Last Wednesday I see an article over at Rolling Stone’s website. It was a story about a Nashville songwriter named Travis Meadows. You know I’m a fan of singer/songwriters, but I’m not what you’d consider an avid country music fan. I mean, I listen to some country music, but I wouldn’t say I keep up with it as much as I do other music. So it wasn’t surprising that I had never heard of Travis. Sadly, I’m in good company.
He’s mostly known around Nashville as a stud songwriter. Big names marvel at his songwriting prowess. But the Rolling Stone article wasn’t so much about that as it was about his life. A hard life. Raised in Mississippi by his grandmother he fought cancer at 14. Lost his right leg in the process. Didn’t battle addiction as much as he embraced it. Drugs. Alcohol. Then he found Jesus and says he substituted one addiction for another becoming a missionary for 17 years. At 38 he ends up in Nashville. Next May he turns 50.
The article contains a quote Travis made to the reporter while they were visiting in an East Nashville coffee shop. It’s a brilliant quote that gave me instant insight into this guy I’d never heard of before.
I had a real bad day that lasted six years.”
In and out of rehab 4 times he’s now been sober over 4 years. During that time he’s experienced more success than ever before. Eric Church, Dierks Bentley and Jake Owen have all recorded his songs. Owens passed around a record Travis wrote in 2010 about his rehab experiences. A therapist asked him to write a journal, but he wasn’t a big journal writing guy. Instead, he told the therapist he was better at writing songs. So the song writing was part therapy. Maybe a big part. He recorded and released the independently produced record, Killin’ Uncle Buzzy, on July 19, 2011. That happens to be the date of his first full year of sobriety.
On May 7, 2013 he released his most current EP, Old Ghosts & Unfinished Business. Travis tells the Rolling Stone reporter that he had to write that record to prove to himself that he was over the Killin’ Uncle Buzzy period of this life. It’s a more hopeful record.
He’s now got a girlfriend and a new dog. Well, it’s actually an old dog with missing front leg.
When I adopted him, they said what you’re getting is a middle-aged, grumpy dog missing a leg. I went, ‘That’s my dog!'”
It’s a pretty good article by Joseph Hudak. You should read it.
I couldn’t help, but think a bit of John Prine as I was reading the article.
John Prine isn’t known for cheery, happy tunes, even though he’s written some. Quite a few really. Dear Abbey, Illegal Smile, Please Don’t Bury Me, Often Is A Word I Seldom Use and a host of other leap to mind. But John is mostly known for sad songs like Hello In There, Sam Stone and A Good Time.
You know that I could have me a million more friends and all I’d have to lose is my point of view.”
Prine, like Meadows, knows how to embrace darkness. I too know the feeling.
An older friend from California sat with me during a visit a year or so ago. We were talking about life, God and family. Some how the topic of being melancholy entered the conversation. He used a phrase I was very familiar with, but one I hadn’t heard in some time. “Being blue.” I confessed that I’m given to bouts of melancholy. And I find it tough to understand people who never feel blue. Maybe that’s why I’m sitting in The Yellow Studio. Yellow is sunshine, cheery and bright. And you thought I just liked the color yellow.
Strolling down the highway with my shoes in my hand
I don’t talk much I’m a quiet man.
Beauty and silence both deep
and I’m running like crazy while you are asleep.
John does his talking through songs. I do mine…well, I do mine any which way I can. It’s my multifacetedness prowess. A natural talent that comes easily. Along with my bouts of blueness. Sometimes.
Life Is Hard
Characters like Travis and John aren’t so different from you and me. They’ve got guitars in hand. And know how to play them. They have words and melodies in their head that have to be expressed. But so often the words and melodies are born of pain and sorrow. They’re stories. Real stories. Or not. But relatable. Real life stuff.
I embrace my own melancholy when I tire of all the cheeriness and optimism. It happens enough to keep me grounded. Not enough to make me dysfunctional. I’m not talking about mental health seriousness. I have friends who suffer clinical depression. Most are doing what they should – and must – to deal with it. No, I don’t suffer that malady and I’m sympathetic with those who do. My blueness is simply sadness. Loneliness. Sorrow.
But everybody suffers. Insert the REM song here, “Everybody Hurts.” A brilliant song.
If you think you’ve had too much of this life, hang on. Because everybody hurts. Take comfort in your friends. Everybody hurts.
Hopefully the hardness in your life hasn’t been characterized by years of alcohol and drug abuse. Or worse.
Ordinary and average people – people like us – experience all sorts of pain and sadness. We’re all familiar with loss.
I’m suspecting that many of you are going through something tough right now. You may be battling a career struggle…or health problem…or the death of a family member.
It feels very alone. And it doesn’t much matter that others have gone through it. Or they’re currently going through it. They’re not us. They’re not feeling exactly what we’re feeling right this second.
“Tough times don’t last, but tough people do.” It sounds good. It may be mostly true, but not always.
Travis Meadows isn’t the first to observe the lengthiness of tough times. We’ve all experienced it. Maybe creative types are better able to articulate it. A few years ago another Nashville singer songwriter described it. As he traveled with a friend, Mat Kearney described the tough times he suffered as a new artist trying to break through.
