When I was a kid, I wanted to live with gorillas in the Congo. I used to watch documentaries on Africa and dream about the rainforest. I told people that I was going to be a veterinarian when I grew up, but instead, I became a musician. My dad worked construction, and my mom was a teacher. I had two siblings, and more pets than I can remember.
In the evenings, my dad would play his trumpet, and then my mom would read aloud to us. Life was pretty good. We lived across the street from a park, and did all of the normal things that people do, but every once in a while, our family would be visited by a sort of devil...
Somewhere in my dad's head, there was a bad gene at work, and it made him think he was getting secret messages from God or The Devil. Most of the time, he was healthy and rational, but once in a while, his mania would take over.
My mom called it an "episode", because that sounded better than saying her husband had gone crazy. It was easier to say aloud to other people when it sounded nice like that. But the truth is, my dad suffered from a crippling disorder.
One time he flooded the whole house with "holy water" by letting the upstairs bathtub overflow. Then, he re-wrote The Lord's Prayer and walked around town passing out copies of his revisions. One lady at my dentist's office still has it pinned up on the wall in her office. She says it's "pretty".
This other time, he dumped our pet fish onto the floor. And while they were flopping around, he crushed them under foot, proclaiming that "the Lord gave life, and the Lord hath taken it away!".
It's not something I like to admit, but I had a hard time processing all of this as a kid. I ended up isolating myself, and turned to music for comfort. I think it reminded me of the best in my dad, of all those evenings listening to him play the trumpet. And besides that, it was just something I was somewhat good at.
By age five, I won a regional songwriting contest, and by twelve I was the concertmaster of our local youth orchestra. I played the trumpet with my school's band, violin in a separate ensemble, and then guitar with my friends in the evening.
It got to the point where I'd stay out all night at a local recording studio, and then I'd sleep most of the day at school. My teachers complained that I was unmotivated, but the truth is, I was just focusing intently on something else.
At sixteen, I can remember sitting in an English class and hearing a train whistle blow in the distance. I wanted so badly to be on that train, to be going somewhere else. So, the next day, I decided to test out of school and embarked on an improvised tour.
Nobody knew who I was. I just drove across the country, playing in parks and on street corners. I started selling copies of my home recordings, Nine Sleepless Nights, and the buzz from that began to attract some industry attention.
On my 18th birthday, I signed a recording contract worth over a million dollars, and for the first time in my life, I felt like I was in the right place. I got to tour with some of my heroes and travel the world. MTV shot a video series about my life, and I was invited to perform at a few national music festivals. I moved to LA, recorded The Album, and saw it released in stores around the world. All of my dreams were coming true...
Then, everything changed in an instant. My manager told me over the phone that I'd been dropped from the label, and he never called again. Nobody else I had been working with even bothered to say goodbye. This was the first place I had ever felt like I truly belonged, and being tossed aside like that, it truly broke my heart.
I lost direction and fell into a rut. When I went home, my girlfriend had moved on with her own life. My parents split up, and all of my friends were starting careers and moving away. I turned to drugs, and before long, that same devil came knocking, but this time, he wanted to speak with me directly.
All my life I had known it might happen. The doctors said it was a genetic condition, passed down from my father and triggered by stress. They offered medication, but I turned to music, instead. I wanted to face it on my own…
I spent several years backpacking, soul searching, and despite my best efforts, suffering. I went through a phase where I thought I could read minds. Then, there was this imaginary man, with a big black hat, who followed me around for almost a year. I went to the hospital more times than I can remember, certain that I was dying, only to be told it was all in my head.
I've been learning to accept these uncomfortable feelings. It has forced me to humble myself, and has allowed me to empathize more deeply with others. There is a balance in the turmoil, and it's a line that I'm learning to walk.
There's more that I'd like to say, but I'll save that for another time. It's difficult to look back on life and make sense of the most important bits and pieces. When I look at myself in the mirror today, I still see a kid who wants to live with gorillas in the Congo, and yet, so much else has changed.
I recently went back to school, and I'm currently studying electrical engineering at Stanford University. I don't have any time for music at the moment, but I hope to someday get back to it. Thanks for taking the time to read about me, and thanks most especially for listening to my music.