The End Begins Before the Beginning Even Starts
I’m not exactly a millennial so this is long. Bear with me, please…
The end of my career began in 2005. I played my last show at a bar in Norwell, Massachusetts in April 2004. It was called Mount Blue and was partially owned by famed South Shore rock legends Steven Tyler and Joe Perry. I rocked an acoustic set that night, playing my balls off for just a little money and a free entree. The manager told me she had chosen my demo over 100 others so I thought that was a good sign for a music career side-gig. My sister-in-law was my roadie that night and my friend showed up and drank quite a bit. I stayed sober and sang until I was ready to fall asleep. I closed with “All Along the Watchtower” and received a standing ovation from the schleps who stayed late. I drove home dog-tired and smelling like Marlboro Lights.
My arrival as a burgeoning rock star at my humble home was less glory-filled than the what I had hoped for. I opened the door ready for a shower but instead I was met with the crinkled-eyed gaze of my mother-in-law. I was informed that my wife was vomiting profusely. This had been going on since I left perhaps six hours earlier – it didn’t seem like the usual stomach bug illness; it was much more severe. I walked into the bedroom where she lay and she reached out and kissed me right on the mouth.
“What the fuck are you doing?” I said. “Now I’m going to get sick like you!”
“I just missed you so much and wanted to be at your show…” she replied. She was indeed faithful to my humble music dream, but not so faithful to infectious disease protocol.
Two minutes later her head was in a bucket again, dry heaving god knows what was left in the contents of her stomach.
A quick meeting was held between the family members present and it was decided that my wife needed to head to the ER. My kind mother-in-law took the first shift and stayed the night with her. I assumed the duty early the next morning and stayed with her for two days.
The doctors were curious why a simple stomach virus had hit her so hard. They didn’t worry too much about it though because all her labs were normal. Well, except for one that appeared shortly thereafter. You see, it is common for the immune system to become overwhelmed by simple infections under several conditions, some of them very scary and deadly. My wife’s condition was indeed scary (horrifying, actually…), but not deadly at all. Can you guess why throwing up your guts and spending two nights in the ER because of it might turn out to be a happy occasion?
If you can’t well, she’s walking around the house right now 16 years older and quite a bit taller and sassier than when she was draining precious resources from her mother’s immune system early on in her development. Emily arrived in January the next year to much joy and celebration. But after that night and the work I knew was ahead of us I decided to put the guitar on the stand once and for all. I had absolutely no regrets.
The Aerosmith bar closed a few years later to accentuate the point. Border’s Books – another place I frequented – also shut down across the country. My favorite local hippy coffee house was next (replaced by a liquor store). To me it all made sense because I didn’t miss playing at all.
John Mayer was also huge around then. A tall doofy white guy from Connecticut who could sing in a low register and play the fuck out his guitar? That was my idea first! I moved on to other my passions. This included writing a kid’s novel, programming a football game, and spending a huge portion of my spare time outside gathering lists of birds, flowers, trees, and insects.
Hard Hit By Addiction
My brother showed up the night of Emily’s birth unannounced and blitzed on painkillers… It was nice of him to drop by but Jesus, did he have to drive 2 ½ hours from Connecticut high as a kite? He didn’t make it to Emily’s christening. He did show up at my grandfather’s funeral, dressed nice and putting on a good show as the eldest grandson. I felt sick each time, and I knew the worst was yet to come.
That happened when I confronted him about his drug and alcohol abuse in 2006. I knew he was going to die if he didn’t stop using, and I forcefully told him this. That resulted in a banishment from his life for over 2 ½ years. He stopped talking to me, stopped caring about me (or my family), and disowned me as his brother. Even after my wife and two daughters were hit by a flatbed tow truck – the car demolished – did he even bother to see how they were. Thanks to the modern miracle of car safety engineering all of my family made it through the accident. They were OK, but I wasn’t OK with Jeff. I was done with him after that.
He languished for another year and a half until he ODed on a Connecticut highway in 2008. He was brought to the hospital and intubated, and that’s where he remained for a week on death’s door.
He pulled through though and managed to stumble into a rehab center in Hartford, Connecticut called Youth Challenge. My father literally walked him in the door by cell phone and received confirmation he was checking in before he hung up.
