RU Texas The Beat

A Family Thing: Talking with Unlikely Songwriter Patricia Bronson

[fa icon="calendar'] Dec 15, 2016 1:47:31 PM / by RU Texas posted in Recovery, Treatment, Alcoholism, Heroin Addiction, Music

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For the entirety of our Artists in Recovery Series, Recovery Unplugged has been focusing on how musicians use music to help cultivate and sustain their recovery. Our latest installment flips the script and discusses how the love of family can be expressed through music to help addicts bounce back and overcome drugs and alcohol. Recovery Unplugged recently had the honor of speaking with one mother who realized just how valuable music can be as a source of healing and empowerment. This is a woman who is determined to take control of her own story, and we were happy to help her tell it.

There are mothers and then there is Patricia Bronson. Patricia is from Pelham, New Hampshire and her daughter is one of thousands of addicts in a state that has been essentially decimated by heroin and prescription opioid abuse. She developed an alcohol problem in college; but like many parents, Patricia didn’t recognize her daughter’s drinking problem until it was too late: “I just kind of wrote it off as a typical teenager going off to college. But it had become more excessive and it came to the point where she was really making bad decisions and hurting herself.” Eventually Patricia guided her daughter into a treatment facility in Florida, where she remained for about nine months.

Unfortunately, however, the story doesn’t end there. After a stint at another rehab in Maine and a subsequent year in a half of sobriety, Patricia’s daughter soon found herself battling heroin addiction: “She called me one Sunday and said ‘I need to check myself into rehab.’ I said ‘You’re drinking again?’ and that’s when she actually told me ‘No, I’m doing heroin.’ We had tried to convince her to go back to Florida, but she didn’t want to go.” It took her daughter three days to find help, a problem that many vulnerable New Hampshire residents face, despite a glaring need for increased treatment resources throughout the state. On the last day, with assistance from her mother, she found a facility in Massachusetts. She completed a day-program and has been sober ever since.

As the mother of an addict, Patricia has done everything she possibly can to make sure her daughter gets the help, love and support she needs, including penning a song for her when she reached an important milestone: “The first one was for her one year of sobriety [from alcohol],” says Bronson. “What we did as a family is we took verses and turned then into a hip-hop song.” After finalizing the lyrics, Patricia collaborated with a production company in Pennsylvania to bring the piece to life. The partnership has continued through three other works. She and the rest of her family presented the song to her daughter at a meeting.

Patricia wrote the first song so that her daughter could have a constant reminder of the support in her life when she felt vulnerable: “It was for her to continuously listen to when the days got tough.” Her writing credits don’t end there. As an active member of the Pelham Community Coalition, an organization dedicated to educating and empowering the Pelham community about substance abuse to prevent overdose, Pat put her frustration with her town’s lack of action toward this crisis to music. “The town, itself, is still in denial that they have a problem. It’s very hard to get people to talk about it because [they think] it’s never going to happen to them.”

For her own part, Patricia has no plans to stop writing songs to chronicle important events in her life: “I could get hit by a bus tomorrow and these songs are always going to be there.”

In a subsequent conversation, Patricia informed me that there have been multiple overdoses in Pelham since the interview, leaving two dead.

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Our Thoughts and Prayers Go Out to Those Impacted by the Ghost Ship Warehouse Fire

[fa icon="calendar'] Dec 5, 2016 10:01:31 AM / by RU Texas posted in Recovery, Treatment, Music, Ghost Ship

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There’s not a lot to say, but we’ll try anyhow. Recovery Unplugged extends our sincere and profound sympathies to those who were impacted by Friday’s terrible fire at Oakland’s Ghost Ship art and performance space, an incident that authorities are now saying is the biggest fire in the city’s history. As the investigation regarding cause and impact progresses, and authorities forecast an increasingly grim final result, we will continue to have all those who were affected, living and deceased, in our thoughts and prayers. We also urge all those who were affected by this immense tragedy to take advantage of their local mental health resources to help them deal with the trauma that many will have undoubtedly sustained.

