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The "Dead Man's Cake" blogs, issue #6

The song Judy’s Mind, the 3rd track on my album “Dead Man’s Cake”, asks the question, what was going through my mother’s mind the night she committed suicide?

This is an eternal question asked by anybody whose loved one has committed suicide, and where the answer is not obvious:  why did they do it?  What drove them to those depths of despair?  Couldn’t they have chosen some other course of action?  The song speculates on such questions. 

Someday I may write a book about all this, but not right now.  Meanwhile, in my Mom’s case, and out of respect for the privacy of myself and my family (because I’ve already revealed quite a lot in making this record and these blog posts, and I’m drawing a line), I’m not going to go into the details here. 

Rather, I’m writing this post to talk about the song specifically, and more generally about the problems addressed by the song.  If you want to know more, may I suggest you buy the record

I’ve spoken to mental health professionals and academics knowledgeable in this area.  One school of thought says that anybody who commits suicide is, by definition, severely mentally ill.

Others disagree and say that actually some suicides are “situational,” in the sense that some circumstances in their life has led them to conclude they need to end it.

I’ve come to the inescapable conclusion that for my Mother, it was the former.  My Mom, tragically, suffered from severe mental illness which led her to commit suicide.

It is terribly difficult to accept that your loved one suffers from mental illness.  It took me years of therapy and reflection to accept that was the case with my Mom.  And it’s not something one typically talks about, because of the stigma that exists around having a loved one who is mentally ill.

This is another major aspect of what I tried to do artistically with this record:  to challenge the stigma around talking about these types of issues.

I did a CD release gig in London in early 2012 around the completion of this CD “Dead Man’s Cake.”  The proceeds from that gig went to the UK mental health charity Sane (as well as part of the proceeds from CD and download sales).

At the moment I am working on creating a live show around this record and I hope to do more charity gigs for Sane.  Making this record has been a healing and cathartic experience for me.  It is about surviving traumatic events such as the one I experienced, and making art as a way of helping the healing process.  It also gives me a focus for this energy, which is to say, I hope my having done this may help people do art therapy pieces of their own or talk about their own stories, but also to suggest to depressed people that they seek professional help.  Having been through my experience, I believe suicide is not the way to deal with one's problems.  It's a horribly violent act and has a terribly devastating effect on the survivors.

I had been thinking about writing about my story for years.  Part of what helped plant the seed for me to make this record was having worked closely with Chilean music artist Quique Cruz on his project “The Archeology of Memory”.  This was an astonishing magnum opus about Quique’s own story of surviving a concentration camp in the 70s in Chile under the dictator Pinochet.  It was particularly Quique’s statement about his work, which is the idea of creating beauty from pain, that helped inspire me to examine my own story.  I also tried, with “Dead Man’s Cake”, to create something beautiful out of my own painful experience.

Musically, “Judy’s Mind” was built around a kind of classically-oriented piano piece I’d been playing around with for years, which has a melancholy mood evocative of my feelings about my mother and her suicide.  The disjointed metric structure (it moves between 5/8, 6/8 and 4/4), and the modulation between several tonal centers, feels flowing and natural, but is actually quite odd, and is intended to reflect the disturbed rhythms of her mental state.

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