Category Archives: music

Scientific proof that music is very good for your brain

When I’m depressed or anxious (which is often, considering that I’ve been diagnosed with depression and anxiety), music is often my “go-to” to help lift me out of the darkness. I’ve always believed that music is more than just comfort for the brain. Now, there’s scientific evidence to back that up.

Today’s New York Times has an article about a study showing that music is pretty much up there with food and sex when it comes to making people feel better.

Read the article here.

People I love: Johnny Cash

Johnny CashIt’s been more than 10 years since Johnny Cash died. But to me, he is, and always will be, very much alive.

It’s not just his iconic, cut-to-the-bone voice, or his ability to mix so many musical genres–country, folk, rock, roots music–and make it seem effortless. My connection is personal, too. When I was growing up, Johnny Cash was one of  the few things my mother and I could agree on. My mother was very conservative in many ways, including her music (she really didn’t even like music all that much, but that’s another story.) But she loved Johnny Cash. He had a weekly television show when I was little, and I think my mother and I watched every episode.

I remember mom telling me, “Johnny’s got guts. He’s had a hard life but he turned himself around. And he’s been to prison.” Mother would always mention prison when she mentioned Johnny.

I think about this, because I’m re-reading Johnny Cash: The Life, Robert Hilburn’s excellent biography. As much as I love books, I rarely re-read them. But something told me to pick this one up again, and I’m glad I did. It makes me think about how much my mother loved the myth of Johnny Cash as much as she loved him.

You may ask what I mean by that. The book clearly points out that Cash had a lifelong propensity for making up stories. One of the biggest myths about Cash was that he was an ex-convict. That wasn’t exactly true. He was, of course, famous for his prison concerts and for his live album from Folsom Prison. And he had been arrested a few times when he was heavily into drugs and alcohol. Even then, he was always bailed out. Still, the way he presented himself, you’d think he spent years behind bars.

Johnny didn’t live in a time when mental illness treatment was common. Still, I’m pretty sure he had some form of mental illness. Throughout his life, he battled drug and alcohol addictions. I’m certainly no psychiatrist, but God knows I’ve seen psychiatrists. Every one of them has told me that, if you really look at the reasons many people cling to drugs and alcohol, mental illness of some kind often comes up right below the surface.

So, even though he’s not an official member of my tribe, I’m making Johnny a posthumous honorary member. And somehow, his habit of making up stories makes me connect with him even more. Cash was a storyteller–in his songs and in his life. He was a creative loner who loved to tell good stories–truth be damned. He wanted to entertain. And boy, did he ever.

At the same time, he wasn’t afraid to show his pain. That was clearly demonstrated in one of the last–and best–songs he ever did: his cover of Nine Inch Nails’ Hurt.

If my mother fell for one of Cash’s myths, there was also a poignant truth that I think she connected with whenever Johnny sang. My mother had a very hard life. I certainly haven’t had it easy, either. Johnny sang especially for people like us. He didn’t just sing his songs. He felt his songs.

Like Johnny, my mother is no longer on this earth. I’m not sure I believe in a heaven. But I like to think that in some eternal way, she still listens to the Man in Black. I know I always will.

John Lennon’s timeless Christmas message

I can’t say it better than John Lennon. I’m not even going to try. I’ll just second what he says: Have a very Merry Christmas/And a Happy New Year/Let’s hope it’s a good one/Without any fear.


RIP Joe Cocker

I was so sad to learn that Joe Cocker died today. His raw, gritty voice was one of a kind. I’ll never forget watching the Woodstock documentary, and seeing and hearing this. He sings this classic with the pain and passion of someone who really needs a little help from his friends. More than I little, actually. It may be the one time that someone covered a Beatles song–and actually topped it.

Cheers to you, Joe, for your undeniable talent. And for reminding us that, to get by, we all need a little help from our friends.

Johnny Cash sings about Nasty Dan

I remember watching this on Sesame Street when I was a kid. I loved it immediately — and not just because Johnny Cash and Oscar the Grouch have always been two of my favorites. Here’s what I still love about this: it teaches an important lesson about accepting people for what they are. Something tells me Dan was just called “nasty” by people who didn’t “get” him. He probably had some type of mental illness. But he lived his life as he was, and he even found happiness on his own terms.

This was one of the great things about Johnny Cash. He never judged anyone. He was all about giving a voice to people who were too often unheard. Ah, but enough analyzing for now. Just enjoy!


Being thankful is not always easy — even on Thanksgiving


Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays. Any day that involves lots of food and football is okay in my book. (Although, the more you learn about the Thanksgiving story, what we actually did to the Indians was pretty damn awful.)

History notwithstanding, it’s nice to have a day that celebrates being thankful. But just because it’s nice, that doesn’t mean it’s easy — especially for many people like myself, who manage mental illness. Sometimes, we have to force ourselves to be thankful, and it’s not just because someone is BOUND to say something stupid or insensitive to us at the dinner table. For us, the “good” neurons just don’t fire up as quickly as they do for others. Thus, being grateful often takes a lot of work.

Of course, it’s worth the effort. And right here, I’m making the effort myself. This Thanksgiving, here are 5 things I’m grateful for.

My family and friends — especially those who take me as I am, and not necessarily who they want me to be.

My doctors — I actually like them, even the one or two who are tough on me. They tell me what I need to hear, even if I don’t want to hear it.

This blog — almost more than anything, my decision to start this blog has helped me come to terms with my depression and anxiety. I hope it helps you, too.

Books — I’m a writer. How could I not be thankful for my books? I’ve read some great ones this year, including Michael Chabon’s “Telegraph Avenue” and Rachel Kushner’s “The Flamethrowers.”

ALL of Bob Dylan’s Basement Tapes are FINALLY out — Dylan + The Band = pure bliss.

I’m sure I could think of others, but I’m also thankful for the general knowledge that blog posts really shouldn’t be too long.

What are you thankful for this Thanksgiving? Let me know. And Happy Turkey Day!


My favorite songs: Conor Oberst’s Zigzagging Toward the Light

Zigzagging Toward the Light — that sums up my journey this year. Lots of ups and downs. And even though it can be tough getting to the light, I know it’s there.

When I listen to Conor Oberst, I feel as though he knows me. This song comes from his latest CD, “Upsidedown Mountain.” The whole CD is amazing, but this is the song that gets me every time. This is for all of us who are, in ways large and small, zigzagging toward the light.

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