shoulders of what went before. All artists “borrow” from the past. The Band created what was so evocative and yet new it felt like a trip through some joyous school. You came out the other side better informed whilst having fun.  Groups like The Eagles hold the top spot on sales lists and were more prolific, The Band recording career being fairly short, but frankly The Eagles can barely carry The Band’s shoe bag if you ask me. The Band reached into the heart of American music with rock’s seminal recordings.  The Weight might be the definitive creative statement of the 60’s, at least for rock, which essentially means white American popular music. Once we peruse the vast catalogues of what we categorize as original blues, rhythm and blues and soul, all attempts to list and prioritize who is best go out the window because THAT, what the African-American culture gave us,  is the finest era of contemporary American music and I believe  Levon’d have no problem with that statement.

A student of the music biz, all of us  students of whatever we happen to be doing in our life, I have witnessed tectonic plate shifts which create doom and gloom attitudes with the field and one reason I thought of this story was that the Americana category is actually coming on with lots of great original music today.  The Band certainly get some credit for creating that.  For a time, in this country, the cultural engine of innovation and change, the creative spark, was led by musicians but that’s shifted to the IT/start-up world. Records have basically stopped selling, and for a while the way we got our music was to essentially steal it through downloads. I didn’t, due to my understanding of copyright royalties and intellectual property concepts from my brother. Now we all stream, YouTube being the single most popular way people, which is mostly young people, listen to music today. Terrestrial radio’s dying, cds barely sell and streaming is now beginning to pay royalties to the songwriters. But, on the dark side, hits are more corporately created product than ever, and in all this shift Chicken Little has been screaming, “The sky is falling”.  The one antidote to all that is the current spate of superb singer-songwriters, often the grandsons/daughters of what The Band gave us.  Americana is a broad umbrella covering numerous sub-groups. Just a few of the current list of superb singer/songwriters would include; Jason Isbell, Mumford and Sons, The Civil Wars, Michelle Shocked, Gillian Welch, Alison Krauss, Patty Griffin, Bela Fleck, NC’s own Delta Rae, The Avett Brothers, Ryan Adams and Tift Merritt, James McMurtry, Steve Earle, Old Crow Medicine Show, Lucinda Williams, T-Bone Burnett, Emmylou Harris, Ray LaMontagne  and many many others.

I want to close with more on The Band’s journey, but first we can conclude that, as the pundit Bob Lefsetz likes to debate;  the music biz is ok, there’s lots of creative force out there, with more freedom offered the artist through the internet. If you develop a fan base you can actually reach them directly, by-passing the usual list of corporate suspects. And making more money in the process.

As to The Band, it is notable that they broke up rancorously due to disagreements over royalties. Levon claimed that Robbie Robertson wanted to end it and in the process got all the songwriting credits unbeknownst to others and that is where the money is. The others went on to various projects and eventually did re-form and tour semi-regularly. And just to bring it back to recovery or lack thereof, it should be noted that The Band is one group (of many) who were riven by addiction. Richard Manuel, deeply alcoholic, hung himself in a hotel bathroom after a gig, Levon being the one to discover him. Rick Danko was one of the few American artists on Earth to spend time in a Japanese prison due to having received a package of heroin mailed to him there.  (Another artist to do Japanese time was Paul McCartney due to smuggled marijuana).  Rick’s death was due to heart failure.  Levon came down with throat cancer. He recovered for a while, re-built his career and made a documentary chronicling the end time of his life, where it was clear his resentments and now medically-supported drug use hung with him until the end.

More Anonymous People Showings

Cumberland CFAC Showing Anonymous People 4-14-15We’ve been trumpeting the emerging streams of Recovery Communities around the state, led at times by supportive managed care organizations. Here’s a flyer for another Alliance Anonymous People showing, in Fayetteville!

Though many dates and details are yet to be nailed down, there are coming events all around the state including Morganton, Boone and Charlotte. For those who missed it here in the Triangle, we are repeating the Recovery Community Messaging Training, probably Saturday, May 16th @ 9:30 am in Chapel Hill.

Announcements will go out once those details are confirmed.

I love Robin Williams.

AbominableI love Robin Williams. Now I must be clear; working in the music biz I learned the foolishness firsthand of actually thinking you know someone just because you know their “art”. I put quotes on “art” because so much is actually more product than art. With this celebrity for-it’s-own-sake, reality show culture it is more apparent than ever the fallacy of those kinds of assumptions.

My love has a practical and philosophical foundation. I believe we deeply need our comics just the way we need, say, water engineers. If tomorrow, all those who run our water systems vanished, we would be in trouble. They keep it flowing. Same with comedy. Professional comedians remind us to keep laughing and the best remind us why.

