Lou Reed

Posted by Dan Billings on January 27, 2014 under Listen, My Friends | Be the First to Comment

I didn’t watch the Grammys last night but I was assuming that today I would have watched a tribute to one of the pioneers of modern Rock and Roll, Lou Reed. But as usual, the music industry let me down. I can’t be too upset by the whole thing, but it made me decide that I never wrote about how important his music was to me in many of the hardest times of my life.

I was not very adventurous with my musical tastes. Growing up, I listened to Oldies 104.3 because that was what my mom liked and my cassette tape of the Canadian cast of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, which was the version with Donny Osmond. When I got to college, however, I had no radio. I couldn’t even get the college radio station in my dorm room, which shows the strength of the signal in Ripon, WI. Instead, I found Rhapsody, a streaming music site, which cost $10 per month. I had the whole world of music to listen to. All of the musicals I loved and a whole world of music I only knew some songs from.

Lou ReedMy brother introduced me to Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground when he found out I was listening to a lot of David Bowie. I was having a bit of a rough year as I knew most of my friends were graduating and I would be left in college on my own. The isolation that one feels when everyone else seems to have nothing but a social life is a strange phenomenon, but I seem to have it in spades. Dave gave me a copy of The Velvet Undergound and Nico. From the first chimes that ring when the CD starts, I was mesmerized. Every Sunday, I would listen to Sunday Morning when I awoke around 7am. I would start my day with Lou Reed and that haunting voice. The celesta awoke my spirit in a way that I needed at the start of each week after a solitary night when the rest of campus was entertaining each other. I would take my Discman and walk around campus when it was quiet. I knew when the disc would skip in the middle of  I’m Waiting for My Man. And it would bring me calm.

Dave noticed that most of the songs I loved on the album were sung by Nico. I have never been a fan of abrasive music. I always fall for the softness. My favorite songs on London Calling are the Mick Jones songs. There is definitely a similarity to the pleasant sounds of Nico’s voice to the harmonies that The Clash reach in I’m Not Down. Don’t get me wrong. Heroin is one of my foundation songs, but we will get there in a bit.

I would listen to the album when I ran, just in my head. I memorized it to the point where I had a song for each occasion. When I needed a pick me up, I would go for a Run Run Run. When I wanted to mellow out, I would hum There She Goes Again. But Heroin was my race song. I needed to power up and power down in races. It relaxed me. For those of you who don’t know the song, here is a link to a YouTube video.

But it starts slow and ramps up for a few minutes and then slows back down, just like a Fartlek run. Lou Reed provided me with the perfect song to run my best. And I shared this with Dave. I knew he liked the song as well and when he was very nervous his junior year before Sectionals, I gave him the only advice I could give him (again, this story will follow a bit later). I told him to imagine Lou Reed singing Heroin. It would calm him down to settle into the right pace in the pack he was in and then when it began to ramp up in his head, it was time to leave that pack and bust it open to get to the next pack in time to settle down into that rhythm. For a seven minute song, it goes and goes and goes until it just goes off the rail. I’m assuming it is how heroin feels but since I have never done any sort of drug, running a cross country race was as close as I could get. He said it worked after he qualified for nationals. May be the best coaching advice I ever gave anyone.

Law school didn’t get off to a great start either but I would visit a Tower Records often. I know…at some point, no one will know what that means, but I loved walking in there to see the new CDs. Ironically, one day when I was at my worst, a re-release of Loaded had just come out. I was unfamiliar with the album, but I knew Lou Reed would not let me down. Within a few hours, it became the only CD I listened to. With the same Discman, I popped in Loaded and would jump on the Green Line to get to Kent.

Around this time, I was seeing a psychiatrist who liked to give me drugs. I didn’t do well with drugs. I became very depressed and lethargic. I hated how I felt on them and wanted to feel something. I am supposing that much of Lou Reed’s music had a similar sense as he was on lots of drugs through much of this time and I wonder if these songs were what woke him up and moved him through the day. That is what they did for me. I would dance down the street listening to Rock and Roll. These songs had a 1960s Rock sound in them. There was a Motown taste in Lou Reed’s mind. Songs like I Found A Reason just would make me smile in a time when nothing made me smile.

the velvet underground & nico  1967 lou reedEventually, my psychiatrist took me off the pills since they were making things worst. The week he did this was the week before Dave’s Sectionals race and I had to turn in a research project for my legal writing class. I was feeling very cold and very sick because I was no longer taking anti-depressants. I wore a sweatshirt and a wool hat to school and could barely talk. I was going through a withdrawal that I was not expecting. I had never been more scared in my life and did not know what was going to happen next. But I had to turn in the project: a binder full of all of my research. That afternoon, I got on the train to go home and had to call my parents to help me get off the train. I was scared to walk as I was losing my motor skills. I couldn’t hold anything and kept shaking. I went to the hospital that evening and they told me it was withdrawal and that I would be okay but that I needed to ween myself off of the pills. Thanks, Doc…

The next day, I got to Iowa and gave Dave the advice about Heroin. It scared him to hear the advice but he knew it was important because it was all I said in between shaking fits. I had listened to The Velvet Underground and Nico on the way to Iowa and the song was on my head. I knew I was going to be okay and I wanted to help my brother out.

