Music Saves my Mortal Soul


Last night, I went to a concert. Not just any concert, not to me. This was a concert that I had to attend. And I had to be front row. Because this was a concert with two bands whose music has literally saved me. Sixx A.M. and Shinedown.

If you are not the kind of person for whom music is vital, you will not understand this. You will think I am ‘silly’ or possibly ‘crazy’. We have a fundamental, possibly insurmountable, difference. I am a person for whom the lyrics to a song are chronicles of life. If I cannot connect lyrically to a song, it will not speak to me. I may enjoy the music–the chords, the bass line, the rhythm–but the song will not become a part of me.

I got turned on to Sixx AM about four years ago. I had purchased Nikki Sixx’s book “The Heroin Diaries” a few years before that, but it had taken me that much time to work up the nerve to read it. I knew it would knock me back emotionally and I didn’t read it until I felt emotionally capable of handling it. When I did read it, I read it straight through without stopping, sobbing and screaming the whole way through. I’m sure my neighbors at the time thought I was crazy. I have a brother who is a heroin addict, and who has been for over 20 years. I detoxed him twice. There really are no words to express this horror. Nikki does a good job of exposing the depths of living as an addict. It has helped me come to terms with my brother–to understanding that he will literally do anything when he’s in an active addiction. I can’t help him. He’s got to do it alone. Plus, I have my own demons to fight.

Anyways, after I read ‘Heroin Diaries’ I bought the album. And fell in love with the intelligent, thoughtful, hopeful lyrics accompanied by a driving bass line (crucial to me) and solid hard rock. Then I bought “This is Gonna Hurt” which is, in my opinion, one of the best albums of all time. I can, and do, listen to this album on repeat.  I bought ‘Modern Vintage’ and ‘Prayers for the Damned’ the days they came out. ‘Modern Vintage’ is musically diverse and compositionally complex, but not my favorite. ‘Prayers for the Damned’ is flat-out excellent.

The lyrics on all of Sixx AM’s and all of Shinedown’s albums hit me in the gut. They speak to me viscerally. I have wrestled with major depression for over 15 years. I have been nonmedicated, undermedicated, incorrectly medicated, and (with any luck) properly medicated. I have suffered a traumatic brain injury after a fall off of a roof, landing on my head. Lyrics such as “I’m on the front line, don’t worry I’ll be fine, my story is just beginning…. I say goodbye to my weakness, so long to the regrets, and now I know that I’m alive” (Shinedown, “Diamond Eyes”) enter my brain and wriggle down to my heart, bolstering the spark of desire to keep going. When Shinedown sang “Fly From the Inside” last night, I cried. This song is one I played on repeat one night, one really bad night when I wished I could just go to sleep and never wake up again. This song, these lyrics, focusing on what’s next, the next open chapter, and learning to fly found inside me what I needed most at that moment. An ember, nearly out, an ember that warmed instead of cooled. Because of this band, this song, these words. brentsmith

Sixx AM has had the same effect on me. Songs that understand the dark, secret places nobody wants to acknowledge while simultaneously focusing on the hope of another day, the joy of finding a way out, the beauty of an act of kindness, or a smile, or a thank you. The first song of theirs that brought tears to my eyes was “Permission” off of ‘The Heroin Diaries’. ‘All of my devils are free at last, and all of my secrets revealed. And your permission is all I need to heal’. Gut-wrenching. Truth. In my case, the permission needed was from myself, and from my children.

And then I heard ‘Are you With Me?’ and everything changed for me. ‘Are you with me now, come back from the dead, you’ve been inside your head for too long. Are you with me now? Find the places that scare you, come on I dare you!’ This vocalized my reality. I was stuck inside my own head. I wasn’t living. How long had I been dead? How long? At least a decade. This song, these lyrics, opened a window in my soul allowing in more light, more air. Would I still struggle? Of course. Every. Damn. Day. But I was taking positive action. Gaining determination. Losing doubt. Losing fear.

On the same album, ‘Oh My God’ reminded me that the best way to feel better about yourself is to help others. ‘Oh my God, this is insane, how did it get like this, or has it always been this way?’ are words I have literally said over the years delving into seemingly unsolvable problems. I began sorting out what matters to me, what do I care about, what makes my blood boil that i want to tackle? Can I make a difference? Can I make a small dent in a huge problem? Can I help even one person–because helping one person may not change the world, but it is the world to that one person. I can. I can!

The latest Sixx AM album has several amazing, fighting songs that I have taken on as personal anthems. ‘Rise’ reminds me to keep going. ‘The Last Time’ strengthens my resolve to move forward, unguarded, walls down, open and aware. And that no matter what negative voices in my head tell me, I Was The Innocent. ‘Everything Went to Hell’ cuts me open, as one of the lines says, and is an unflinching reminder of the brutal way my marriage ended. (See my post on what would have been my 26th anniversary for more detail).

For all of these reasons, I had to be at the show last night. I needed to be there. I needed to look in the eyes of the men who created these songs, these words, these poems of my life without knowing they were doing so. And I did. I was on the front row, the rail. James Michael looked me in the eyes as I sang along with him, singing and dancing and releasing the pain, the past. Never before at a big concert like this have I felt so compelled to be there, to be at the rail. When I bought the ticket, I gave up coffee for several weeks in order to afford it (those who know me will understand this sacrifice–perhaps James Michael will as well, he seems to be a fellow coffee addict!!). My friend Megan and I arrived at the Tacoma Dome at 6:30 am to ensure that we were first. People said we were crazy. No. For both of us, this was a concert of vital importance on a personal level. Sixx AM and Shinedown delivered. With strength, beauty, and a powerful positive energy I value beyond measure.

Long live the day that I decided to fly.I am with me now. I am Rising. Because rock music reminded me of my inner strength.


**cover photo by M. Counts. Photo of Brent Smith by the author.



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