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.

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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.

 

Twas the Night Before Gig Night….

13641002_1827041754182346_6995219470707557475_oTwas the night before gig night and all through the… awe fuck it.  There’s no clever poem here or prose but anyone who is or has ever been in a band knows that the night before gig night is like like a really fucked up cross between Christmas eve and the stress of packing the night before leaving for a fucking cruise.  I don’t know what it’s like for touring bands but for those of us who do gigs on a predominantly local level, gigs are a big fucking deal.

I played for the first time in front of people back in, I believe, 1987.  I was in 8th grade and St. Benilde Elementary School.  It was my kid brother on drums, my friend David on bass, Eddy on guitar, and me on guitar and vocals.  We signed up to play the talent show.  We rehearsed a few times and we didn’t even have a name.  We were introduced as, “a rock band.”  We got up on stage in our cafeteria and played “I’m Not Your Steppin’ Stone.”  It sounded like a very unsure Sex Pistols playing it note for note like The Monkees version.  It was fucking horrendous.  A bunch of kids laughed at us but some of the kids (and a few girls) came up to us and told us they thought it was cool.

I don’t remember at all what we talked about or felt as a group (we never played together again) but I remember after that moment that I always wanted to feel that.  I wanted that rush, that excitement, that feeling of nervousness to the point of nearly puking.  You know?  Tapping your foot nervously and pacing around.  To some, this must sound absolutely horrible but to me, it’s one of the most magical feelings you can ever feel.  It’s better than sex, better than alcohol, better than any high you can imagine.  From my first taste of that, it’s all I ever wanted and that’s why over 25 years later I still do this.

Why am I telling you this?  Well, because tomorrow night my band Collins Drive has a gig and every night before a gig, I remember that first time.  It’s like the first time you ever have sex.  It may not have been the best (or far from it) but it’s a moment that you never forget.  I think about that moment and I smile as I work through my packing list and gather my tools of the trade.  Guitar picks?  Check.  Capos?  Check.  Setlists, mailing lists, band stickers, guitar stand, mic stand, amp, whatever else the fuck I need to make it through a gig?  Check, check, and motherfuckin’ check.  As I pack my things and get everything lined up, the memories of past gigs fill my mind and have me smiling.  Metal gigs, solo gigs, folk/rock gigs, more solo gigs, and bluegrass gigs, it’s a stroll down memory lane that serves as a reminder as to why I love doing this so much.

Gig day, now that’s a whole other story.  It’s literally like waiting for your Disney Vacation to get here.  You find yourself doing everything you can to not think about it too much and do as much shit as you can possibly do to pass the time.  And then when the dreaded load in time arrives, you lug all your shit into venue, bitch about it with your band, and talk about how kick ass it would be if we could have roadies.  Your time is finally there and you feel your heart in your throat.  You walk up on stage, suddenly have this fear that you’re going to forget all the songs and once you hear that first round of applause after the first song is over, it all dissipates and in the blink of an eye, it’s over.   This is where it gets hard for me.  So here I am having been riding on this ethereal high only to come crashing back down to earth.

No matter how many times I do this, it never gets old.  It always feels like the first time over and over again.  The excitement, the stress, the energy, it’s all there and honestly I wouldn’t have it any other way.  With that being said, I better get ready for the show tomorrow night!  Hope to see y’all there!!!

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

Reunited and it Feels So Good…

I woke up today and there was an air of excitement that seemed to take over me. I was super happy, kinda nervous, and very excited. Why? Because my band (Collins Drive) was getting together to rehearse for the first time in almost two months. Our drummer Mike fractured his wrist a few days before a show and even though Allison and I played the show as a duo and it went over really well, it just wasn’t the same. Well, that was nearly two months ago so to get back together today was exciting. I was also a bit nervous. What if Mike’s wrist wouldn’t hold up? How are the songs going to sound? Well, all of this was nothing that a half of Xanax couldn’t take care of.

Over the past two months, a sense of sadness also seemed to kinda follow me around. I have never experienced making music in my life like I have making music with Mike and Allison. There is such a strong connection. As corny as it sounds, it totally transcends just being in a band. It feels like family. This connection is what makes our music so much fun to play and why people who come to see us truly enjoy it. I have had people tell me after seeing one of our shows that they could feel the energy from us. That, to me, is probably the greatest compliment anyone could offer us. That’s what it’s all about so you can probably understand that being away from these people for so long eventually became painful.

Once we got to the rehearsal room today, we all just hugged, and it was literally like we had just seen each other a week ago. We all just picked up our instruments, shared some off color potty jokes to annoy a smile out of Allison and ran through the songs. It felt so good to feel the music just flowing out of us, to be singing the songs and to see them lost in the music and just play. No stress, no anxiety, and no frustrations. There was even one moment where we were all playing and we just looked at each other and smiled. I wish I could put it into words but it’s hard. It’s just something you have to experience and every musician should experience this even if just once. I’m lucky in that I get to experience this every time we make music together.

So after 2 months apart, two hours flew by in a flash and it was like no time had passed at all. We literally picked up where we left off and as a matter of fact, did it even better than we have before. The bond was strong and the passion and fire were all present. We even started working on a new arrangement for one of our songs and discussed recording our debut full length album and even talked of new material that I’ve been working on. Getting back with these cats after so long was just what my heart, soul, and psyche needed. We were reunited and yes, it felt so good… REALLY fucking good!

I love my band!