Music is supposed to be a refuge for all of us, and live music offers a whole different element to this sense of critical escapism. Many, if not most of us, have that special live venue in our community where we can go to hear the best and most interesting artists in our area as well as those who stop in while on tour. These spaces, in whatever form, are a cultural crossroads where many of us find an identity and a sense of community that we simply can’t find anywhere else. They allow us to experience the work of new and emerging artists while celebrating the rich and unique culture of our own distinguished locales. It’s altogether tragic to think that our friends and neighbors could lose their lives by simply going to a show.

The unshakable and unsettling truth is that this could have happened to a lot of us who rely on these kinds of spaces to experience the best and most authentic live music; those of us who live in Brooklyn, Portland, Detroit, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Austin, Miami and many other cities understand this particularly well. Recovery Unplugged grieves heavily for those who have lost their lives in the Ghost Ship fire and for their loved ones who will, forever more, have to face life without them. We wish them all the strength and courage on earth as they endeavor to make it through this unspeakably difficult time.

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Losing and Wynning: A Conversation with Colorado Songwriter Andrew Wynne

[fa icon="calendar'] Dec 2, 2016 11:11:37 AM / by RU Texas posted in Recovery, Treatment, Music, Andrew Wynne

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Let’s start off by stating what will be come clear the moment you hear his music: if you live in Colorado and miss your chance to see Denver’s Andrew Wynne at any of his upcoming performances, you may need to check your priorities...just saying. The reality is that few songwriters, or human beings for that matter, exemplify the power and opportunity of recovery like he has. Recovery Unplugged had the chance to catch up with Andrew to discuss his journey to recovery, his music, his ambition and the close relationship between all three.

It seems fitting to mention that we caught Andrew a bit off-guard, as he was up late the night before the interview attending a late-night recovery meeting and yoga session. This should give you some idea of how committed he is to the process. Once we got down to business, however, he discussed in great detail the evolution of his substance abuse, including a family history of alcoholism and a strained relationship with this father after his parents’ divorce: “I think some of my struggles stemmed from a lack of relationship with my dad.” After the divorce, Andrew moved to Denver from White Plains, NY with his mother, who he said just wanted to get a fresh start.

While his mother found her fresh start, Andrew found a new passion in music, one that has endured to this day and shows no signs of mellowing. Unfortunately, however, it was only a few years until he also found drugs: “Right around the time I turned 14, I started smoking pot and taking acid and doing what I considered to be some of the normal things for kids to do.” Concerned about the turn his life was taking, his mother put the 15-year-old Andrew in a Denver treatment facility.

Although he first entered treatment in the mid-1980s, a time when the addiction care landscape was admittedly limited in its scope of capabilities compared to today, it was a period of growth and education for the young but precocious Andrew: “I got introduced to the 12 Steps and the principles of recovery through both AA and NA at a young age. A lot of those concepts stuck with me.” Unfortunately, however, Andrew learned that education is not always enough to sustain recovery, and it wasn’t long before he started using again: “I didn’t stay sober. I was 15 and I went through treatment and that was great; but shortly thereafter, I was off and running again and continued to party for about 25 years.”

Though obviously regretful about his prolonged period of active substance abuse, Andrew is also realistic and candid about his past as a whole: “Hindsight is always 20-20. I was making the best decisions I thought I could at the time. I had a lot of amazing experiences and some successes in both music and activism.” Andrew is a lifelong advocate of environmental causes, a passion he expresses through songs like “The Place”.