When I got back to law school, I got my binder back. I didn’t do very well on the assignment as I didn’t remember some of the documents that were sitting on my desk. But I did remember one specific sheet of paper to put in the front cover of the binder. I had lots of song lyrics laying around my room. Somehow, after sitting in the back of the room with a sweatshirt and wool hat pull over my head, I included the lyrics to Heroin for the professor to see. Thanks, Lou Reed.

But I got through law school, got my degree, and continued to listen to The Velvet Underground. And over time, I moved into Lou Reed’s solo work. This past Christmas, Brian bought me Transformer. I put it in the record player often just to hear Hangin’ Around. There are so many perfect songs on the album and it always makes me happy to hear. All of his music was with me in a lot of troubling times and unlike some of the music, I don’t have bad memories of it. I can really never listen to After the Gold Rush again as it became my depression album, but I can still put in any of his records and just feel free.

I’m a pretty straight laced kid. I don’t drink. I don’t do drugs. Never was very risky at all. But I love so many of these Lou Reed anthems that probably have a risky story tied to them. He spoke to me in a way that very few musicians ever have. I will always have his music to listen to and I feel blessed because of that. Thanks, Lou.

The Aftermath of Bullying – Part 2

Posted by Dan Billings on May 23, 2012 under Listen, My Friends | Read the First Comment

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a short blog post about my youthful days. It had a lot of pageviews and a lot of people commented to me personally about my stories. As tough or as hard as those stories may have seen, it isn’t the events themselves that hurt. It’s what follows. The bruises heal. But the inner monologue doesn’t dissipate.

Though I may have been teased before, my memories of not wanting to go to school started in fifth grade. I had a few friends, but over time, as what happens to kids, many of them drifted away. I had a decent core of friends still nonetheless. The hardest part was that many of the people that I thought were my friends became my worst bullies. In middle school, it didn’t get easier. I tried joining things to meet people and make friends. I was in the musical in sixth and eighth grade, I ran cross country and track, I joined the wrestling team, I tried out for the basketball team, I did some sort of reading tournament. I did the whole outgoing thing. But it seemed that there were things that never got better.

I recently read the book I Never Liked You by Chester Brown. He details his junior high days and high school days in short comics. Generally, I thought there was something wrong with me, but reading books like this one makes me realize that there are just memes that kids have. There is a continuing storyline in the book where people are trying to get him to swear because he never did. I had the same thing. There is a scene were a group of girls surround him and start flirting with him until he realizes that they are just messing with him. He walks away. I didn’t realize that soon enough. I just let people say whatever they wanted. In the end, my top priority was school work. I am not sure where I was prior to this picture, but I am all decked out with Wrinkles (my stuffed dog) next to me as I laid on the floor doing math homework. If you knew me in junior high, you knew about Wrinkles.

It’s important to remember that I was not alone. In middle school, I had two or three really close friends, but everyone else that I knew drifted away as time goes by. By high school though, one friend moved and the others stayed around, but due to circumstances, we didn’t see each other often as we started our days at Prospect High School. None of this was anyone’s fault. But due to my lack of self-esteem and feelings of disapproval, I had a rough time creating new relationships. As my friends grew, I stagnated. I feared putting myself out there. And when I did, I was mocked for being too innocent or nice or some other thing that I was always told was a good thing but it turns out isn’t a nice thing for a thirteen year old boy to be.

But the lasting damage was that the minute I left high school, I left high school. I went to graduation because my mom wanted me to and I got out of that building as fast as possible. I don’t have pictures with many friends. I don’t have memories of that day. I fled. And there were good people who I got to know and who got to know me. But my memories of those halls were bad. I didn’t see the good people. I just saw the dread and the loneliness – the feeling I had every Saturday night when I sat at home when my younger brother and even younger sister would go out with their friends and I would sit reading a book next to my dog. On many a night, I would take him for a walk and cry. And I would ask myself the same question every night, “Why me? What did I do wrong?” I would look in the mirror and see myself as a cover of a recent Alex Ross comic. I saw myself as a freak. I have a similar hairline and would do the same look with my eyes

This carried through college where times didn’t get easier. I hid. And to this day, I still hide.

