Tuning Out Depression: The Tragically Hip

Gord Downie_.jpeg

As I write this, The Tragically Hip will hit the stage for the final time tonight in their hometown of Kingston, Ontario. Like most of Canada, I will be watching the CBC broadcast of the concert at a viewing party in what will undoubtedly be a transcendent, yet devastating night. Like most Canadians, the music of Gord Downie and company has been the soundtrack to my life, becoming a huge part of the fabric of my existence. And their music has helped me get through many rough times when depression’s dark cloud has creeped up on me and taken the wind out of me.

Along with R.E.M. and Spirit of the West, The Hip were one of the first bands that got me on the right path to listening to real music. Having gone from listening to hair metal to MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice in Grade 9 my turning point came when I purchased R.E.M.’s Out of Time and Spirit of the West’s Go Figure. After immersing myself in these two albums and diving into these two bands’ back catalogues I next turned to The Tragically Hip. Up to Here and Road Apples were incredible albums from start to finish and still sound as spine-tingling today as they did in 1991. No matter how many times I hear “New Orleans is Sinking” or “Little Bones” I always turn the radio up. When I used to host karaoke I used to sing “New Orleans is Sinking” quite often, and every time I would introduce it as “Canada’s unofficial national anthem.” No one ever argued with me. Everyone always just sang along.

The Tragically Hip, along with the likes of Spirit of the West and Blue Rodeo, shattered any notions that Canadian music paled in comparison to artists from The U.S and the U.K. “Hoser” rock was no longer just Doug and the Slugs and Trooper. Canadian music actually mattered. In 1992, R.E.M. released their most acclaimed album, Automatic for the People, while The Hip released their finest album, Fully, Completely. These two albums and bands will forever be linked to me, partly because I still have the image of the front page of the Columbia House monthly pamphlet with both bands on the front. R.E.M. and The Hip are similar in the fact that the musicians in each band come across as pretty regular guys you’d see at the local pub, but they’re fronted by two singers, Michael Stipe and Gord Downie, who are charismatic, quirky, enigmatic, and eccentric. This dichotomy is likely part of the reason both bands were able to become so popular.

In the case of The Hip, their music has spoken to people of all walks of life. Politics, class, religion, and race divides so many people, but for 32 years The Hip have managed to build a tower of song that transcends labels and speaks to everyone. At any Hip show you’ll find construction workers, oil field technicians, university professors, artists, poets, musicians, jocks, nerds, right wingers, left wingers, Christians, atheists, you name it. A Hip concert is one of the few places where a CEO of an oil company can sit comfortable next to an environmentalist. This is because The Hip don’t just speak to us, they are us. Through their gift of music, Gord Downie and his bandmates have become our friends, family, and ourselves through musical osmosis. And because of Gord’s battle with terminal brain cancer, tonight will be the last time we get to see this band in action. Cancer may be taking Gord down but he’s going out s(w)inging.

In 2011 I was crushed when R.E.M. decided to amicably call it quits. Earlier this year it was rewarding, but ultimately heartbreaking to see Spirit of the West during their final tour and watch John Mann admirably raise the middle finger to dementia. And tonight, myself and the rest of Canada will go through the whole spectrum of emotions as we watch The Tragically Hip’s final encore.

Gord Downie, thank you for three decades of integrity, poetry, emotion, eccentricity, and grace, too.

– JJ Elliott


YQRocks: The Dustin Ritter Band “Can’t Turn Back”


The Dustin Ritter Band has been a staple of the Regina live music scene for the past few years, but they’ve been quiet on the recording front since releasing their impressive second album Drunk and Drowning in 2012. On May 27th, that will change when Dustin Ritter and his band officially release their new album Can’t Turn Back with a CD release party at O’Hanlon’s.

Can’t Turn Back is the result of a year in the studio with producer and DRB guitarist Thomas St. Onge (formerly of Regina funk rockers Fur Eel) and the extra time and effort  put in is noticeable. The production is crisp and polished, without sounding overproduced, allowing the band members’ performances ample room to breathe. From the herky jerky rocker “Overthinking” (which has shades of The Strokes) to the breezy folk pop of “Oh My My” to the crunching blues stomper “I’m Not Surprised,” Can’t Turn Back is the sound of a band coming into its own.

Singer/songwriter Dustin Ritter gives his melodic, hook-filled tunes a soulful delivery, the rhythm section of bassist Jon Fearnside and drummer Cyprian Henry hold down the back end with a force, and guitarist Thomas St, Onge is an absolute dynamo, giving each song depth and texture, while ripping out blistering solos when needed. On album number three, the third time is definitely the charm because the band has never sounded better. But as good as these songs sound on CD, they’re ripe for the band to sink their teeth into onstage at Ohanlon’s on May 27th.