The rest of Andrew’s songs, which he tends to group in categories of “pre- and post-recovery”, boast honest lyricism, infectious melodies, sophisticated yet accessible guitar work and disciplined and insightful instrumental layering. They comprise a canon that is rich with experience and worth getting lost in for a while, whether or not you’re in recovery or have ever been intoxicated in your life. In other words, it’s music for everyone. He is, however, quick to mention the role that recovery has played in his writing process: “There are definitely themes {within the songs]. ‘The Stream’ was inspired by my first bout with recovery and having a sense that there was something missing. What I was pursuing in using, I wasn’t finding.” Although he wrote and recorded it before getting clean for the last time, Andrew claims the writing was on the wall with “The Stream” and other songs like it: “I already sort of intuitively knew that there was something more and that recovery was going to be critical to me going any further in my life.” Andrew recently parlayed “The Stream” into a full-length record of the same name, which was released on 11-15.

Regarding the evolution of his recovery and where it’s led him, Andrew had the following to say: “They talk about this disease being cunning, baffling and powerful and it’s hard to separate the influence of my addiction on my thinking versus just ordinary ego and fear-based mentality that we all experience and are influenced by. And a lot of this, for me, has just been a process of growing up, which is something that everyone at some point in their lives goes through; where their old ways of thinking don’t work anymore.”

Now, 46 years old and with nearly six years of sobriety under his belt, Andrew seems completely comfortable in his own skin, and with that comfort has come some truly incredible and inspiring music. The man who once received a grant from Musicares for his treatment seems determined to give something back the best way he can: with a guitar and experience.

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Every Which Way: A Conversation with Montana Songwriter Neil “Filo” Beddow

[fa icon="calendar'] Nov 21, 2016 5:20:56 PM / by RU Texas posted in Recovery, Music Therapy, Addiction, Alcoholism, Music

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When we enter a rehab facility, for any reason, we often do so with the singular mission of either admitting ourselves or a loved one to the facility, or asking questions about the quality of the program. In other words, we’re not often concerned with what music is playing through the speakers. After decades in the recovery community himself, Bozeman, Montana-based songwriter Neil “Filo” Beddow is very much concerned with the music to which patients are exposed during treatment. Recovery Unplugged recently caught up with Beddow to discuss his recovery, his music and how the two have affected each other from the start.

Beddow began the conversation by discussing his mission to change the soundtrack of addiction treatment, one facility at a time: “Most places, when you walk in, they have sort of canned music or the radio playing, or whatever, and I thought ‘Well, why not have some music that pertains to what you’re there for?’” A guitar-and-lyric man whose songs are as direct and targeted as they are catchy, Beddow has been trying to develop a recovery-focused songwriting collective and cut a record to distribute to drug and alcohol treatment providers. Though it’s been slow going, he remains hopeful the project will fully materialize and has an arsenal of relevant songs to feed it.

Although music was a big part of his life before, during and after the recovery process, Beddow had only started performing live at the age of 50, showcasing his original material, much of which he credits to his experiences during recovery: “The material I was writing was mostly about recovery and the people I had met. I think it was because I was cleaned up that I was able to put together the music that I have. It’s kept me on the planet.” While Beddow admits to using a wide variety of substances, including marijuana and speed, alcohol has proven to be the enduring menace in his life.

It was ultimately Beddow’s family that urged him to get help: “My wife told me one day that if I couldn’t do something about my drinking, I’d have to find another place to live; I was drunk the next night. My son, who was six at the time, overheard me talking to someone from AA about my drinking. I went to tuck him and he was crying and said ‘Daddy, I don’t want you to die.’ I started crying with him. He went to sleep and [again] I was drunk the next night.” It occurred to Beddow that if he couldn’t stop drinking for the two most important people in his life, that the journey to recovery would be a lot harder than he thought. He described the mental obsession and the moment when he first realized he had more of a problem than he initially realized.

Though he has recently suffered some setbacks with alcohol, Beddow had 20 years of consistent recovery prior to his slip last spring. He is once again aggressively working his recovery program; attending AA meetings, continuing his involvement in the local recovery community and using music more than ever to help him through the process. He is not the first to suffer a setback after an extended period of abstinence, nor will he be the last. “It’s a bitch, man,” says a candid Beddow of drug and alcohol addiction. “It’s cunning, baffling and powerful just like it’s laid out in the [Alcoholics Anonymous] book.”

