Music Saves my Mortal Soul

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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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Review: ‘Prayers for the Damned’ Sixx AM

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The opinions expressed below are mine and mine alone.–LKD

I love music. I can’t even fathom a day without music. I believe that music (like all art) either touches you, or it doesn’t. I’m no longer the kind of person who will say that music that I don’t personally care for sucks. (I did in my 20s, but me in my 20s was rather judgmental. what can i say.) I am a rock fan–typically leaning towards alternative or songs heavy metal tinge. I ‘discovered’ Sixx AM after reading Nikki Sixx’s book “The Heroin Diaries” and began listening to his radio show Sixx Sense. I bought the book several years before I read it, scared to read what I knew would be a horrible, terrible, honest description of life as a heroin addict. My brother is a heroin addict and I wanted to read this to gain an understanding. When I did finally screw up the courage to read it, I read it in 2 days, 2 days of crying and searing pain for me. But it has helped me heal as well. Then I bought the album “The Heroin Diaries”. And then I was hooked on Sixx AM.

I really like ‘Prayers for the Damned’. I think that overall this is Sixx AM’s best total work. Nikki Sixx, James Michael, and DJ Ashba are gelling nicely as artists together and putting out high quality melodic rock with lyrics that are insightful. (Disclaimer: I was a so-so fan of Motley Crue–always loved the music but never the lyrics. Sorry Nikki.) ‘Prayers for the Damned’ begins with the single ‘Rise’ which is definitely the most radio-friendly song on the album. This is a fist-pumping get-you-going kind of song and sets an expectation that the album will be filled with Sixx AM’s signature hard-charging rock with positive energy. This expectation does not really come to fruition–the next several songs are fairly dark, setting up a relationship but with an undertone of impending doom due to personal demon wrestling. I have issues with “I’m Sick”–not lyrically, but for the section where the singing stops and the talk/rap?/sing section starts. I hit the next button almost every time. Just doesn’t do it for me. My first few times through “Can’t Stop” were difficult as well–the frenetic sound and pace were stressful. Then I realized that was intentional and was able to listen more closely. Overall, the first six songs are good, solid entries.

The tone shifts further into the darkness with “When We Were Gods” and “Belly of the Beast”. Nikki Sixx answered a tweet about ‘Gods’ saying it was a love song. OK. I can see that. But it is a wistful, reminiscing of love, not a current celebration. And then ‘Beast’ comes along and we are wrestling demons full-on and simultaneously facing betrayal. Ouch.

In my opinion, the great thing about rock–and what separates it from pop–is the rawness–the unpolished emotion and energy. Sixx AM is at their best when they allow that raw energy to stay raw. Nikki Sixx’s driving bass line coupled with Dustin Steinke’s drums anchor several songs on this album (which is definitely an album to be listened to front to back–you can hear the storyline arcing throughout). Raw and real are songs 9 and 10 — ‘Everything Went to Hell’ and ‘The Last Time’- respectively. The righteous anger in ‘Everything’ snarls in brutal lyrics “I watched you fucking him, Right then your life was over, Thought you were heaven sent, then everything went to hell. I watched you take him then (note: I originally thought this said take him in, which is more graphic, but I think more suitable to the nastiness of this song) and I just stood there frozen, You killed what could have been, Then Everything Went To Hell”. Who but the most callous and jaded amongst us could fail to feel that? (side note: I am dying to know if the telephone message played was real — can you imagine having your begging displayed for the world? Or the sweet taste of such a public revenge?)  Determination and grit mark “The Last Time” as Michael vows “I’ve been broken, I’ve been beaten down, this is the last time my heart will ever hit the ground”. To me, this is the triumph, the phoenix rising from the ashes. That line is the Rise promised in song one. I desperately wanted ‘Rise of the Melancholy Empire’–the last song–to be a triumphal slash in the face of a horribly failed relationship, but it just misses. I think it is too produced, too much of the naked, exposed humanity polished. I wanted it to be either a giant middle finger extended at the world for another betrayal or a quiet strength and certainty facing down yet another maelstrom. ‘Rise of the Melancholy Empire’ tries to be both, I think, and manages neither.

Buy this album. Buy every Sixx AM album. This band is on a journey and it is musically documented splendidly. To date, their best song is “Skin” on 2011’s “This is Gonna Hurt”. This is a song that perfectly encapsulates raw emotion and showcases the best of what Sixx AM can offer. Prayers for the Damned is to be the first of two albums released this year–I have not yet seen a release date for album 2, and the band has an intense tour schedule. I hope that they resist the urge to polish their musical gems too much, just let their edges and imperfections shine.