Tuning Out Depression: Foo Fighters


It’s times like these you learn to live again.” 

     – Foo Fighters, “Times Like These” from One by One

Of all the months of the year, January is the runt of the litter. Following the whirlwind of get-togethers with friends and family, staff parties, as well as the requisite gluttony that comes with the Christmas/holiday season, January is usually filled with a whole lot of blah, with a side of meh. It’s a time of new year’s resolutions where people have good intentions of attempting to better themselves, but realistically only end up purchasing gym memberships that don’t get used past February.

For me, January has taken on a special significance since it was January of 2013 when I was (finally) diagnosed with clinical depression. After years of either not wanting to admit that I had depression, or thinking I could just handle it by myself, it took a couple of mental breakdowns triggered by stress to finally wave the white flag and admit that I needed to get help. For the rest of my life I will always take the time every January to reflect and gauge how far I’ve come and what I still need to work on.

As I write this, it’s been just over three years to the day since I was diagnosed with depression and began what will be a lifelong healing process. I’ve come to terms with the fact that my life will be a continual state of “two steps forward, one step back.” A combination of running, working out, writing, reading, listening to great tunes, proper sleep, learning to better cope with stress, comedy, and anti-depressants will ensure I have good days. However, I will always have set-backs because the chemical imbalance in my brain will decide be an asshole from time to time. It’s my new reality so I have to do my best to take care of myself each day and deal with the cards I’ve been dealt. Every step I’ve taken these last three years are huge, but they will never compare to that crucial first step I took when I saw my family doctor because if I never got that help and got the ball rolling, well… there’s a good chance I wouldn’t be here to share my story.

One band that I will always link with my healing process is the Foo Fighters. While I wouldn’t rank them on my desert island list of greatest bands, Dave Grohl and company have had a knack for consistently writing uplifting rock anthems for two decades and counting. The music of the Foos will never epitomize the zeitgeist or be seen as “important” as Grohl’s prior band, but it’s safe to say that Grohl has (ever)long since escaped the daunting shadow of being the drummer in Nirvana.

The first Foo Fighters album (which was basically a Grohl solo album) and The Colour and the Shape are unquestioned classics, but their following albums tended to include killer rock radio singles with their share of filler. For me, this all changed with 2011’s Wasting Light. Reunited with Nevermind producer Butch Vig and featuring appearances from Nirvana’s Krist Novoselic and Hüsker Dü’s Bob Mould, Grohl and company seemed reinvigorated and showed that they mean business. Song for song, the Foos brought the goods.

The one song that instantly grabbed me from Wasting Light was “Walk.” Now, no one will be bold enough to rate Dave Grohl with the likes of Leonard Cohen or Bob Dylan as a lyricist, but Grohl has an uncanny ability to write songs with universal themes that most people can relate to, without delving into the dreck and pandering of the Nickelbacks of the world. Shortly after this album came out I was in the midst of a rough stretch mentally, to put it mildly. My stress was compiling, my anxiety was becoming unbearable, and I was having more and more depressive episodes which would lead to two mental breakdowns within a couple months. I wasn’t quite ready to get help yet but I was determined to try to get through this rough patch primarily through running and music.

It was during this time that “Walk” really resonated with me, and the chorus has been somewhat of a mantra for me ever since.

“I’m learning to walk again

I believe I’ve waited long enough

Where do I begin?

I’m learning to talk again

Can’t you see I’ve waited long enough?

Where do I begin?”

     – Foo Fighters, Walk” from Wasting Light

For the last three years, it really has felt like I’m learning to walk again. After two mental breakdowns and going on antidepressants it felt like I was starting a brand new life. Whatever I saw as normal would be thrown out the window. I was broken and every day since then has been a slow process of building myself back up again. It would have been nice to just take my meds and then life would be all peachy keen again, but when you have depression and anxiety you quickly learn that medication is one small piece of the puzzle, and that every “happy pill” out there has its share of side effects and that it affects everyone differently. I was on a low dosage of antidepressants, but I found I had almost no energy most of the time, it was harder to concentrate, plus I would have more “brain farts” than usual. There’s nothing more frustrating than having a conversation with people and losing your train of thought mid-sentence and forgetting the simplest words you want to convey. But, despite the side effects, they really helped stabilize my nerves which was absolutely necessary.

