Finding Inspiration and Validation.

This year has been a pretty amazing fucking year for me.  This year, within a week’s time Collins Drive opened for a jamband icon (Mike Glabicki of Rusted Root) and were hand picked by one of my biggest influences of all time (Kevn Kinney) to perform at one of his showcase shows called Kevn Kinney’s Rocket Shop.  For me, these two shows were absolutely huge for so many reasons.  Primarily, the Mike Glabicki show was huge because it was getting the chance to open for the singer of one of my favorite Jam Bands.  The Kevn Kinney show was really special because here was this hero of mine inviting my band to come be a part of of his show and then inviting us to sit in with him at the end of the night with  “Straight to Hell.”  That was an experience I’ll never forget.  It was amazing, it was loving, it was exciting and it was validating.

Validation is a big thing for all of us.  We all love to hear that we are doing something good.  These two shows and the reactions from both the artists and the audiences completely had me validated.  The feeling of being accepted as an equal to these guy and having them both tell me just how much they love my material is something that you just can’t put a price on.  I feel as if I’ve made it… WE’VE made it.

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“Rehearsing is Just a Big Word for Bonding.”

“Rehearsing is just a big word for bonding.” I wish I could remember where I saw that quote. It obviously meant a lot to me because I wrote it down. I wish I could give credit where credit is due but I will just say that this is not my quote. When I saw this quote, it totally made me smile because I totally knew exactly what this was all about. There was a time in my life where sometimes rehearsing with a band could be painful. Sometimes there were even moments where I would find an excuse to cancel rehearsal. Why would someone do that? It’s probably the same reason that relationships fall apart or why friendships fall apart. That magic, that spark is either no longer there or maybe it just wasn’t there at all.

Rehearsing with Allison and Mike (aka: Collins Drive) is always a bonding experience. I feel that with every rehearsal we get tighter, closer, and more in touch with each other not just artistically but personally as well. I remember the first time we all got together and as corny as it sounds, I knew that these were the ones. Every day that I spend with this band I learn more about myself as a writer, as a singer, as guitarist, as a performer, and as a person in general. This band brings the best out of each other. We are each others biggest fan and we are each others biggest cheerleader. When we are in that rehearsal room together, it is pure magic. All the bullshit, all the hassle of the world gets left behind and the minute that door closes, our world revolves around one thing: the song.

Rehearsing with this band is everything to me. Sometimes, when they don’t know it, I find myself just looking at them and smiling. I see Allison lost in the groove and playing those lyrical bass lines while Mike plays with his eyes closed, completely immersed in the song, lipping the words as I sing. When I see them like this, it makes me smile and it makes me feel connected. It makes me feel bonded to them in a way that you can’t just bond with other people. It’s truly magical and it’s something that I hope never goes away.

Hazy Shades of Winter: Looking Back on What Could’ve and Should’ve Been

I don’t know what is about getting older that triggers all kinds of thoughts, memories, and emotions.  At 43 years old, I am in the best place that I have been in my entire life.  I am financially secure, I am in a loving, nurturing relationship, I get to follow my dreams of being a writer, I work PR for bands, I play music of my own in an amazing band called Collins Drive, and I am surrounded by amazing friends.  I have a loving family both near and far and a dog who thinks I’m the fucking shit.  One thing that is a huge difference is that my mental health is the best it’s been for as long as I can remember.  I started taking meds about a year and a half ago and my life has definitely gotten that much better.  With this new found clarity, it has definitely had me reflecting a bit on my past and seeing some of the things that I wish I could have or would have done differently.

Closure is something that I have been thinking about a good bit lately.  Late last year, I was contacted by a former member of my 90’s metal band Rachael’s Dead.  Now the last time I was in the same room with these four guys was us yelling at each other and me announcing that I was quitting the band.  We were young, immature, and just not even all that caring about each others feelings.  Most people that age aren’t.  Anyways, that was in 1994 so to get a message out of the blue from my former guitarist was a bit shaking.  Basically he was getting all the guys back together in one room just to so we could all catch up and see what everyone had been up to.  It’s amazing how 20 something years of bitterness could all just be washed away over some laughs, drinks, and even dusting off some of the old songs to try and see if we could even play them.  We sounded terrible but we laughed, we hugged, and we went our separate ways.

