How I got here…

 

I was born an Aquarian in Burlington, Vermont, in 1972, in the twilight of a Yankee winter. My blood, half French Revolution, half Italian Renaissance. My father had returned from Vietnam, physically intact, emotionally withdrawn. I can still feel his passive aggression, and my mothers fading optimism, always holding things together. From the start I knew the confusion of human being, the paradox of love and hate, and when my parents divorced in 1980, the crescendo of my childhood trauma, I retreated into myself with a stubborn self reliance. Later in life, when at 33, I would be diagnosed with CMT, the progressive neuromuscular disease that had been whispering, “I’m coming to get you”, since my birth, this self reliance would be both my bedrock and my weakest link.

Music has always been a part of my life. My father played guitar and sang in a rock band in the 70s and this informed my early fixation with guitar, rhythm, and words. I desperately needed to connect with my father in this magical place, but it was his world and he would not let me in. By the mid-80s my father had been worn down by the grind stone. He sold his guitar, I bought mine, and now music was my world.

College wasn’t my thing and I struggled to make it through my freshman year at Southern Illinois University. I decided to move to Atlanta, where I imagined a vibrant music scene would connect me to the opportunities I needed to turn my obsession into a career. I found work as a line cook and when I wasn’t sweating over a stove I was locked in my bedroom with guitars and a TASCAM Porta Studio. I spent my mid 20s transfixed in southern heat. It was here that I found my voice, made the move from guitar player to singer-songwriter. It was also here that the fear of failing my future self found its way into my thoughts and, as my father had done, I sold my guitars, and in 1997 I drove 1400 miles to escape what I feared I was becoming.

Here’s the thing about song, it isn’t “out there”, it is inside of you and no matter how far you drive you cannot get away from it and three months after arriving in Denver I found myself working at Colfax Guitar Shop, learning how to repair stringed instruments. I found a band to play with and I was back at it, immersed in music. I had a passion for recording and producing songs. At that time it was done on a four track cassette recorder, nothing like the digital technology of today. I made countless home recordings where I played guitar, bass, and pedal steel. I had an Alesis SR-16 drum machine and I would program the drum parts. In 2002 I made my first studio recording that would end up on compact disc, packaged and offered to the public, a four song EP, fall. I had made two studio recordings in Atlanta but those never made it off the master. I was motivated to record and release more music and when the opportunity to spend time in Amsterdam came my way, I put my belongings into storage and headed to the Netherlands to work on material for a full length release. I spent five months in an apartment on the edge of the Red Light District with plans to record when I returned to Denver.

When I got back to the Mile High City I needed to find a place to live. I also needed work, and a space to rehearse. I satisfied all of these things by opening Curtis Park Music, a musical instrument store at 27th and Larimer. It was the end of 2003. I had an apartment and rehearsal space in the back of the building, and everything seemed to be coming together until I began noticing a weakness in my left hand. I used to be able to play guitar all day and now I had to put it down after only an hour. Something was wrong. I didn’t know what to do so I just kept on, but in the back of my mind was that whisper, “I’m coming to get you”. I began drinking too much and happy hour would often turn into a two day bender, fueled with cocaine. Needless to say, business suffered, and I was sliding into despair. In 2005 I went to see a neurologist and was finally diagnosed with the enemy that had been waiting inside of me for 33 years. I had to get my life together and that meant closing my business, getting away from the music scene, and quitting the booze and drugs. The first two were easy.

I found work, and worked until my body told me I could not work anymore and in 2017 I went on full disability with two nearly-paralyzed hands and arms so weak I could not raise them above my shoulders. I still had my voice and now I had time to create music again but I could no longer play any instruments. I had to find a way to get the sounds in my head out into the world and technology, a Mac computer with Logic Pro X, became my new instrument. I reworked, from memory, some of the songs that I had written in Amsterdam and wrote a handful of new ones. I put a band together to go into the studio to finally record that LP!

Five months before the recording date my father was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. The man who introduced me to music,  fueled my rebellion, instilled my fierce independence, was dying. Roger Bourgault died on January 27, 2018, and my album, Be Kind, was released on April 13. As my father left this world, my songs were being born and I cannot help but draw a connection between his death and this birth.

My body continues to weaken but my resolve is strong. I love creating songs; the sounds, the organization of the parts, the words, the rhythm, the transformational power of the mood when it all comes together, and I am grateful to finally be recording and releasing music. This is what I could not escape from, it is who I am.