Beddow’s songs are comprised of hard-hitting and introspective lyrics set primarily to acoustic chord progressions that are sometimes driving and authoritative, and sometimes light, airy and dynamic. He describes his guitar style as West Dakota Stutter. His prose is often tongue-and-cheek, but always manages to clearly convey his intended messages. While recovery is the dominant theme within his canon, he manages to include other message-driven pieces in there as well, including his nod to strong and influential female historical figures called “Benazir Bhutto”. He also covers a variety of artists that are a reflection of his musical tastes, including Ry Cooder, David Bromberg, Lucinda Williams, John Prine & Bob Dylan and a host of others.

After an exhaustive search for collaborators, Beddow has settled on releasing his latest record as a solo effort. He’s working on retooling and polishing up some of his current material, most of which is years old. He maintains an active live calendar and remains a fixture of the vibrant and bustling Bozeman arts community. For a while, he even served on the board of the local arts collective S.L.A.M. (Support Local Artists and Musicians). While he is no longer a board member, he still volunteers and performs at events. He plans on sticking around the Bozeman area to spread his message of recovery, unless other forces direct him elsewhere.

Regarding the impact of music on his recovery process, Beddow had the following to say: “Music has kept me on the planet. For me to come up with a song from beginning to end…I mean…they just fell out of the sky and landed in my lap. It’s amazing what you can come up with and its even more when you’re able to get someone to collaborate with you.” He closes by asserting that he didn’t write the songs, he made them up.

Beddow promised to let RU know when his record was finished.

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The Accidental Journey of Philly Songwriter Trip Boyd

[fa icon="calendar'] Nov 16, 2016 2:18:53 PM / by RU Texas posted in Recovery, Music Therapy, Addiction, Music, Music Treatment

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Although his matter-of-fact and casual demeanor may not show it, Philly-based songwriter James “Trip” Boyd is a man who has led many lives, through which the common threads have been music and substance abuse. Now, exceedingly content in this latest stage of life, and with years of sobriety under his belt, Boyd was good enough to sit down with Recovery Unplugged to discuss his tumultuous past, comfortable present and hopeful future. For all of its uniqueness and its many twists, turns and layers, Boyd’s story is one that could really happen to anyone, and that’s exactly how he tells it.

Boyd starts our conversation by discussing the accidental nature of the origins of his substance abuse which occurred, oddly enough, after quitting his high school basketball team: “My plan in life was to play on the basketball team and become popular, date a cheerleader and then go on to play in college. Then when I realized I was just barely going to make the team, that wasn’t good enough and I just up and quit. Literally a week later someone calls up and says ‘Hey you want to do hit of acid?’ and I just went from one extreme to the other. From that point on, the rest of high school was just a party.”

Boyd came to alcohol only after experimenting with other drugs, and confessed that he was an “equal-opportunity drug user”. After a few years of heavy partying and an ill-fated marriage, he found music as accidentally as he found drugs in high school: “Evidently I mentioned one night that a friend’s band could practice at my house and the next thing I knew they were all showing up. I ended up hanging out with these guys and booking gigs for them, moving equipment and running lights. Soon I started picking up instruments here and there.” Before this, Boyd’s only acquaintance with musical performance was a brief flirtation with bass when he was a teenager.

Eventually Boyd’s musical wanderlust moved him all over the southeastern United States, playing in bands in DC, North Carolina and Florida. This is when his substance abuse began to re-escalate, and he started with alcohol, marijuana and cocaine: “I was always around it. It was normal for me to smoke weed first thing in the morning. It was normal for me to drink.” Like so many others who experienced nightlife in the 1980s, Boyd also indulged in heavy cocaine. Eventually this lifestyle would take its toll on him and the seams of substance abuse began to show.    

