People ask me why I remain devoted to rock/blues/rap/soul music. You can see it in their eyes, even if they don’t ask, that they wonder why an almost 60-year-old man would still be so wrapped up in things that are so flimsy and childish (to them). I have spent most of my career trying to articulate the reasons. This morning I read an email from a friend, who lays it all out with extreme clarity. Granted, this is in some respects a singular story and certainly an example of lousy shrink/great patient. (“Intact” must be jargon. Nobody who is at all informed about this issue could think that anyone who has been abused is “intact” psychologically. But professionals insulate themselves from their own emotions by pretending otherwise.) Abuse isn’t the only reason that I—or my friend—love the music. But it is a huge part of why we regard the music as something that has saved our lives in the truest sense.
I want to say this again, now, because I think there is a storm coming that will include more witch-hunts against hip-hop and maybe metal, especially with a Presidential administration run by someone associated with the Oprah Winfrey wing of punitive cultural criticism. I will join the fray again, on the side of free speech, and for as long as I am able. I hope people who read it will learn to think in the same terms. For every kid who needs what the email calls the “bridge,” we need to support this culture, no matter how off-track it may become in other ways. Somebody is surviving because of this and giving the worst parents an excuse to take it away (or for that matter, indulge in further abuse because of it) is unacceptable. Period.
This shrink that deals with the cardiology patients asked me what I do to alleviate my stress. I told him, "Get out on the road. I get away from all this, and just get out on Route 66, Arizona, New Mexico. Just get me out on that road. Everything else is secondary. I don't feel any stress out there." I added that I can only go so often, due to finances and time. But that is the thing that alleviates my stress more than anything else in the world.
Then he started asking me a lot of questions about my fucked-up childhood, and he asked me a lot of questions about how I could have survived all that.
He kept saying, "There must have been some significant person that cared about you as a child. Statistically, that is the only way abused kids come out of that intact."
I kept insisting to him that there was no such person. I never connected with any of my teachers as a kid. My grandmother on my dad's side cared about me, but she died of a heart attack when she was fairly young, when I was like 5 or 6 years old. And that was the end of anything with me and any grandparents.
The shrink kept saying, "There had to have been someone." He was looking for some significant bonding person with me who got me through it. I kept telling him there *was* no one.
I told him about when the cops came over, and how they did nothing.
No one ever did anything.
I said, "If I had grown up in the '90's or in this decade, I would have been removed from the home. Back then, no one did anything about this stuff."
When he finally accepted that I was a weird statistic, that despite what all the psychology books claim, I did *not* have a significant person in my life who cared about me, he was at a loss. (You are supposed to have at least one significant other that really cared about you for you to not end up as ultra-permanently damaged goods, beyond repair.)
I decided to just put it on the line at this point, because I had already told him enough examples of the horrendous abuse I suffered as a kid.
He seemed a bit dazed and stunned when I finally said, "Look. I didn't have a significant person. This is how I survived. It was my albums. It was my Rolling Stones albums, my Jimi Hendrix records, my Bob Dylan albums, Marvin Gaye, Zeppelin, Yardbirds, and whatever else I had. I listened to those albums over and over, and because of them, I knew there was some other world out there, other than the hell I was living in. I knew from listening to those albums there were people that existed out there, that did not have the warped values my parents had. And I was going to find those people one day. There was no doubt in my mind. Listening to those albums, I knew there was some better place, and one day I would be a part of it---away from all this. It wasn't like I was hoping, it was something I knew. There was no choice involved. One day, I would be out of that hell, and I would be in some other world, and that would be wherever that music came from. I listened to music constantly. Music was not my escape. It was my bridge."
I told him, "It got me out of there, mentally. It individuated me from my parents. That is what got me the fuck out of there, that is what made me not end up like my little brother, who became bonded to the violence, and who could never stand up to my parents, and who could never individuate from them."
I said, "Any guidance I ever got as far as coping came from those albums. That music was my significant person." I then quoted the lyrics from "Jumping Jack Flash" :
I was raised by a toothless, bearded hag
I was schooled with a strap right across my back
But it's all right now, in fact, it's a gas!
But it's all right
I'm Jumpin' Jack Flash, it's a gas!
I said, "If that is not about survival, I don't know what is."
He had this really stunned silence.
Then he said he was entirely appalled by what he was hearing from me about my parents, and that he found it to be very disturbing. He then told me that when he ran the monitor on me to measure my stress and how it effects my heart (I forget the name of the equipment or the name of the test), when I was talking about the abuse I endured from my parents, that I did not react very much physiologically, which he found really surprising.
I said, "Because it is just a matter of fact. Just like this wall here is white, or that the sky is blue, it is a matter of fact that I was abused to the point where someone should have removed me from that home."
He said that my stress level on the heart thing when I talked about my parents not having major variations in it means I am "coping" with what I had been through, and he said it is surprising given how bad the incidents I told him were.
He said most people would have had a far greater physiological reaction talking about things like that.
He then told me I am "extremely gifted and talented." I don't know where he got that from.
To my surprise, he told me I don't even need to come back to see him again. He said, "You have your survival skills as far as dealing with it. You know how to deal with what you have been through."