Music has always been there for me. It’s been one constant that I could always rely on. And more importantly, it has made me feel when I thought I was beyond feeling. It mourns my losses and celebrates my triumphs. And most importantly, it has kept me going when I thought I couldn’t keep going in life. To some, music is entertainment. To me, it helped save my life.
I know that sounds dramatic, and maybe it is a little, but it’s also pretty damn true. Ever since I was a little kid, I always felt like I wasn’t going to live very long. Yeah, I was weird. Even from a young age though, life just seemed a little greyer for me than it was for most people, and I couldn’t figure it out. As I got older, this developed into depression. For years it went undiagnosed. I got really good at faking that everything was fine. Or I just was always kind of in a bad mood, so nobody would notice much when I was really depressed. That’s just who I was. The people around me might not notice anything different, but on the inside, I was a fucking mess.
Growing up in Texas during the mid 2000s, you didn’t talk about your feelings for fear of being called the worst thing that you could be labeled at that time: gay. So I bottled up my emotions, stuffed them down real deep, and moved on. (Regardless of sexual orientation, I feel like this became common practice for a lot of guys my age.) Sure, there were times when I had moments where I couldn’t keep it down anymore, outbursts here and there, but I tried my hardest to have these meltdowns away from people. I didn’t feel like I could tell anyone how completely awful I actually felt.
Even though there wasn’t someone in my life that could relate, there was always something I could turn to: music. With music I realized that there was in fact someone somewhere that understood a fraction of what I was feeling. Otherwise, they wouldn’t sing about being sad and lonely and misunderstood. Songs about feeling completely lost in life. Songs about wandering around feeling like they have no purpose. Even songs about death or thinking about death. Or songs about finding the strength to move on despite any feelings of the aforementioned. If there’s a feeling you’re feeling, then almost surely there’s a song about it.
So, this is what I did. Instead of getting help, instead of telling someone about how I was feeling, I embraced music. I didn’t understand the importance of therapy, and as weird as it sounds, I felt like therapy wasn’t for me. Beside the stigma around it at the time (and thank God that stigma is finally starting to dissipate in society today), I just thought I was sad. Everyone feels sad. I didn’t connect the dots that what I was feeling was outside of normal because I never told anyone about how I was truly feeling. It took twenty-two years of suppressing those feelings, one really eye-opening year, and a dysfunctional relationship to realize that I needed to get help. But even when I got help, something was still missing.
So, I went back to music. It understood me. It was there when girls turned me down. It was there when my successes in life weren’t. It was there when my successes in life were there but felt incredibly unfulfilling. It could even make me when I felt numb beyond feeling. Music was always there. And then it was there in a whole new way.
In my junior year of college, it became apparent that my life was becoming separate from that of my friends. This is a perfectly normal thing. I believe just about everyone goes through this beginning as early as midway through college. For some, it doesn’t start until their mid-to-late-twenties. Regardless, everyone goes through the phase where slowly but surely their friends start to go down different paths that you’re simply not on. Some throw their lives into school, focusing of their future careers. Some choose to burn the candle of life at both ends with some something else: self-indulgence. And others, as was the case for my friends, get girlfriends. They settle down with someone and forget about everyone else in their lives.
I don’t blame them for this. As I said, it’s a regular part of life. But for me, at this time in my life, it was brutal. I had just broken up with my girlfriend the summer before. It was the right thing. The relationship was fading, and if I am being completely honest, I knew I couldn’t be the person she needed. And knowing this was affecting my mental health. So, I got out.
And for a few months, it was great. It was refreshing to be out of a situation I knew I needed to leave but was reluctant to do so. But this didn’t solve all of my mental health problems, and as I got back to school, my mental health was declining fast. And who was there to prop me up, help me out, and tell me everything was going to be okay? Not my friends. They were off with their girlfriends. (I sound jaded here, and at the time I probably was more than I like to remember it. But I promise you, I understand and don’t blame them for my mental health struggles. Plus, some of them married those girls they were dating at that time. They were doing what they needed to be doing.) No, my friends weren’t there, but music was. Music was there in the form of a band.
My roommate, Marshall, and his friend Tim (see picture at the top of the page of the man screaming), were playing open mic nights around town and were even thinking about putting a band together. One night I was sitting in our apartment living room listening to them rehearse. After Tim and the kid who was accompanying them on cajon left, I casually mentioned to Marshall that I used to play bass in high school.
He jumped on me like a spider monkey. “You should totally play with us.” I assured him that he would indeed not want me to play with them because I hadn’t played in years. Long story short, eventually he wore me down, and I brought my bass back to college after winter break, and we started a band. And boy were we… not very good.