I feel lucky that my life has passed through the finest of eras in comedy (no offense to Shakespeare), from the greats of Mort Sahl, Dick Gregory, Lenny Bruce and Mel Brooks, through the peaks of Richard Pryor, George Carlin and Robin. And many others. If I won the lotto I’d pay $10,000 to charity to buy lunch with Mel Brooks, a true national treasure. Carlin, a man who at the time of his death was in long-term recovery from addiction, appeared gruff and uncouth to casual observers but if you actually look at the trajectory of his work over the years he had a serious and well-reasoned (and researched) message that was backed-up with hilarious results. He reminded me of Steve Martin who, while different in temperament, brought a craftsman’s discipline and hard work to the art, subtly conveying illuminating images for us to ponder, if we pay attention. They busted their ass to make us laugh! And I do not know about you but looking at the atrocities of this world I need to be reminded to keep my sense of humor. Which brings us back to Robin.

Beloved, his death struck me hard and I watched all the media commentary with curiosity. In the end, this anonymous post captured a core truth from his death.

“If someone were to die at the age of 63 after a lifelong battle with MS or Sickle Cell, we’d all say they were a “fighter” or an “inspiration”. But when someone dies after a lifelong battle with severe mental illness and drug addiction, we say it is a tragedy and tell everyone “don’t be like him, please seek help”. That’s bull. Robin Williams sought help his entire life. He saw a psychiatrist. He quit drinking. He went to rehab. He did this for decades. That’s HOW he made it to 63. For some people, 63 is a miracle. I know several people who didn’t make it past 23 and I’d do anything to have 40 more years with them.”

Which brings me to the first of my two movie reviews this week, The Angriest Man in Brooklyn, released some 4 months before Robin’s death. Reviewers and the whole review field has morphed into such claptrap that it can be hard to get a sense of a film before you see it but my scant impression was this one was a failure. Now I take that back. Like many movies it is not perfect but it travels in that realm we’ve been discussing lately and I love; the need to process our grief and the damage done when we don’t. Meanwhile, it has some genuine laughs.

Supported by a strong cast (Melissa Leo, Peter Dinklage, Hamish Linklater) I don’t want to write any spoilers so suffice it to say: “A curmudgeonly man is mistakenly told that he has 90 minutes to live by his doctor and promptly sets out to reconcile with his wife, brother and friends in the short time he believes he has left.” Oh yeah, and somebody with Substance Use Disorder enters recovery during the journey.

Now, on to my 2nd and favorite movie in a while, which moves through similar areas, St. Vincent, with

Bill Murray, at his under the radar/indie film best. The kicker in this movie is the kid, played by Jaeden Lieberher. The boy stays true to the heart of an original character. And is ably supported by a good cast. “Vincent is an old Vietnam vet whose stubbornly hedonistic ways have left him without money or a future. Things change when his new next-door neighbor’s son, Oliver, needs a babysitter and Vince is willing enough for a fee. From that self-serving act, an unexpected friendship forms as Vincent and Oliver find so much of each other’s needs through each other. As Vincent mentors Oliver in street survival and other worldly ways, Oliver begins to see more in the old man than just his foibles. When life takes a turn for the worse for Vincent, both of them find the best in each other than no one around them suspects.”

My 61 years on Earth tell me that there is an order to the Universe and when life throws “stuff” at us it’s a part of the bigger picture. There are blessings and benefits to walking through them. What I need to walk through and grow from life’s events, with at least a modicum of style is, in a word: support. Friends, mutual-aid, prayer and meditation, introspection, service work, exercise, superb nutrition including herbal teas (and coffee), fellowship, books, movies, music, nature in all its glory, gin rummy tournaments, roller derby, you-name-it, I need it all. And more. Support is what allows me to process and breath into the emotional and energetic realities of life on life’s terms.

Alliance Resource Fair – ROSC

Resource Fair FlyerSeems to me the managed care organizations (MCO’s) of North Carolina have been increasingly jumping on the Recovery Movement/Recovery Oriented System of Care (ROSC) band-wagon, which is great to see.  Here is a flyer for an upcoming Alliance Resource Fair, with two showings of the Anonymous People plus panels to field questions and discussion afterwards. In NC, MCO’s handle the administration of “public” monies and the provider network for behavioral health. That means substance use disorder and mental health treatment, plus developmental disabilities monies too.

Alliance oversees Wake County. Right now, the companies are merging so I’m not clear exactly how many there are, maybe 8 covering the state. Many have sponsored Anonymous People and Messaging Trainings for their staff plus community providers and stakeholders. They are also reaching out to learn and understand the principals behind ROSC. It’s all good and I for one appreciate those staff working to bring this understanding about.

Cheers to you all!

The Guidance of Pain

surfing gif“…how complicated a life can get without the guidance of pain.”

I used the movie Get Low, in my last newsletter, to talk about the damage caused by the hidden shadow; un-addressed grief, guilt and shame that plagues our world, and the solutions to this. At the bottom of the blog I mentioned something said to me the second time I went to treatment and here’s a bit of that story.

I wrote previously of my first time in treatment in 1968, a lock-down ward with meds but no 12-Step or anything we traditionally came to equate with substance use disorder treatment in the second half of the 20th century in America. Eventually I made my way back to treatment some 15 years later. Finally, the third time, 8 years after that, took.