A few months ago I decided to test out going without meds since I’ve made it a habit to read self-help books from the likes of Chris Grosso, Don Miguel Ruiz, and Eckhart Tolle. These authors have been a tremendous help in shifting my perspective to focus more on the present moment and not dwell on the past or worry about the future while seeing the world in a more positive light. Through reading, writing, exercise, music, etc I have a solid day-to-day routine to better handle my depression and anxiety, but there are some things that I still can’t shake and likely never will. I’ve been able to keep my depressive episodes down to a minimum and my social anxiety has drastically improved, but I still don’t have the energy I would like to have, I still have difficulty concentrating sometimes, it’s hard to feel super happy (or conversely, sad) about things, and I find myself becoming more irritable at situations that should just be minor nuisances. So I plan on talking to my doctor and trying a low dosage of a different antidepressant to help work these kinks out.

Treating depression and anxiety is a series of trial and error and I’ve accepted that this will be my reality for the rest of my life. But after looking back at where I was three years ago I’m in a much better state these days. It’s been a million small steps in the right direction with a thousand slight steps back, but I’m starting to become more of the JJ I feel can be. I’ve gone on a couple of vacations, emceed some cool events, seen some kickass concerts, and am gradually starting to get more of my mojo back. I have more and more moments where I feel like Dave Grohl screaming towards the end of “Walk.”

“You keep alive a moment at a time

But still inside a whisper to a riot

To sacrifice but knowing to survive

The first decline another state of mind

I’m on my knees, I’m praying for a sign

Forever, whenever

I never wanna die

I never wanna die

I never wanna die

I’m on my knees

I never wanna die

I’m dancing on my grave

I’m running through the fire

Forever, whatever

I never wanna die

I never wanna leave

I’ll never say goodbye

Forever, whatever

Forever, whatever”

     – Foo Fighters, Walk” from Wasting Light

Depression sucks, but when you simplify things and focus on living one moment at a time it makes life much more manageable. And right now I never wanna die. Three years ago I could not have made that claim so I’ve come a long way.

Tuning Out Depression: Tom Waits



To complain is always nonacceptance of what is. It invariably carries an unconscious negative charge. When you complain, you make yourself into a victim. When you speak out, you are in your power. So change the situation by taking action or by speaking out if necessary or possible; leave the situation or accept it. All else is madness.” 

Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment


For people dealing with depression, winter can be the most difficult season, especially when you live in the Canadian prairies. Living in Saskatchewan has plenty of upsides, but our winters tend to be pretty harsh. (As I write this, Saskatchewan is in the midst of its mildest winter in years, but newcomers to this province are typically in for quite a shock to the system when they experience their first winter here.)  Countless studies highlight the benefits of sunshine on a person’s mental wellness so it’s no surprise that a few months of going to work in the morning when it’s dark and coming back home after the sun sets can make someone with depression feel a little more gloomy. Add in cold snaps, blizzards, and vehicles that won’t start and it’s no wonder why so many people suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

Fortunately, we have a choice in how we deal with these dreary winter months. In The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment, Eckhart Tolle offers multiple practical methods to shift our ingrained modes of thinking and to come to terms with and be at peace with what Mother Nature throws at us. Tolle goes into great depth on how to eliminate complaining about circumstances we usually can’t control. Whether it’s shitty weather, a toxic relationship, a stressful job, or anything else that life throws at us, we have three healthy options:

  1. Speak out and take action as an attempt to change the situation;

2.  Leave the situation;

3.  Accept the situation.

As Eckhart mentions in the introductory quote, doing anything else (such as complaining) is madness. If it’s -30 in January with swirling wind and blowing snow, it’s pretty obvious that you can’t change the weather with the snap of your fingers. You can leave the situation temporarily by going on a vacation to a sunny destination where you can lay on a beach, or you can plan to permanently leave the situation by moving to a place where winters are more bearable. However, for most people, the most realistic option is to accept the situation. The weather won’t change so you have to view it as an opportunity to catch up on reading, listen to more music, go to the gym more often, spend more time on your hobbies, etc. But complaining and pining for summer only generates negative energy and makes the present moment not very fun. Accepting your current circumstances, even if they are less than ideal, is a huge step in finding inner peace and being present in the here and now.

One artist I listen to more often during the winter months is one of my musical idols: Tom Waits. It’s safe to say at this stage of his career that Mr. Waits will never write a “feel good song of the summer.” From his early beatnik jazz days to his mid-period experimental circus music to his late period as a blues troubadour, Tom Waits has consistently been the ideal soundtrack to crummy weather. Waits is what most people would call “an acquired taste,” but once you take the plunge you’ll find arguably today’s finest living songwriter – an artist who’s been covered by everyone from The Ramones to The Eagles to Bruce Springsteen to Steve Earle to Norah Jones. While his music has its share of melancholy, there’s more than enough humour, beauty and hopefulness to give you a soothing sense of comfort. His songs feature sordid tales of freaks, weirdos and outsiders like German dwarves, men with missing fingers playing guitar, hookers in Minneapolis, eyeball kids, and rain dogs. With his knack for shining the spotlight on the underdog and outcast, Waits is a more eccentric Johnny Cash.