On my way home that night I had a smile on my face about three miles wide.  In my mind, this was the closure I felt I needed in my life.  Instead of looking back on that with bad memories, I now see four grown (not so much mature) adults putting the past behind them and just enjoying an evening of catching up, laughing, and reminiscing.  It was a great way to look back on that but this also had me wishing for another bit of closure for a chapter that I felt got slammed shut long before it’s time.  That chapter belongs to a band called Shades of Winter.

Shades of Winter was born of an idea, a concept that I had.  I had hit a wall as a solo singer/songwriter and being a huge fan of the female voice, I decided to put myself out there and try to find a female singer who would collaborate with me, do shows, and do something different.  When Jennifer Hansen answered my Indy Weekly ad (this was before Craig’s List!  How weird?) I knew right away I had found the voice.  She was a brilliant singer, soulful and emotive and a writer of beautiful poetry.  We were a duo and as we began to move forward, we wanted to grow our sound.  With the addition of Susie Hicks on fiddle, we were now three and we were feeling so good.  We played shows, we worked on new songs but something was still missing.  The final piece of the puzzle was found in cellist Elana Scheiner.  Once we were four, we performed some of my favorite shows.  We wrote great songs and we even started to pick up a small following of people that dug what we were doing.  Then something happened…

What was it that happened?  You can call it lack of communication in a nutshell between Jennifer and I.  Looking back on it now, this is many, many years before I had even come to grips with my own mental health, my social anxiety, and my inability to express feelings without the fear of hurting people.  When things started to get tense and started to get hard to handle, instead of trying to talk it out or communicate, I just did the only thing I knew how to do back then: I ran.  I quit the band during a rehearsal and I figured that they would go on without me but instead I watched it disintegrate before my eyes.  We even did two “final” gigs and I just remember them being tense, painful, and just not a great memory for me.  After those gigs, I did move on.  I formed another band with Elana (cellist) and that band also came to a brutal end (sans my relationship with Elana).

After all these years, I look back on both of those bands with great memories but it’s Shades of Winter that has me harboring the most regret.  I listen back to those songs and I think to myself, “Wow.  We were really onto something.”  We honestly had only just barely tapped into what I feel we were capable of.  I’m am so proud of those songs and even more proud of our performances.  Jenn, Susie, and Elana… You three are a HUGE part of my musical journey and I hope that one day in the not so distant future that maybe Shades of Winter could come together just one last time, perform a show, and then let it go as a pleasant, fulfilling memory as opposed to a sad, bitter memory.  If not, so be it, but I just want you all to at least know what a huge part of my musical life you three ladies were and that regardless of the outcome, I will always be proud of what we did in our short time together.

Well I’m Goin’ to Carolina…

As I have talked about before, struggling with mental health can be a real bitch.  For the better part of a year and half, I have finally been treating my mental health issues.  Since starting on meds (Prozac, Xanax, and Welbutrin), things have definitely gotten better but things aren’t always perfect.  I sometimes forget that these things just don’t get “cured” or “go away” forever.  Taking meds and writing and playing music are tools that I use to help myself in managing but sometimes shit happens.  The week before last I had my first panic attack since I started taking meds and it was pretty fucking crazy.  Luckily, I have this amazingly understanding wife who sat me down in a chair, rubbed my neck and just spoke to me calmly until I came out of it.  She didn’t make a big deal about, she didn’t panic, she just knew what to do and it made things so much easier for me.

I had a trip coming up the following weekend that I was so excited for and honestly, it was everything I needed and more.  Things kicked off on Friday with a trek to Charlotte where I teamed up with my old friend Bert Wray.  I did a solo performance opening for his band, Bert Wray Blues, and it was so much fun.  Just the great vibes of the music and the people were so great for me and healing in a lot of ways.  Even staying out until 4:30 in the morning didn’t seem to faze me and it was just a great, positive day/night full of laughs and great music.