The chaos in Boyd’s life reached its pinnacle in the late 1980’s when he found himself living in Florida: “I was literally living Murphy’s Law. It was just unbelievable everything that went wrong in my life. I was really starting to become depressed. I was getting up and, first thing in the morning, going to the store and buying a six-pack and just getting drunk. It was just one of the darkest periods in my life.” Things took a more positive turn when an old friend reached out to Boyd and convinced him to relocate to Philadelphia, where he’s been ever since.

At this point, Boyd had just gotten into writing songs. After years of playing in cover bands, he decided it was time to lend his own literal and figurative voice to the vast American musical canon: “I wanted to do something original, but I just didn’t know how to do it. I was always just a member of a band. Finally when I moved up here, I said ‘Enough, I’m tired of playing in bands that were breaking up all the time.’ I wanted to do my stuff and be in charge.” Boyd’s declaration of musical independence led to the formation of a solo project called Trip Boyd, which included collaboration, on his terms, with other likeminded musicians. He became a fixture of the Philadelphia music scene , attending conferences and networking as hard as any local musician. He also became better acquainted with the recording process, a passion that has endured to this day.

As in other phases of Boyd’s life, however, substance abuse once again became a dominant presence. “I just never really succeeded on the level that I wanted to and I guess I just got frustrated and depressed.” This led to the resurgence of heavy drinking and cocaine abuse. “It was always someone else’s idea, but one thing about addiction is that you start crossing lines. Eventually I became the guy to say ‘Why don’t we get a little something?’” The lines kept getting crossed and eventually Boyd found himself working in a recording studio where drinking and drug abuse were commonplace. Boyd’s substance abuse continued to escalate and in the last few years prior to his recovery, crack became a regular drug of choice, although he says he never smoked it two days in a row. He describes his crack use as an irregular cycle in which he would use the drug in weekly or biweekly intervals.

In 1999, Boyd received a DUI along with a court-order to attend AA meetings. This is where things finally started to turn around. Like many who are compelled to attend recovery meetings, Boyd initially went only to satisfy the requirements of his court-order, but eventually started becoming more involved. Although he was still using crack, he describes one night that could be viewed as a turning point in his perception: “One night I’m home smoking crack and it’s like four in the morning. I had to be at work in four hours and I knew that the next 48 hours were going to be a living hell. There is no worse feeling than crashing from crack cocaine. All of a sudden I got this thought: ‘Hey you know these meetings you’re going to? Maybe you should try them.’ I got this feeling of peace. That is the one and only time that ever happened when I was crashing from crack.”

After a period of setbacks, Boyd finally found his footing. He describes the morning after the “white-knuckle night” when he finally resisted the urge to go back to crack: “It wasn’t ‘I gotta stop doing this.’ It was ‘I’m done’. I felt relaxed and calm and I’ve ben sober ever since.” He started increasing his attendance at meetings and strengthened his confidence in recovery, going through the steps, working his program and learning many lessons along the way. He even established a recovery-themed softball league. He was still playing in bands, but he had sold all of his equipment during the first few months of his recovery. “I was at a point in my life where it was time to do something different.” Boyd soon found himself back in college and traveling. He would not touch a musical instrument again for another eight years.

Yet another coincidence put Boyd music in Boyd’s path again. “I totally relapsed on music and found myself playing with Garage Band [the recording software]. Eventually I stared writing songs again.” Boyd reconnected with this old drummer, with whom he formed The Beavers, and started playing live again. They hope to be ready by spring to showcase new material and covers to their audience. Through deeper immersion in the 12-Step process, Boyd started taking behavioral health classes and closely examining the traditional tenets of AA. He continues to strengthen his knowledge of the process each day.

Much like his current musical projects, Boyd’s recovery is in constant forward motion. His story is a reminder of the fluidity of life and that, as much as we may walk away from music for an extended period of time, it will always be there to comfort and inspire us when we get back. Regarding the role that music has played in his ongoing recovery, Boyd had the following to say: “It’s been very fulfilling. I just get lost in it. I just love every aspect of it. Music is just what I do. I breathe, I eat, I record music.”

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