Author: Daniel, Bert

Just Like You

I always feel a little funny when I try to introduce a less familiar tune to a jam session. Maybe the session has been going along just fine. We're playing the old jam "war horses". They never get old no matter how many times we play them. But a good jam has a mix and hopefully includes at least one new tune where you have to stretch a bit musically. You definitely don't want a new song that is so alien in its format or chord structure that you just pass when it's your time to take a break or sing harmony. Some song that you may have not heard for a long time but don't remember ever having tried to play might be just right.

Hot Rize has been one of my favorite bands for a long time, so I figured I'd test out one of their songs at a few recent jams. My experiment turned out OK. Many people were very familiar with the song and loved it. They welcomed the opportunity to perform it in a jam setting. A few didn't know the song but every one of those people said they really liked it once they heard it. Like all great songs, this song really speaks to a lot of people and I find that out every time I sing it:

Hector Brown lives on a farm, he's been a farmer all his life
But he had to slow down when his heart broke down and he went under a surgeon's knife
The four kids that he raised, they live so far from home
Since his wife died last December, Hector's all alone

And If you don't think an old man
Can feel alone and blue
Let me tell you my friend
He's just like you

What we have here is a song written about the worst illness I know of: depression. Why would anybody like a song like that? If you've really got it bad, depression is far worse than any other disease out there. While you're sick, you are worse off than if you had cancer or AIDS or Alzheimer's. You might live longer but you don't even want to. What could be more miserable than being miserable?

Let me tell you my friend, I know this disease all too well. That's because my 9-5 job is as a physician at a primary care clinic. I see this disease almost every day. You do too whether you realize it or not. During our lifetimes, at least a sixth of us will suffer from this illness. And during any twelve month period, 2% of us will be seriously depressed.

Take Hector Brown for example. I have seen this guy in my clinic plenty of times. Often he schedules an appointment for some weird reason that doesn't really make sense. That's because he's too embarrassed by the stigma that goes with having a mental illness. How many times have I missed a diagnosis of depression because I was too concerned with staying on schedule and not making the next patient wait? I don't want to think about it. Another opportunity to relieve true suffering gone by the wayside.

With a guy like Hector, sometimes you have to just drag it out of them. After a while you learn to recognize the signals of what they don't want to talk about (but they do want to talk about). Hector's whole world has been turned upside down. He has a physical job and his body is not able to cope with that any more. It would be great to pass down the family business to his younger progeny, but they've all moved away. Hector is in trouble and with the recent passing of his long time companion, statistics would say that his chance of death within the next year or two is pretty high.

I would have few options in treating this guy. Many doctors would write a prescription for an antidepressant and see how he does. If Hector actually told me all those stressors mentioned in the song, I'd say he had very good insight and would do very well with psychotherapy. If he has insurance, maybe I could get his carrier to pay for that. What would YOU do for this guy if you saw him? That question gets to the heart of why this song speaks to so many people. Let's go on:

Ethel Kline lives in the city, her landlord lives out of town
When the cold wind blows it chills her, her backache gets her down
So she reads by day and she sleeps by night, she never goes nowhere
Scarcely anybody even knows she's there

And if you don't think that old woman
Can feel alone and blue
Let me tell you my friend
She's just like you

I see Ethel in my clinic even more than I see Hector. Statistically, depression is more common in women. I honestly don't know why that is. Maybe all the depressed men are out on an alcohol binge drowning their sorrows and the women are showing up for their appointments and talking to their doctor. But showing up is a big problem for somebody who is depressed. Ethel "never goes nowhere". She's under the radar and she might suffer in silence many years before she seeks help, if she ever seeks it at all. Maybe she'll take a friend's recommendation and go to a "pain clinic" for her back. As Ethel sees it, that's her real problem. But if she gets a strong pain reliever prescribed, she may just drown her sorrows even more and never get the help she really needs.

I don't want to rewrite a good song here. There are all sorts of variations on this theme of depression. Some Ethels are traumatized by sexual abuse, some have drug addicted boyfriends, some are lonely because their sister died. It goes on and on. The point is everybody suffers ups and downs but in some lives the compounding of negative experiences tweaks the brain chemistry so much that it gets stuck in a rut and needs to be reset.

Well a good song about depression should probably end on an optimistic note. Depression is a disease that can be conquered. First let's get back to the question I asked a little while ago: What would you do for a friend who is depressed?

Well it hasn't been so very long since you were twenty one
But time moves only one way, you won't always be young
And if you don't think, when you get old that you could be alone and blue
Let me tell you my friend, you've got some thinking to do.

Think about it. Go help a friend who's having a tough time. It will be hard to do. It might even make you feel a little sad yourself but it will be worth it. That song by the way was written by Pete Wernick. I guess they don't call him "Dr. Banjo" for nothing.

Posted:  5/21/2012

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