The next morning I got up, had some chill time with Bert and then hit the road for Chapel Hill.  I was going to see our old friend, Chris and Anita.  My wife and I have known them for many years and even though I was going solo, getting the chance to see them was something I just knew would fill me with so much love, laughter, and great, positive energy.  Upon my arrival, I was greeted with hugs and smiles and we literally talked for hours.  Chris and Anita’s kids (who are now 9 and 11) were just killing me.  A while back I wrote a song about them called “Brother and Sister” and Anita and Chris played it for them all the time.  Imagine my joy when their daughter, Kiara, asked me if I would play music with her.  She pulled out her ukulele and her brother, Luke, sat with us as we sat around their fireplace singing songs like, “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere”, “Helpless”, “Fade Into You”, and “Country Roads.”  9 and 11, y’all.  These kids were willingly playing these songs.  It was so much fun and I just felt so overcome with love.  It really was such a great experience and then once they went to bed, Chris, Anita, and I just sat around talking, laughing, and drinking wine until we were exhausted.

Breakfast the next morning came with a side of snow as snow fell hard from the Carolina sky.  We sat at the bar, ate cinnamon rolls, told silly jokes, and laughed as the snow fell and then eventually melted away before I could even get my car packed up.  It was so beautiful and peaceful and Kiara asked, “Will you stay another night?”  As much as I would have loved to, I had to hit the road back to Atlanta but not before seeing my best friend for lunch.  I met James at Spanky’s on Franklin St. and we talked and laughed over a great lunch and some drinks (water for me).  It’s funny because I talk to James every fucking day and I love it so when we do get together, there’s really no “catching up.”  It’s like, finally just getting to see each other in person.  We talked music (as always), documentaries, and traded books/DVDs.  I lent him my Grateful Dead bio and my Dennis Dunaway (Alice Cooper) autobiography and he sent me home with a live Journey DVD and a that killer new Beatles doc.  Just seeing him for a moment was the perfect way to close out and pretty fantastic weekend.

The ride home was filled with music.  Gregg Rollie and Journey were part of the 6 hour soundtrack that included Jess and the Ancient Ones, Blues Pills, Graveyard, Brave, and the Grateful Dead.  How’s that for diversity?  This trip filled me with so many great feelings and so many great new memories that will last me a long, long while.  I’m already looking forward to my next Carolina trip to hang with the Faircloths and to singing more songs with their awesome kids.

 

Shine On You Crazy Diamond: Embracing and Rising Above Your Own Mental Illness

Image result for pink floyd the wall

Crazy,
Toys in the attic I am crazy,
Truly gone fishing.
They must have taken my marbles away.
Crazy, toys in the attic he is crazy.
– “The Trial” – Pink Floyd

I will never understand why mental illness is something that is so taboo.  In a day and age where expressing your sexuality, gender, and just talking about sex in general, it blows my mind that discussing mental health seems to become the white elephant in the room.  There are benefit concerts for cancer, for AIDS research, for non-profit organizations but when was the last time you saw a concert that was for the benefit of those with mental illness (no, seeing Roger Waters perform The Wall doesn’t count).  Well I’m here to just share with you all that yes, I have mental illness and I am not in the least bit ashamed of it.

Depression, anxiety, and addiction are all things that run deep in my bloodline going all the way back to my great grandfather on my father’s side.  My great grandfather was a raging, wife slapping alcoholic.  My grandfather was a manic depressive alcoholic who shot himself in the head when I was less than a year old, and my father was an alcoholic who was bi-polar, manic depressive, and addicted to meds.  The one thing that I chose to do that none of them before me did was to try and face my mental illness head on.  I refused to let it break me like it did the men of my family.  I started going to therapy back in 2005 and that was my first step in facing it head on.  Early on it was powerful, it was painful, and it was intense but it was also exciting and it gave me a sense of strength that I never knew I had.  Over the years, therapy would work for me but there were always moments here and there where I would come completely unraveled and just lose my shit.  I would pace the house aimlessly, biting my finger nails to the nubs, have crying fits, and even at times get so worked up that I’d start getting short of breath and developing hives.  A year ago after having one of my manic episodes, my wife and I decided that something else was needed.

Why had I avoided meds for so long?  Because I saw the addictive tendencies in my family and I didn’t want to become a zombie.  I didn’t want to lose myself and become a shell of my former self like my father had.  When I had my conversation with my therapist about this, he assured me that what we were dealing with was a chemical imbalance.  This was something that was in my genetic makeup, handed down from generation to generation and here I was, the first one to actually stare it in the eye and challenge it with all I had.  I began by taking a daily dose of Prozac, a Welbutrin every morning, and finally Xanax for those occasions when I’m just feeling anxious.  After a few months of taking the meds, I finally started to feel like a new person.  The old me was still there but all of the sudden things just seemed to fall into place.

