A couple of months ago I met a new friend and he told me his story. One of the things I was captured by was when he said this, “Music, has been that one thing. That one thing that has been in my life no matter where I was. The one thing that showed up for me through it all.” I could relate to this and could think of numerous people who feel the same. No matter how many ups and downs you have, no matter what path your journey takes, for people like us music always seems to be there. What a comfort, to have something that is always there when so much of life is about letting go and change.
This conversation stuck with me and I carried it into my personal life and work. It empowered me to continue showing up for music and to bring it to others. I had a sense that people today really need a reminder that they have one thing out there that can ease the strain of this complex human life. People also need reminded that they are not alone, because there are many people out there who turn to music as their one thing. Music connects us, whether we play it in a group, go to listen to a concert with hundreds of other people or just identify with each other’s experience of having that intimate one on one time playing your instrument or listening to your favorite album.
During the last music therapy group in the schools this year, I had a high school student tell me something I will never forget. This student is gifted academically, highly creative, and full of potential. She really shines. She also has PTSD and other disorders that trigger depression and suicidal thoughts. On the last day of class she said, “I once heard someone say that the best way you can keep from killing yourself is COMMITMENT.” She went on to tell us that she felt that coming to music therapy group each week gave her something to be committed to, and that this kept her from taking her life. She also knew that people counted on her being there, because she was a part of a group and she knew people would miss her if she wasn’t there.
This bold statement stopped me in my tracks and magnified the importance of music therapy. And it tied into what my friend had talked to me about a couple of months ago. I wondered if he had ever been suicidal, if his life had ever been saved because music kept showing up, to remind him to do the same.
This topic is at the heart of why I do what I do, and I knew that I wanted to share it in this month’s column. And then, as I began to piece together how to write it, Chris Cornell died. Chris Cornell was well known for his piercing voice and fluid lyrics. He was a leader in the grunge scene and sang with the band Soundgarden and later on Audioslave. He was an amazing songwriter and performer and for me was so important. His music was my one thing many, many times.
When I found out he died I was hit on such a deep level. I was surprised at how much loss I felt, I couldn’t stop crying. I wasn’t the biggest fan of Chris Cornell ever, I never had a chance to see him live. But the loss I felt was real.
A few hours later, reports started coming that his death was a suicide. There are many theories are out there, and probably many more by the time this article goes into print, but none of this changes the feeling of losing a great influence in your life. And there is a gut wrenching feeling of knowing someone was suffering so badly and maybe had no idea that they were not alone.
Throughout his life Chris Cornell experienced drug addiction, deep depression and anxiety. You could hear it in his voice, you could see it in his lyrics. And he wasn’t alone. Why do you think people loved his music so much? They could relate, they could feel that he was expressing something maybe they couldn’t.
Throughout his life Chris Cornell experienced beauty, love, family, fame and joy I am sure of it. And he wasn’t alone. Some of his songs were so sweet and beautiful, just as moving as the deep and dark ones. He was a beautiful expression of this up and down world that we live in. He felt it to the fullest and expressed it. His fans could all share in that with him.
And now he continues to speak to thousands of us through his tragic event. People are talking, people are questioning the overuse and misuse of pharmaceuticals. People are having real discussions about the isolation of depression and the intensity of anxiety.
I personally am so grateful to him for taking his rich emotional life and combining it with his talents as an amazing singer to give us music that expresses the reality that so many share.
As I wrap up this article, I still have so much to say. I think about my favorite song ‘Show Me How To Live’ A cry out to our creator to help us know how to be here in this world. Singing this along with Chris Cornell in my car has been something I can count on. It’s my ‘one thing’ when I feel like I have no idea how to get by to the next moment. For that I am forever grateful.
If you are experiencing difficult times and have come to the end of your rope, please reach out. 1-800-273-8255 is the National Suicide Prevention line, you can even chat online. There is always someone out there to help, and there is always music. Find your one thing. And live for it!