Learning to love life by living through loss and mistakes, lessons learned and gradually surfacing, letting go, stripping naked to scream. I am not perfect nor do I strive to be. I am alive in this world of face first falls and public breakdowns. I am a retarded disfigured clown dying to be heard for the simple art of letting this heavy wall finally fall. I am an equal being of no race or color, a hallucination if you will sneaking into the lives of strangers and letting them fall apart to a new rhythm just to feel better.
–“Retarded Disfigured Clown”, Blue October
I am not a die-hard fan of very many things. My interests tend to wander and vary with my mood and where I am in life. Yes, I am a fan of Stephen King, but mainly because of his style of writing. Same with Dean Koontz and John Irving. But as far as bands go, I am pretty ambivalent with few exceptions.
Every now and then, though, a band or an artist comes along who touches you. Then, if their journey at all parallels yours, and you just can’t help but follow along. That’s what happened to me with Blue October.
Let me preface this by saying I was somewhat late to the party. I didn’t get introduced to the band formally until they were well into their career. Even though I had distantly heard of them, I didn’t really listen other than their more popular stuff. Then I started to listen to entire albums and learned more about front man Justin Furstenfeld’s story. From depression to addiction to divorce, he has been very open both personally and through his music about his journey. His lyrics are both insightful and unique, and the blend of instruments appeals to me.
So I not only bought albums. I went to concerts. Bought Justin’s book and loved it. When he came out with his Songs from an Open Book album, I loved hearing him articulate his story, and was sorry to miss the live performance. What do his journey and mine have in common though?
One of the first songs I connected with, I knew deep down I needed to learn this lesson: I needed to make sure my happiness was not linked to someone else’s, but instead was based on my own feelings. To be honest, I am still mastering this. For me, it is a daily struggle.
So Justin’s addictions were much more conventional than mine. I was addicted to work, and often used alcohol as an escape. However, addiction involves the same battle, and I acknowledge that while I am a recovering workaholic, I still struggle. And there are times when I am tempted to use alcohol as an escape.
I hide it well, sometimes. But looking back in pictures I can see in my eyes and my face when I was depressed and just unstable. My mind was all over the place. When I couldn’t or didn’t write to get that restlessness out, there were times when I literally felt insane.
I really wanted, more than anything, a quiet mind. So when I heard this song, I nearly broke inside. Finally, I knew someone else felt like I did. It emphasized to me something I am still learning: mental health is as important or more so than physical health, and I need to put it first.
Any Man in America
This whole album. Damn. I was headed for divorce and knew it well before it actually happened. It would be my second one, and truly I felt like there was something wrong with me. Of course, there was. But I didn’t yet know what it was. I just knew I felt torn up and broken, like a failure.
Through this album, I saw glimpses of my own pain, and that what was happening to me also happened to others. In fact, it could happen to Any Man in America.
The source of all my issues, my mental illness, and really the problem with the majority of my relationships that fell apart? Fear. It varies from the writer imposter syndrome and the fear someone will discover any day I am a hack and not really any good at this at all, to the fear that I am inadequate in any number of roles.
This has been fueled by many unhealthy relationships around me where I have faced criticism instead of constructive feedback. I am still learning to be bold, more assertive, and less timid; I am learning to live without fear.
History for Sale
Justin writes music to express his story. I write books. Both of our histories are for sale, in one format or another. Writing, expressing ourselves through art is our therapy and how we survive. Having that history out there, consumable by anyone who chooses to pick it up, is frightening in some ways and healing in others.
Think about this. though, before you criticize the work of another.You might just be tearing down something really personal they have shared. It’s okay if you don’t like it, but how you express that can make a huge difference in how they respond.
Over the last year, I have been in the greatest relationship of my life. Challenging for sure, but life changing. I have a woman who not only loves me for who I am but wants me to be the best I can be, so offers me constructive feedback and support. It has been amazing.
It is more than just being in love. It’s so much deeper, and something I never thought I would experience. I am married again, but this time, it feels different. Real.
I have to confess, I like almost all of Blue October’s music. There are a couple of songs on the new album that I don’t like as much as I have the rest of their music. Those are nit-picky things. Maybe I don’t relate to those as well.
I do know this. I love music, and much of it has influenced and changed my life, but no single artist has had as much impact, yet, as Blue October.
Maybe that will change as we both continue to grow.