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05 Jul 09 Songwriting Therapy

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As I write this article, my brother is alive. By the time you read it, in all likelihood he will have died. What does this have to do with music?

I have always heard that music allows you to get in touch with and communicate your deepest emotions. This past week, I have learned that this is definitely true.

My brother, Rennie, was my hero and role model when I was a child. My father was a traveling salesman and gone every week. Rennie, nine years older than me, provided my male support. He was the one who first put me in touch with the magic of music. He let me listen to his albums: Roger Miller, Bobby Darin, and – yes – the Beatles. I loved the way John Lennon turned his collar up on the cover of Rubber Soul!

When Rennie joined the Navy, he gave me his albums for safekeeping. I played them, but I made sure nothing happened to him. And I still remember, one of the biggest thrills of my young life, was when he mailed me a copy of Hey Jude from overseas, before it had been released in the United States. I was the king of the neighborhood!

Over the years, as first he traveled, then I traveled, we always talked about music. When I started writing songs, he was one of my biggest supporters. He always loved hearing what my latest lyrics were.

For the past two years, he has bravely fought pancreatic and liver cancer. He is now losing that battle. I am in his home in Norfolk, VA right now. Rennie is under hospice care. In one respect, I am surprised he has lasted this long. But in other sense, it just doesn’t seem right that my hero will soon be gone.

When I arrived the other day, I started singing to him to calm him down. To my surprise, he began singing along with me. We sang I Hear You Knocking, Johnny Be Good, and Never Been to Spain. The one he could not stop singing was Black Betty. He sang it for everyone who came to see him. I told him if he showed up at the Pearly Gates singing that song, I was sure to be in trouble.

Since I have been here, I have completed three songs. Two touch the emotions I have been going through. The third, however, is my favorite. It has a co-writer: Rennie.  We started by me asking him what his favorite things were. And it built from that. The song is called “Diamonds, Pickups, Water and You.” I will likely sing it at his funeral.

Songwriting has always been a creative release for me. These past several days, it has been my emotional therapy.

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Reader's Comments

  1. |

    Powerful. I’m sorry to hear about your brother. Music is also my therapy and has been even more so in the last few years with struggles of dealing with my experiences during the Iraq war. It’s important. Thanks for sharing.

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