I didn’t find myself scattered like I used to.  I didn’t find myself overwhelmed my simple daily tasks that would pile up.  I didn’t feel like the world was closing in on me and last but not least, after 30 something years I could actually turn my brain off, lay down, and go to sleep.  I found myself making lists of things to do every night before bed and once the list was made, I was done.  I didn’t obsess over the missing Pink Floyd Live at Pompeii DVD.  2 years ago the old Don would have thought about it at 10pm, torn the house up looking for it in a frantic sweat and then emailed everyone he know to find out who had it.  The new Don just said, “Damnit.  I must have lent it to someone and never got it back.  I’ll buy a new one and no more lending out DVDs.”  It’s pretty cool being in this new frame of mind.  I find myself actually liking myself more, being easier on myself, and even enjoying life.  Time seems to move a good bit slower these days and I find myself taking in the days a lot more.  Don’t get me wrong.  It’s not always perfect but I know what to do now.  I’m feeling anxious, stressed, or overwhelmed, I take a Xanax and I’m fine.  I feel flustered because of things to do, I make lists.  So much of my life used to be scattered post-its all over the place and now my life feels like it fits on one page of a legal pad.  I am also extremely lucky to have a patient, supportive, and loving partner who knows how to deal with me when I have my moments.  It’s such an important part of my being to have that support and I’m lucky as fuck to have that.

So why am I sharing all of this with you?  Well, it’s because I am not ashamed of it.  I have a mental illness.  I suffer from depression, anxiety, and even a slight case of ADD.  It’s something I have struggled with for years and something that I kept contained for years because I was afraid that people would think I was fucking crazy.  How fucked up is it that we live in a society where things are becoming more and more acceptable to be open about yet mental health is something that constantly gets swept under a rug.  I hope if you are reading this and you suffer from any of these things that you will know and understand that it is nothing to hide and nothing to be ashamed of.  There are meds and therapists and doctors out there that specialize in helping you get through these situations and just know that you are not alone.  Just take care of yourself and if you’re a friend of mine on Facebook (or just here) and you ever want to talk about, please don’t hesitate.  It all starts with acknowledging it and then moving forward to take steps in making yourself the best person you can be for yourself.

Be well, y’all!

Get Over It and Move On…

“If you need safe spaces, Play-Doh and coloring books because you can’t handle the fact that your lying, corrupt, crooked, murderous criminal lost the election fair and square even though she cheated to get the nomination and had the entire corporate world, Wall Street, main stream media and a sitting President on her side, then you don’t need a safe space. You need mental help!! Get over it and move on.”

This is a direct quote from someone that I saw in my recent Instagram feed. I have mulled this over for the last couple of days so I finally decided to address this. Why? Because there is so much wrong, ignorance, and downright bullyspeak in this quote that I feel it needs dissected.

First off, I’m not sure what Play-Doh and coloring books has to do with anything.

Second, I get it. You hate Hillary Clinton.

Third, now THIS is where I have to take a stand and this is where I’m talking to you. Yes, you, the person who posted this. Let me just whittle down what you said to the foundation. What you said, in a nutshell is, “If you need safe spaces because Hillary Clinton lost the election, you actually need mental help. Get over it and move on.” There is just so much wrong with this statement because these words cut like knives. Get over it and move on? Let me break this down yet again for you, sir. Here is what you’re saying.

To the men (such as myself) and women who deal with mental illness on a daily basis and find this statement harmful… Get over it and move on.

To the women who now have to fear the fact that their very own human rights can be taken away from them… Get over it and move on.

To the women and men who rely on Planned Parenthood for their health care who now fear crossing the angry protest lines… Get over it and move on.

To the LGBT community who now have to be governed and ruled by the hand of hate… Get over it and move on.

To the LGBT community who actually DO need safe spaces to avoid the violence and oppression of a new, hateful majority, Get over it and move on.

To my mother and other senior citizens who very well may suffer if Medicare becomes privatized, Get over it and move on.

