Music saved my life.

Hello from my living room couch.

Today … I have a piece of personal history I want to tell you.
And then I have a really cool story from this past week to tell you.
Both of which connect to the supernatural, evergreen, life-saving power of … music.

So … with that preview in mind, come on into the forest of memory with me, and let’s start with a stroll through a little ancient history.

A week or so ago …

I had an experience in which I remembered with visceral clarity a moment from my life many, many years ago — practically another lifetime ago — in which I was lying on a different couch, in the living room of a previous place I lived as a young adult.

In the memory, I’d been lying there for a long time, looking up through the picture window above the sofa, toward the gnarled and reaching branches of the California oak that lived just outside. Trying to believe with all my heart that maybe it held the answers to the aching, unpronounceable questions that roiled in my body and mind. 

That moment lives inside a time in my history that was one of the lowest of my life. A time of deep isolation. Of utter aloneness. Of desperation and sadness. Of powerlessness, hopelessness.

Who here knows what I mean?

Fast forward from that memory — through time and space — to a couple of weeks ago, when Jamie and I finally tackled the last unpacked boxes we’d kept in our basement since we moved to Washington almost 2 years ago.

In one of the storage bins, I found a treasure: a stack of journals — specifically, songwriting journals starting from the period of time in which I would spend my afternoons staring up at that oak tree, and into the couple of years just after.

I flipped through a few pages. Words I’d written in pencil all those years ago snagged at my heart as I read, ripping open a forgotten reality, and I had to sit down. Page after page was filled with the unguarded, unfiltered outpouring of the contents of my dark night of the soul.

And here I am … alive to read them.

My living memory of that time of my life is often hazy, dark, blurry — like a dream I can’t quite remember in the morning. I imagine that might be how our brains sometimes deal with our hardest experiences. But in these journals, I have a record of how I found my way to the other side of it. From then to now. From there to here. It turns out that I made a map:

Word by honest word, note by yearning note,
I wrote and wrote and wrote,
I pounded the piano and opened my mouth to sing it all out loud,

… and music … saved my life.

Just 5 days ago …

Jamie and I had the incredible privilege of delivering a gift that our community — by which I mean many of you — joined us in giving to HOST, a transitional center for unhoused youth in Salem, Oregon.

HOST stands for Health / Outreach / Shelter / Transitions. They provide transitional housing and drop-in services for homeless youth aged 18-25. We got to play a concert for them in September — it was a “Gift of Music” concert, thanks to the generous sponsorship of one of our supporters during last spring’s “Revolutionary Acts of Optimism” fundraiser. (Thank you, WendyMae!)

The day we spent with them made an impression on us both. Here’s a photo, followed by what Jamie wrote about it at the time:

“So Shannon and I had a pretty mind-blowing and eye-opening day today. It was an emotionally intense and at times almost overwhelming experience, in a very positive way. I was struck by several things.

First: almost every kid we met was gay or bi or trans, and had been kicked out of their house as a teenager by their family once they discovered it. I mean this is the story for like 85% of the kids we met today. This is so deeply wild and alarming to me. I know LGBTQ kids have a rough go of it. But the raw percentages were staggering to me. Granted, this was just one sample, and not representative of the overall youth homeless population. It was still a gut-punch.

Second: the level of trauma and raw vulnerability was so nakedly apparent, and yet these kids were SO POSITIVE. They were still kids! And this is their safe space, and it was a special event with special food and the first time they’d had someone come play music for them. (Imagine having Shannon be the first in-house music experience. That’s setting the bar unreasonably high 😂.) The human spirit is resilient. It’s so encouraging. Even with all they’ve been through, they wanted to connect. It was magical and deeply humbling.

The services that HOST provides for these kids are extraordinary. There’s temporary and transitional housing. There’s education assistance. There’s counseling. There’s a work and volunteering requirement for residents. You can sign up for shower and laundry time. They feed them meals. There’s a music room with some donated guitars and a donated keyboard. A number of the kids we met have musical talent and spend a lot of time in that music room.

And I have an idea for the music room …”

Which brings us to the reason we went back to HOST this week.

Jamie’s big idea was, “What if we crowd-sourced the funds to get these kids a computer and recording interface so they can make recordings of their music?”

He put the word out on Facebook, hoping that he could raise $700 to put together a basic recording setup for them. Well … y’all showed up in a big way, and within a week we’d collected $1600.

So Jamie went shopping. And we got in the car and headed down to Salem on Monday. Here’s Jamie again:

“We installed the new recording studio at the unhoused youth transitional center yesterday!! 😃

Thank you SO MUCH to everyone who contributed to this project. My initial hope was to crowdsource enough to get a used computer and maybe a cheap audio interface. Because of the generosity of our amazing community (that’s you!), I was able to execute a much bigger version of this dream. Here’s what we installed today at this amazing miracle of a facility in Salem, Oregon:

– a good used iMac, running GarageBand
– a great-sounding midrange audio interface
– a pair of legitimately good studio speakers
– 4 microphones
– 3 microphone stands
– top-quality studio headphones
– good-quality cabling for everything

You could make a good-sounding record on this setup. It’s legit. It’s wildly exciting to be able to gift something this nice to a community of kids who have so little.”

“And, really, we did this first and foremost for the kid pictured here. His name is Simon, and it was clear when we met him in September that a) he has a ton of musical recording-related ideas and b) is very very smart. He’s also quiet and shy and reclusive, which is his response to having seen more trauma by age 19 than most of us see in our lifetimes.

And it was my thought that perhaps, if he had a way to make the musical recording ideas in his head real, and not only that but could also be in charge of teaching other kids who come through the center how to record *their* musical ideas, it could be enormously empowering for him. Perhaps transformationally so. And also for the other kids involved. Win/win, in the best-case scenario.

So I spent the afternoon teaching him GarageBand, and how to program drums, and how audio processing works, and how to use an audio interface, and how to record with microphones, and also how to coil cables properly and shut everything down in the proper sequence and navigate a Mac. All the random minutiae of running the little tiny recording studio that he now has at his disposal.

And now we’ll see what he does with it! And what he teaches the other kids to do. We’ve given this as a gift from all of you to him and to his peers and to HOST with an open hand and no expectations. It might go nowhere. But also it might help save his life. I dunno. I’m hoping for the latter. We’ll see. I know that music saved my life when I was transitioning out of my homeless period. There’s precedent.

Thank you so much, Shanta Frisbee, for facilitating this, for being our dear friend, and for the amazing work you’re doing at HOST. It’s so needed. ❤️

And thank you again to everyone reading this for helping make this happen. Our community is magical and we’re very very grateful for you. ❤️😊”

So. That’s what’s on my mind today, on my couch, in my living room, in a life in which I’m grateful to be living every. dang. day.

Thanks so much for letting me share it with you. And as always, thank you so much for being such a meaningful part of our lives and the work that we do. 

Love and life — shannon