It was 2016. Not the part of 2016 where we realized we’d be ruled by a colossal idiot for maybe ever. That came later. This was like, early 2016. Before the real problems. The good old days.
I was starting a 15 hour drive from Shank Hall in Milwaukee back to my apartment in Brooklyn, NY. Everything was fine. The show was good. For the better part of the last 5 years, I had desperately pawed at everyone and anyone who could help me develop some semblance of a touring career. When I moved to New York City in the disgusting hot summer of 2011, things did not go as planned. I was not heralded as the next Bob Dylan; believe it or not, I was not heralded as anything at all. The city did not stop in its tracks for a white kid from the suburbs with a harmonica rack and a Gibson Hummingbird.
Anyways, I found myself in a wedding band. The whole thing; dressed in a cheap black tuxedo, carrying my 100 pound Fender Vibrolux on the L train, over to the 6 train, across the street and through the back kitchen door of the Plaza Hotel. 65 times a summer for the weddings, bar mitzvahs in the spring and fall. I knew shit had gone very wrong. So, with expectations lowered considerably, it became my singular goal to just be able to play MY songs in MY clothes. Bob Dylan, sure, but right now I just needed to get out of this fucking suit.
In 2013, I decided to book the world’s worst tour with my friend Ken. It was a trainwreck. I loved it. It took 6 months to book, and we made a laughable amount of money, but it was SOME money. When I got back to New York, I bought a beer at a nice rooftop bar and I felt like the king of life because I had paid for it with money I made playing my own songs. Winter came and I quit the wedding band. And slowly, but surely, my movie montage had started.
So now back in 2016, I’m driving 15 hours from Milwaukee to Brooklyn, and I feel this tightness in my throat. The kind of tightness you feel when you’re about to cry? Something like that. The plan was to drive until I got tired, grab a $45 dollar hotel somewhere near South Bend, Indiana, sleep about 4 hours and drive the rest of the way home. I had nabbed this tour in sort of a backend way; I hit up the talent buyer in Chicago and asked if I could open a show and when he said yes, I hit up the talent buyer in Detroit and told him I was doing the Chicago date, and he said yes. So on and so forth. So I really needed to keep the overhead low because I was making no more than $100 a show.
The only way I could satiate the tightness in my neck and throat was to swallow. And that’s the night I became obsessed with swallowing. It became the focus of my life. On the next tour, west coast edition, I took a 12 hour bus ride between shows in San Francisco and LA and counted my swallows the entire time. I would judge every performance by how many times I swallowed. I became convinced that I wouldn’t be able to stop swallowing on stage and I wouldn’t be able to get my words out. I would fantasize about finally getting to play a big Late Night TV show and having some sort of swallow attack and destroying my career. It became a self-fulfilling prophecy. One night, on stage at a beautiful theatre in Massachusetts that I had been trying to get booked at since I was 19, I considered walking off stage mid-set. I was beside myself. I felt like I was in a horror movie and I was both the victim and the killer. I was also embarrassed by how strange and minute it sounded when I tried to explain it, but I was also completely convinced it would be my undoing.
Long story long, my then girlfriend, now wife, forced me to see a therapist. And I’d like to say that we got down to it right away, but it took me about two years of self-torture, before somebody recommended an OCD specialist and I started getting to the core of the issue- I am exceptionally anxious, not prone to taking care of myself, self-medicating with booze and drugs, etc etc. I’m proud to say, as of right now, I haven’t swallowed since 2018. Just kidding. But I do consider myself fine now. I take 60mgs of Prozac and I’m like, a manageable amount of crazy.
It doesn’t all have to do with the career; it’s partially just the way I’m wired. I’ve made friends with my bullshit. But this particular way of life can really pull it out of you. I’m a young man with a control issue and you can’t control a lot in this line of work. You can often get to feeling as though you’re the first person ever to explore the void; like Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now, except you’re both Martin Sheen and Marlon Brando, and I guess music is the war? Or something. But you’re not alone. Almost everyone I’ve confided in about this particular time in my life has something of their own to share. As musicians, we tend to hold everything close to our chests because we want our careers to look more stable than they are. Even when we share, we want to be in control of the narrative— like it’s fine if they know I’m nuts, but not like, TOO nuts. Nuts in a cool way, like I don’t know, Lou Reed. But honestly, sometimes it’s truly a fucking disaster and I’m not the cool kind of nuts at all. Though I’m super proud of my accomplishments *lists accomplishments* there’s this anxiety that never goes away that I have totally and completely failed, but maybe I could just fix it with one more show, one more song, one more album? It’s not a good feeling. Anyways, these are the cards I keep close to my chest and I’m gonna show them now. And I hope if you’ve gone through something like this, you feel less alone, or feel compelled to reach out. Much love.