Singing My Own Song: Using Music as Therapy

  • Music has always been a passion second only to writing for me. As a kid growing up in the 1970s, I listened to the AM radio, and later on, rock-n-roll. In college, I was a disc jockey at WSIA, 88.9 FM. My favorite bands were Sonic Youth, the Replacements, and Siouxsie and the Banshees.


    As the schizophrenia slowly took over my brain, I listened to weirder music. On my radio show I dipped into the gloom: bands like Of a Mesh, Honeymoon Killers and Sleep Chamber. After I graduated with a BA in English, I had my breakdown. This was the day the music stopped. I couldn't go back to the way things were before.

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    At the second day program I attended, we had music therapy sessions, and my favorite instrument was the tambourine; it jangled and drowned out the symptoms.


    When I was in my 20s, I loved to drive down the highway in my Mustang, listening to the FM radio. The Tom Cochrane song said it all, "Life is a highway/I want to ride it all night long." Google "tom cochrane lyrics life is a highway" and you'll see how beautiful the words are.


    In the 1990s, I'd go to rock concerts with a friend. It was a time when nothing much was going on. I revolved in and out of insurance broker jobs, taking temp work in offices to hold me over while I was unemployed. Music was the soundtrack that kept me sane.


    When I first moved to my 3rd floor walk-up, I'd stay up late on Saturday nights, listening to modern rock at 106.3 FM. That was the time when I was on only 5 mgs. of Stelazine, nothing more, and I'd break night. I don't recommend you do this.


    Today I have an iPod that I listen to traveling on the trains and buses to drown out my worry. I downloaded iTunes to my computer. I recommend that if you have a computer, you install iTunes-hundreds of free radio stations that broadcast anything from classical to reggae, hip-hop to top 40. I like Zeilsteen radio-Nederland Dutch Holland music, and KMHD-jazz, blues and American roots.


    I remember in the 1980s a woman took Judas Priest to court because she claimed their music influenced her son to commit suicide. I know that the sicker I was, the stranger the music. Now my life and lyrics are a pop tune.


    When I go to the poetry reading once a month, I dip into Bleecker Street records and am compelled to buy one CD, just one. Next week, I'm going to get the new Siouxsie CD, MantaRay. She has a song on it called, "If It Doesn't Kill You." The lyrics: "If it doesn't kill you, it will shape you. If it doesn't break you, it will make you." My thoughts on the schizophrenia exactly.


    "Oh, What a Song Can Do" boasts the title of a book. The liner notes accompanying my life would give testament to the truth: as my first therapist, Angelo, noted, the reason I didn't get sick any sooner was because I was a disc jockey: doing something I loved that gave me joy. I sublimated through music my feelings of alienation and not fitting into the mainstream.


    My memoir is titled "Left of the Dial" because this expression relates to radio stations broadcast below the commercial airwaves. In some ways, I still live my life left of the dial. I could make more money working in a law firm library, but I chose, eight years ago, to become a public service librarian. It is like I am on stage, giving a performance every day. I'll talk shortly in a blog entry about the work I do and how it healed me, and why I think working in a library is a great job for people who have schizophrenia.


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    Katharine Hepburn had a quote on her refrigerator that said, "Listen to the Song of Life." I urge you to do this. No matter how hard life gets, it's always worth living. Music can guide us through.

Published On: March 04, 2008