I was traveling with a friend celebrating what felt like victory after a five-year-long knife fight to establish myself as a new artist.”
If Travis had a bad day that lasted 6 years, Mat endured a knife fight that lasted 5.
When you’re the goldfish being flushed, it seems like your stuck in the middle of the drain forever. It’s a never-ending swirl. Until it ends.
Tough Times Tick By Slower
The grind seems to drag on. And on. And on.
Think back to your great times. Maybe you got the killer job, or a raise, or fell in love. It starts with euphoria. That lasts for a little while. Not nearly long enough.
Then you settle into a comfort zone where you’re content. Happy even. Things are nice. Comfortable. Pleasant.
Before you know it, time is just clipping on by and life is good. You don’t give time much thought, do you?
Until tough times knock you in the nose, black both your eyes, drop you to your knees and kick you in the…well, you get the idea. The tide turns. Maybe the good times lasted years. But now, it doesn’t feel like they lasted any time at all. When they’re gone, they seem long gone.
‘Cause pain slows down every clock in your life.
How else can a bad turn last 6 years? Or a knife fight last 5?
Have you seen the History Of The Eagles? They broke through in the summer of 1972 with their first record that yielded 3 hits. That was 42 years ago. Glen Frey is 65. Don Henley is 67. That means they broke through as the Eagles when they were 23 and 25 respectively. In terms of musical success, they’ve been on top way longer than not. But watch the documentary and you see the turmoil and pain. Not only these 2 leaders of the band, but almost everybody associated with the band, including producers and managers. Proof that “making it” isn’t some placid tranquil place free from conflict, distraction, ego, greed and self-centeredness.
“Trouble, you can’t fool me. I see you behind that tree.” (sung by Ry Cooder)
There’s pain trying to go up, pain when you arrive and pain while you’re there…wherever there is. Timothy B. Schmit joined the Eagles and within 3 years they stopped. For fourteen years they stopped. His moment of arrival seemed to come and go. Think of it. One day you get a call asking you if you want to join the Eagles…and it goes swimmingly for 3 years. Until it suddenly just stops! And goes dormant for 14 years. In the documentary Schmit talks about having to feed his family and recording with the likes of Twisted Sister. Talk about pain! You’re an Eagle and to pay the bills you play with Twisted Sister. I’m not a musician and I can feel that level of pain.
Thrilling Moments, Agonizing Days
There’s the joy of the moment. You know those, right? When you fell in love and worked up the courage to say, “I love you” and she said it back, “I love you, too.” How great is that? I love her and she loves me, too.
You know what they say
They pledge their love forever
Then they add a day
They hold their hands so tight
In the fear
That one might stray
Oh yes it’s true
It’s happening to you
John Prine wrote those lyrics in the song, It’s Happening To You. Well, when the true love happens to you it’s a thrilling moment. Young love thinks it’s comprehensive enough to go it alone. But it’s not. To grow deeper requires hard work. And time. And enduring tough times together. Holding hands tight is easy at first. It can get harder when the seas get rough. Thrilling moments can give way to breakers that can cause us to grab onto other things. Joe Walsh confessed in the Eagles documentary that he was an out of control addict hooked on alcohol and cocaine. An intervention saved his life and now he’s grabbing onto those he loves. And the music that has so defined him to those of us who love his work.
What If This Continues?
It may. So what?
You’ll get through it. Or you won’t. It depends on what IT is.
Jan Hooks died last week. She was 57, the same age I am right now. Hooks was on SNL from 1986 to 1991 with Chris Farley, Mike Myers, Phil Hartman, Dana Carvey and Dennis Miller. Cause of death? “A serious illness.” Maybe you’re going through that. Or maybe somebody you love is.
I’ve sat with dying people. I’ve sat with family while a loved one was dying. I know the smell of death in a room. We weren’t related, but we may as well have been. I lost my lifelong best friend last year, after a long illness.
Physical illness and suffering won’t continue. Death will be the end of all of us here. I believe in Eternity though and that changes everything. But the point is…not everything can be overcome. It can be endured though. I’m over a year removed from losing Stanley, my friend. I miss him terribly. Every day. I still cry over my loss. But here I am. Still fighting the fight. Working on enduring. And losing him isn’t the only pain in my life. Maybe you’ve got similar pain. I’m betting you’ve got a pretty nice catalog of pain going yourself. Am I right?
So what are we to do if this pain continues?
We’re going to keep going. That’s right. We’re going to fight back as hard as we can. Not like Joe Walsh did for too many years. Not with alcohol or drugs. But we’ll do it with the people we love. And who love us. We’ll do it together. You and me. Us.
And if our bad day turns into 6 years. Or 7. Or 8. We’ll keep going, determined to endure it one more day while we bust our tail to make it better. And eventfully, Lord willing, it’ll pass. Then we’ll look back and know one thing’s for sure.
We got through it. And we’re better for it.
And boy, we’ll have a good time then ’cause we’ll appreciate the higher view.