I had very little faith that Jeff would actually stop taking drugs and alcohol – he had been in rehab many times before. He would say all the right things and leave. He’d throw his shoulder out again and look for pain pills. He’d drive hours to find a hospital that hadn’t heard of him, manipulate the ER doctors, leave with an opioid prescription, and settle back into his death spiral. I said goodbye to him in 2007.
If my brother was anything, he was tough. He could bench press 300 pounds. He had persevered through personal problems even before he became addicted to opioids. He was a force of nature in my life, a monster on my side that I could unleash on my enemies. He was a hero who saved the lives of perhaps hundreds of people by rescuing them from car wrecks, heart attacks, overdoses, and suicides. He was my older brother and my hero.
He made it through Youth Challenge’s addiction program and ended his substance abuse.
Quality Time Left With My Brother
A period of tepid optimism began soon after. My parents had maintained contact with Jeff during the entire course of his addiction trajectory – they were still into his issues elbows deep. I was cut out of Jeff’s life, which was heartbreaking and isolating but at least I didn’t have to deal with him day to day like they did.
They told me after about 6 months of his newfound sobriety that Jeff wanted to talk to me. A long ride to the neutral site of my parents’ house followed. I had no idea what might happen, but it turned out reasonably OK. I never got the true apology for all the pain he has caused me and my family, but I did get a sober brother who I a began to count on again. Trust was earned, tense feelings were eased, new problems came and went, and Jeff was there with the rest of us for support. One night he went into anaphylaxis from a random encounter with some sort nut, and I told him I feared I was going to lose him. The crisis was averted but I kept that fear that after all the time we had been apart I would have him taken away from me for something as stupid as a pecan.
A few years went by. I told Jeff at least once a month how grateful I was that I didn’t have to worry about him – I could focus on my other problems and not only would his drug abuse not hover over everything else in my life, but he would actually GIVE ME strength to deal with them instead of sap it away like all those years before.
The Endgame and the End Itself
It was Father’s Day when I heard he relapsed. I knew immediately that he was doomed; he was going to die sometime in the near future. I remember telling my cousin “You don’t see very many old people who are addicts.” And it’s true. By the time the body reaches middle age it either has to stop being fed the what’s killing it or it gives out. My brother took the second path,
A year and a half later Jeff was dead from a Fentanyl overdose. My soul cracked like an egg smashed on the side of the pavement. If you listen to the lyrics on my album you will feel how much I looked up to him. He saved hundreds of people’s lives as a paramedic. He saved dozens more as a child social worker. When sober he was loyal, honest, funny, intelligent, loving clever, and sinister wicked in the most positive way I can express. He was my hero. When I lost him after 25 years of wondering almost every day if it would happen everything turned off inside me and I felt nothing but pain.
It was six years before I wanted to write music about this. I tried several times before but nothing would come out. I was consumed by grief for much of that time, and when I started to finally feel better it didn’t even occur to me to write music. I still had no interest - just like I hadn’t since that final night I played at Aerosmith’s bar in Norwell, Massachusetts.
Right before CoVid hit I a sat down at the piano and wrote the opening piano chords for “Grief is Doing Time”. It was quite a rush to hear what I created and imagine what it might sound like with some work. By this time I had healed from losing my brother perhaps 90%. I wasn’t thinking about him every day anymore. I could feel pleasure again, and I I didn’t struggle much dealing with the remaining sadness I felt.
What you hear on the first side of “Born Into Addiction” is what I remembered feeling in the hardest days. All the songs were written as memories, not as what I was actively feeling inside – with the notable exception of “What Now? – the final song on the first side. What you hear on that track is genuine 100% emotion in the present tense, and this is my favorite song on the album.
What do I do as I move on from here?
From all of the pain and all of the fear?
What do I do as I live for myself?
Now that you’re placed on the back of the shelf?
Well, I was actually answering my own question. I was going to write music, and not just about Jeff. I was going to write about the joy and smaller struggles I was experiencing. And I was going to show that it’s possible to wake up from grief and enjoy life again.
So, if you’re brave enough you’ll give me a listen. I promise that the recording is better than what you think it might be. I truly feel like I’m worthy of people’s time and a little of their cash. My music is right from the gut, and man can I play the hell out of the guitar and sing my balls off. Worth a listen, maybe? I sure sure hope so.