Musician shares sad ballad of addiction with teen boys

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian social issues & neighborhoods reporter

Published:

Updated: May 2, 2011, 9:00 PM

 
photoA teen boy from Daybreak drug rehab facility listens to Lisa Mann, a local blues singer, who shared her stories with the group.

(/The Columbian)

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Sobriety with Soul

Singing the blues can be tough when, on the inside, you don’t feel a thing.

Lisa Mann said she spent years that way — playing music for pay and not really caring about it. A bass player since age 11, she was gigging by her teen years — playing in the band, regurgitating punk or rock or top-40 pop or whatever style was bringing in the fans.

“I would have ideas, too,” she said. “I wanted to make my own record. I wanted to have my own band. But I never finished anything. I couldn’t finish writing a song. I couldn’t get it together.”

Why not? Alcohol and drugs. They dulled her focus, clouded her mind, dampened her ambition. “When I was drinking and using, I would think, ‘Someday, I’m gonna do this,’” she said. “‘Someday I’m gonna have my own band, make my own records. When the conditions are right.’”

Conditions never were right, of course, until Mann made them right.

“Put the plug in the jug,” she said. “That’s when I started feeling a lot of strong emotions. And I had to do something with them.” That’s the blues, she said: the sadness, frustration and anger you must let fly — because it’s all so real.

Mann brought those blues, in words and music, to Daybreak Youth Services, a secure Vancouver addiction treatment facility for teen boys, on April 20. Accompanying herself on the six-string electric bass, she launched into “Someday,” a catchy, original anthem of empowerment and hope — or is it a tease about putting off life’s hard work?

“Someday, I’m gonna get it together, gonna get my life on the line / Someday I’m gonna make it better, gonna make the best of my time,” Mann sang in a strong, clear voice. “One of these days I’m gonna wake every morning and get on my knees and pray / Someday I’m gonna live my life, I’m gonna live my life someday.”

With a little coaxing, a 15-year-old named Cory submitted his own lyrics to her tune: “Someday I’m gonna be so numb I’ll feel no pain. Inhale so many chemicals I’ll have no brain. F--- this life, I’m done I mean. Right now it’s time to get clean.”

“You write from the heart, man, hope you keep it up,” Mann told him.

She will perform with her band at a dinner-auction fundraiser for Daybreak that’s set for 4:30 p.m. Saturday at the Heathman Lodge. Tickets are $75; call 360-635-4120 or visit http://www.daybreakinfo.org to learn more.

‘That first drink’

Mann started getting into booze at the tender age of 8.

“I’d let myself in the house from school,” she said. “I would raid my parents’ cabinet and watch “Gilligan’s Island.” That was my entertainment as an 8-year-old.”

That early chapter of substance abuse lasted for about a decade, she said. Then, at 19, she managed to sober up. It was partly thanks to a boyfriend whose father was a substance abuse counselor — and partly because her own older sister was even more out of control than she was.

“I never got into a lot of trouble. My sister did a lot of the getting in trouble for me. It was like, ‘Now I know what not to do,’” she said.

That sister ran away from home multiple times, she said, and wound up in substance abuse treatment. It helped Mann see there was a better way to live — but it also pulled the spotlight off of her.

“There were no consequences for me. My addiction didn’t get the attention it deserved,” she said. That may be why she was able to quietly use, quietly recover and quietly fall apart again. She’d married the drummer in the band she was in, she said, and the marriage was falling apart. She was in a fragile emotional state, and one night at a local brew pub gig she figured there couldn’t be any harm in trying some little tasters of beer.

That was all it took, she said, to plunge back into years of substance abuse.

“It’s all about that first drink,” she said. “It’s not the last one that gets you, it’s the first one. I still want to drink now, and I think, couldn’t I just have one? But I know it’s the first one that’ll sink me.”

Some sunken, strung-out characters star in a song called “Chemicals” — old Charlie Ray, living in a smoky haze on the streets, and young Donna Jean, who can’t manage to go visit her mother, and even a fictionalized president of the United States, hiding out in the john — all of whom “got to get the chemicals, get the chemicals inside / Gotta spoon feed ’em and needle bleed ’em, either way he’s got to get high / He thinks he’s got a plan, doesn’t understand that sweet by and by / He’s gonna die.”

“I was almost there,” Mann said. “I was really sick. I was yellow from jaundice.”

Change in attitudes

Mann recalled a particularly brilliant guitar player and singer and jokester she used to play with. In addition to all those wonderful things, she said, he was also a heroin addict.

He was so talented he could have had all the success he dreamed of, Mann said — but he used to call her from a hidey-hole under a bridge and beg for help and cash. She used to drop everything for him, she said, but eventually she stopped responding.

“I’m not going to do that anymore,” she said. “You can only do so much.” She thinks her brilliant friend resorts to petty crime sometimes so he can get arrested, land in jail and sober up.

Mann attends Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and said there’s a growing clean-and-sober musician community these days. When she played in the late Portland bluesman Paul DeLay’s band, she said, the stage was always littered with bottles of O’Doul’s — that’s the premium non-alcoholic beer.

“Attitudes have really changed in the music business,” she said.

Speaking of music business — the boys showed passing interest in her story of addiction and recovery, but they were fascinated by her six-string electric bass.

How much? Not for sale. (But probably worth about two grand, she said.)

“I’ve had this bass longer than you’ve been alive,” she said, and then she checked her assumption. The boy said he was born in 1995. Her bass was purchased in 1993.

She had one hard — but hopeful — observation for the dozen or so boys who were listening to her stories and songs: Recovery is hard and temptation is endless.

“I hate to say it, but statistically a lot of you guys might not make it,” Mann told them. “You have to decide, is that going to be me? If you do fall off the wagon, you can come back.”

Scott Hewitt: 360-735-4525 or scott.hewitt@columbian.com.