Don’t get me wrong, it was a lot of fun, and that was the important thing. Music coming off the top rope to beat my depression down. We weren’t good, but we didn’t have to be. It gave me something to look forward to. It gave me some purpose. To a small extent, those guys were relying on me, even though I was only the bass player.
It didn’t matter the shit I was going through. When I was on that stage, nothing else mattered. Sure, a big part of that was that I was so focused on not screwing up because I hadn’t played in years. Whether it was on stage or jamming with my friend Nui, it kept me from thinking about how much I really didn’t want to be here. During these brief moments, I actually felt the smallest bit of hope.
But just as avoiding the core problem is never a solution, depression eventually managed to rear its ugly head despite the massive sound waves I was sending its way to suppress it. Sure, the stage was still a safe space, but coming off that high was worse than if I had never taken a break. Eventually, music was there for me, but it didn’t feel like it could save me.
Now, this post is titled “The 27 Club, Music, and Me”. So far, it’s been a whole lot of music and me. When does the third party of this sick ménage à trois come into play you might ask? Well, calm your little tetas, and I’ll tell you right now.
The 27 Club refers to a host of celebrities who all have died at the age of, you guessed it, twenty-seven. It’s fascinating, though incredibly depressing. Among the names are Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, and Amy Winehouse. And fitting right in with my belief that I would never live that long, I had a fascination with the 27 Club. Then things went from bad to worse, and at one point I thought that I would gain membership to their exclusive club, though my name wouldn’t even be a footnote in the annals of history.
But before we get to twenty-seven, we got to go back a couple years to my twenty-fifth birthday. It was a doozie. Not that any one thing made it that way. It was more an accumulation of the years that had been leading up to it and a straw that broke the camel’s back. What that straw was isn’t important.
Though my memory is shit, I remember that night unfortunately well. I could tell you a lot of strange details from that night like what I was wearing or what the lead singer of the closing bands was wearing, but the details aren’t important. The only crucial detail from that night is the conclusion I reached.
I went to a concert at Velour. I was there to see my friends’ band, Michael Barrow & the Tourists. They were great. They always are. (Be on the look for a Friday Fresh Find on them with the release of their upcoming single.) And then they finished, and the closing band took the stage. The whole night I had been in a bad mood for what had occurred earlier that day and in the previous months. As they performed, I’ve never wanted to be anywhere less.
I looked around the room. Everything seemed to slow down. The people in the crowd dancing. The pure elation on their faces. The band playing with such tenacity as if their lives depended on it. And me, standing in the corner, a mere observer. And I said to myself, I don’t want to be here. Like, yes, I don’t want to be at this concert anymore, but also, I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to be anywhere.
In that moment, I decided I was going to end my life.
I told myself I couldn’t do it anymore. Not only could I not do it anymore, but I didn’t want to do it anymore. I had lost all hope. In my current state of mind, life was no longer worth living.
This was a couple months before Christmas. I told myself that there was no way I was going to ruin my family’s holidays by offing myself right before. I was depressed, but I wasn’t a monster. (Not judging anyone who has taken their own life near the holidays. This is just to illustrate the weird thought processes at the time.) No, I told myself, I’d wait until the beginning of the year before doing the deadly deed.
It would be a probationary period. I would give life one more chance to prove itself in the next two months, and if things didn’t get better, then it was donezo for me.
Well, as you can guess, I didn’t go through with it. Things got marginally better come the new year, and I didn’t do it. I stayed.
Twenty-five, however, was not a turning point in my life. Most of twenty-six wasn’t either. Eventually though, things started to look up.
Now, that night of my 25th birthday I also made a promise to myself that in the event I didn’t end my life, I’d get a tattoo commemorating the fact that despite everything I had been through, I was still alive.
So, on July 2, a couple months before my 27th birthday, I did just that. I got a tattoo on my left forearm that reads, “i’m still here.” Just like that. All lowercase with a period at the end. A definitive statement declaring that I, in fact, was still here.
Now, why did I get this specific tattoo? I did it as an everyday reminder to myself that despite everything I had been through, I was still here. Like music, it kept me grounded. It kept me present. And most importantly, it prevented me from coming part of the 27 club.
And guess what was always there alongside me? Even through those darkest years? Music. Sure, it was not my savior. It was never meant to be. No one nor any thing can save you in your fight against mental health in the long term. No one can do that but you. But holy shit did it provide some beautiful moments. I carry their melodies of hope with me just about every goddamn day. On the good days and bad. It doesn’t try to change who I am. It’s not there to judge. It’s only there to help you with whatever you’re feeling.
I never expected to live past twenty-seven. I’m kind of in uncharted waters right now. It’s a weird feeling. Moving forward, I know music will always be there with whatever the future holds.
So, come here often?