My final time in, detoxing & sick, the intake was, shall we say, quite cloudy. It’s all fairly standard questions/paperwork, but when asked if I had ever been to treatment before I answered no. I didn’t count the first time and had completely forgotten the second time. My brain was stuporous and dazed and sustained detox coupled with supervised living and regular spiritual actions began to lift the fog around 90 days later. There were a number of spiritual revelations that came to me in the coming weeks as the fog lifted, usually triggered by the loving support that was around me. Some went off like clarifying grenades in my head (and heart) and I cherish each and every one of those and search for more until this day. A biggy was the moment I remembered I had done treatment before. Immediately, what my counselor said to me came flooding back.

The short time I was there she only said one thing to me. As those in long-term recovery who work with people suffering do, she repeated it often. She was planting a seed and years later, around 90 days detoxed, it sprouted. At the time I didn’t understand. You see, I didn’t “think” I had a problem, having been sent to treatment by a loved one. I viewed it as a health spa and I was just resting up. The fact that it was a Salvation Army program (a great one, btw) and there was no massage or hot tub did not compute. But when I remembered this treatment, what she said came rushing back and instantly made complete sense. She kept saying, “You can let this pain be enough”.

Man did it come flooding back. As everyone says, the three key components of the disease of addiction are: progressive, incurable and fatal. Incurable but it can go into remission, there is a way out; fatal if un-checked and; the progression looks different from person to person and mine was picking up speed.

When you have the disease of addiction and you don’t think you do and you keep going, the progression tends to speed up which creates wreckage. It’s a part of the holistic/holographic nature of the Universe, issues we ignore eventually come back to us swifter and harder. And all that’s painful and that is what she was saying; if I end my denial and get with the disease, respect it, I can stop the pain that’s coming. And she was right, I left treatment (early), resumed my ways and began to roll down the tracks at breakneck speed. I hadn’t had enough pain yet.

What a toweringly elegant spiritual concept. Now this gets into philosophical nuances that some debate so allow me to place this within context. I am talking of myself and my own experience, first off. The fact that pain works is our hardwiring. There’s no sin in that. That is a fact neither good nor bad. It’s actually a good thing. There are children, a statistically small amount, born with a congenital nerve disorder, that means insensitivity to pain and they are at serious risk of burns and bone breakage as they play and live that present real issues for the families. There was an article in the New York Times about the disorder and I love this quote. “Her life story offers an amazing snapshot of how complicated a life can get without the guidance of pain. Pain is a gift, and she doesn’t have it.”

Nervous system pain response is reality, we cannot change that. What we can control, the question in all this, the spiritual lesson for me, the blessing of it all is; we have control over how much pain we need.

That’s what she was saying! I could let this pain be enough! I could change starting right NOW!

All this led to actual surrender, which literally freed me completely from the obsession to use drugs, released me from the bondage of addiction, from then on. There’s a future topic, including as it relates to the medical; A spiritual principal gave rise to a physical benefit. The spiritual actually affects the material. E=mc2!

I have not wrestled one tiny bit with drug usage ever since, and let’s be very clear; that was a full-on gift given to me and I take no credit for that gift. I do attempt to show my gratitude.

Since then, I have wrestled with numerous other things in life before realizing that surrender would be the best response and it has been curious to me that despite such a wonderful gift and experience with surrender I still needed to wrestle with many other things and THEN it really hit me. Letting this pain be enough could be applied to many things/lots of things/anything!

The upshot of it all, now, twenty two years later, is that I know anytime I wrestle with something, stress over something, I am self-willing and attempting to control and that ultimately leads to pain. By letting go, giving it to the Universe, trusting, not just focusing on what the little i wants, there is freedom. And we’re not talking about wanting “bad” stuff. I don’t wrestle with robbing banks and such. In recovery, I can be ego driven about all sorts of “good” stuff. We can think we are doing good, when actually it’s still ego. We’re trying to control way too much around us because that was the pattern we learned when we were young and the pattern we repeated in our addiction. Those were the tools we learned and needed at the time, to cope and there comes a time to learn new tools. The saying goes, Do the right thing, for the right reason. The second part is most important. And that has been my lesson. In searching for the higher good, effortless effort is the way to surf. Straight up to the Heavens.

A last quote, from the NY Times article; “It is an extraordinary disorder,” Woods said. “It’s quite interesting, because it makes you realize pain is there for a number of reasons, and one of them is to use your body correctly without damaging it and modulating what you do.”


jotoMy good friend Tim Simmons, Consumer Affairs Specialist in the Piedmont, pitched me a wonderful service and I’m glad to pass it on.

Goodwill Industries, in Burlington, is offering employment preparation training/job search assistance to help individuals with a criminal history find employment

Jobs On The Outside (JOTO) is a 24 hour comprehensive training program that prepares individuals with a criminal background to successfully obtain and keep a job.

Here’s the flyer for more information.

RCNC Announces Executive Director

JASOn the local front, RCNC’s role as the anchor for NC RCO’s was solidified with their Executive Director hiring. Founding Board Member John A. Salgado, in sustained recovery since 9/2/09, has served as Executive Director of Fellowship Home of Raleigh and was the finance committee chair for RCNC before his new role as helmsman.

This role will include responsibility for opening a Recovery Community Center in the Triangle and continued cultivation and support of RCO’s around North Carolina.

Please join me in welcoming John to this new position.