To ALL non white people (and I know you are friends with many) who are now living in a country where our own president considers them to be of a lesser race… Get over it and move on.

To people of all handicaps who have wake every day knowing that our president is a thing that made fun of them on national television… Get over it and move on.

So as you can see sir, this is WAY MORE than crying and being a sore loser because Clinton didn’t win. This is a truly horrifying time for many people because the person who is now in power is far beyond just being from “the other party.”  This person is hate personified and yes, whether you like to believe it or not, people always have and even more so now will need to have “safe spaces.” They will need to have allies. They will need to have advocates. They will need to have believers. They will need to have protectors. If you cannot see the wrong in the statement that you released to the general public, then maybe you are just another one of “them” that these human beings need to be protected from. Maybe you are one of the ones that make these people feel the need for that “safe space.” Hell, maybe you don’t care to read a single fucking word of this. Maybe you think I’m a “big old pussy” or a “faggot” or whatever hateful thing you may think I am because by reading your statement, it wouldn’t surprise me if you do feel this way. If you don’t feel this way at all, maybe it’s just a case of not thinking before you type (aka. diarrhea of the fingers).

If you do feel this way though and you stand behind this kind of verbal lashing, just know that what this does is empower me. It doesn’t break me down. It doesn’t make me mad. It makes me even more than ever strive to be a stronger advocate. It makes me volunteer at Planned Parenthood as a patient escort, to be their “safe space.” It makes me want to strive more than ever to look hate and ignorance in the face and not blink. It makes me want to be better, more compassionate, and more thoughtful of not just my words but my thoughts and my actions. It makes me want to say to you, “If you don’t like what I had to say to you…Get over it and move on.”

Open Letter to David Crosby

Dear Croz,

I am sitting here listening to If I Could Only Remember My Name and I am giddy with excitement about getting to see you here in Atlanta on opening night for your 2016 Lighthouse tour. The other day I was killing some time watching some interviews on YouTube and I came across an interesting interview with Graham Nash. In this particular interview, Graham had a few choice words to say about you and kind of played himself up as this “man of the fans” kind of person. Well, let me just say that I waited out side after his show to hopefully meet him and tell him thank you for all the music. I had my now deceased dad’s copy of Wild Tales with me and all I wanted was a few minutes to just thank him face to face. I saw him come out of the backstage door with two guards and he blew right past me not even looking me in the eye and boarded his bus. Then he sent a guard out to get my album so he could sign it for me and then sent it back out. While this may be a great experience for the autograph seekers, for the singer/songwriter who has been so inspired and influenced, it was just a signature on a record but it was still something that I appreciated.

So why am I saying all of this? Because I know that my chances of getting that opportunity with you is slim to none so I just thought I would take a moment to just tell you all the things I would like to tell you right now. When I was lost as a musician back in 1994, I was looking for a new path, a new journey. My father and I were never close and we rarely talked but one thing we would do quite a bit is to sit in the living room and listen to his CSN albums. We wouldn’t talk but it was almost as if we talked through the songs. David, you were my man. Like how everyone has a favorite Beatle, you were my favorite CSN member. Your music moved me, inspired me, and spoke volumes to me and to this day it still does.

The evening my father passed away, the first song I listened to was “Carry Me” and I just smiled to myself knowing that he had spread his wings and surely flew home. Croz, your music has always been a source of inspiration, hope, and promise for me. From “Lee Shore” to “Cowboy Movie” to “Laughing” to “Homeward Through the Haze”, there is a Croz song for every mood, every place that I am standing in my life. Anyways, I’m sure these are all things that you have heard a million times but I just wanted the opportunity to let you know how much your music means to me. As I sit up in the balcony watching you, I will probably scream out for a few oddball requests but I will be taking in the music, the experience, and adding it to the pieces of my life that shape me and make me a better person, singer, and songwriter.

David, I don’t think I could ever find the right amount of words or even get them all out in a brief meeting so I hope you will read this and know that you, your life, your words, and your music mean the world to this 43 year old folksinger, songwriter, poet, and dreamer. David, you sing to us that “Music is Love.” Well, it’s David Crosby’s Music that is true love in my book. Thank you for all you have given me and may your journey continue on to be a fun, safe, and inspirational one.

See you on Friday! I’ll be the guy up in the balcony!
Don de Leaumont