And because of this, I lost real friends or at least potential friends. People that could truly have been my friends for a long time, I just ditched. I did my best to stay in touch, but I didn’t try hard and distance grew and I basically became that island that John Donne said that no man is and that rock that Paul Simon was. Over time, I learned that most people weren’t being mean. I just assumed they were due to a few bad apples – that they would turn around and harass me like the friends before. But as the saying goes, Fool Me Once, Shame on Me. Fool Me Twice, Shame on You. I didn’t give people the chance to fool me that second time. And as time passed and people stopped returning instant messages or e-mails, I stopped sending the messages. I took it as a personal reaction. So, when I came home for the summer, I filled my days with work. One job was 16 hours a day. The second was not as much, but the schedule was erratic, so I used it as an excuse. The third, I didn’t even come home. And the fourth just led me to sit on the couch. It’s not like I was fielding phone calls to hang out very often, but I made no effort, and therefore, no effort was afforded me.

In the end, I took my Joker grin and just kept to myself. But as I matured in college, I found that not to be always the case. I found good friends over time. They aren’t numerous, but I learned that wasn’t important. Quality over quantity. And in law school, I found a few more. And in work, even more. I’m to the point that I look in the mirror and I don’t see that Joker grin anymore. I don’t wonder if I am like the Joker – a chaotic entity destined to destroy, but to laugh and seem happy along the way. The feelings that developed in me around the age of ten finally were starting to unwind. I did not see myself as the problem. Twenty years later, I see the same kid I was before I was called name. I see the smile and the joy. It’s not a constant, but it’s at least normal.

Nonetheless, there are at least ten people who got me through high school that I have rarely spoken to. I may have gotten back in touch with some of them due to the magic of Facebook, but the last time I actually spent any time with someone from high school was when a childhood friend dropped by my house at 6:30 and I was already in my pajamas. I’m still not the most welcoming person in the world. I also like flannel pants.

The lasting effect of bullying is exactly that though. I saw my world as hopeless and chopped it off. It would be like falling asleep on your arm, feeling numb, and deciding the correct course would be to remove it. But I was numb for a long time. It didn’t seem like it could be fixed.

It would be great to reconnect with many of those people that I lost. I’m not one of those people who wants to show off and prove his bullies wrong (I used to be, but I outgrew that revenge scenario), but I wonder quite often how those people who would bring a smile to my face are doing. Those people who signed my yearbook over the years not with insults but with honest mentions of my likes, dreams, and wishes. To those people – I hope all is well. As I sit in the same bedroom that I used to cry in, I realize that I’m not the same kid I was in junior high or high school. I’m not completely different either, but I realize what’s important and what isn’t.

The hardest part of writing this or the last post isn’t the pain of remembering the “dark days”. It’s remembering the people who I honestly cherished. And how I could not honestly build a relationship with them due to my past. I’m not sure where I wanted to take this. But I think I got all of the thoughts out of my head. In the end, I suppose that’s all that matters.

The Week(s) That Was (Were)

Posted by Dan Billings on July 27, 2009 under Listen, My Friends | Be the First to Comment

Although I have been better at writing entries more often, it has been a busy couple of weeks. I have gone to a concert, been assigned to a big project at work, went up to Madison, and ran a 10 mile race.

It’s been a great end of July. Days can sometimes bring me down, but overall, I have a lot of hang my hat on.

Work is going very well. I’m feeling more comfortable each day. I feel I do a good job at what I’m assigned to do and I try to go out of my way to do better. I like what I do and really there is nothing more important that that.

I also have had the opportunity to see some of my best friends. Although I do not get to see them all, the past weekend may have been one of the best weekends that I can remember. I had a fun Friday night at the Olive Garden with Mike and Erin, ran a race (73:30 for 10 miles), got dizzy at a carnival, and hit the town of Madison for the first time. There are a lot of new experiences and feelings involved in the past few weeks, but I like that. I need that opportunity to explore and luckily I have friends who are willing to slowly take me into these experiences that I would more likely than not never do on my own.

I hope it all continues.

Next to Normal

Posted by Dan on July 21, 2009 under Listen, My Friends | Be the First to Comment

When I watched the Tony Awards a few months back, one musical caught my attention. One musical made me look up its current end date and if I would be able to get to Broadway before it closed. One musical will lure me to NYC in September.

I got the soundtrack and have listened to it at least twenty times through. I know most of the words to the entire score and have dissected its meanings and its musical variations. I haven’t had this feeling about a show since I first heard the soundtrack to Company.

The story revolves around a family that is falling apart as the mother struggles with bipolar disorder and the family copes with her illness. Many of the songs are quite depressing, but the story and music make you think about the disease and its repercussions. It looks at the mental health industry and does not batter one eye lash. It’s a phenomenal look at what it does feel like to be lost in your head and to watch those around you struggle with whatever it is you’re struggling with.

I related to many moments of the story. Luckily, I never went through the severe treatments that the mother has to survive, but I did understand going to the psychopharmacologist and the utter helplessness of the situation.

It’s a brilliant example of what musical theater can be at its core. Many of the great musicals revolve around social issues of the day and very controversial scenarios.  I will be seeing the show in September some time and cannot wait.