A little rain never hurt no one.” 

Tom Waits, A Little Rain” from Bone Machine


One of my favourite songs in the Tom Waits catalogue is “A Little Rain” from 1992’s Bone Machine. This haunting piano ballad features this simple mantra: “A little rain never hurt no one.” I’ve always loved this song since the first time I heard it, but it’s taken on added meaning for me since I’ve started dealing with my depression and anxiety three years ago. It particularly resonates with me after reading Tolle’s book. Once you accept that life can’t always be sunshine and lollipops and rainbows you learn to accept that a rainy day doesn’t have to be the end of the world. The chemical imbalance in your brain that comes with depression may try its damnedest to dwell on the negative, but it is possible to train your brain to focus on the present moment and be thankful for the good stuff in your life. Instead of dwelling on the ugly aspects of a winter on the prairies I’m getting better at accepting the circumstances and realizing that I now have the chance to spend more time listening to “Hold On,” “I Hope That I Don’t Fall In Love With You,” “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up,” “Lie To Me,” “Raised Right Men,” and the multitude of other incredible songs in Waits’ discography. After all, a little Tom Waits never hurt no one.

JJ’s Top 40 Albums of 2015

Veruca Salt

The weather suggests otherwise, but December has arrived. That means every music magazine, website and blog has started to unveil their year end “best of” lists. Being a man of impeccable taste in music, it would be a shame for me to not throw my name in the hat and let the world know what has perked my ears the last 12 months. So here we go. I hope you enjoy.

When Nina Gordon and Louise Post decided to bury the hatchet and reunite the original lineup of Veruca Salt and release their comeback single “It’s Holy” in 2014 I was instantly transported back to 1994. That power pop gem held up against anything on American Thighs and Eight Arms To Hold You, but would a new album be worth more than a couple listens for old times’ sake? Well, apparently you really can’t fight the seether because Ghost Notes is a triumphant return for the band. The album documents the band’s breakup and eventual reconciliation, ranging from raging bitterness to joyful, celebratory bliss. Nina and Louise are back and the world is better for it.

YQR ex-pat Northcote (or as his parents know him, Matt Goud) followed up 2013’s stunning self-titled album with the even more impressive Hope is Made of Steel. With his trademark soulful, raspy voice, Northcote writes tunes with big hooks and massive choruses that stick in your head for days. This album is the perfect pick-me-up after a shitty day. “Your Rock and Roll” is my pick for song of the year.

After laying relatively low for a couple years, Metric returned in a big way with the brilliant Pagans in Vegas. For this go around Emily Haines and the gang turned down the guitars and relied more on synths and some video game blips and bloops for a sound straight out of the ‘80s, but still contemporary. The band already has a more stripped down album in the can so we can expect to hear a lot more from Metric in the next year or so. I’m very okay with that.

I’m not sure how it happened, but I’m late to the Chvrches party. There was lots of buzz about them when their debut album The Bones of What You Believe came out in 2013 but I never got around to giving it a listen until earlier this year. Needless to say, the buzz was well deserved. Lauren Mayberry and company make electronic pop music the right way – with huge hooks and intelligent lyrics. With the release of their second album Every Open Eye this Scottish band once again brings the goods. The ‘80s are alive and well with Chvrches. 

2015 was a tremendous year for country/roots veterans Steve Earle and Dwight Yoakam.  Coming off a divorce, Earle decided to tone down the politics and just let loose with the fun, blues album Terraplane with The Dukes. With Second Hand Heart, Yoakam amped up the rock and rockabilly aspects of his sound for a killer collection of tunes. As these two legends show, sometimes you just need to stop overthinking things and have a bit of fun. The result is two of the year’s best albums.

If there’s one thing you can say about Ryan Adams, he isn’t a slacker. His self-titled album was one of 2014’s best albums, plus he released a live album just a few months after that. And this year he decided to cover Taylor Swift’s cultural juggernaut 1989 album from start to finish, because why not? Say what you will about Swift, but she (and her team of pop mega-producers) knows how to write a catchy tune. With his reinterpretation, Adams shakes off all the gloss (see what I did there?) and reimagines the songs as performed by Bruce Springsteen, The Smiths, and U2. What should have been a “listen once out of curiosity sake and then go on with your day” album ended up being a contender for album of the year. Who knew that if you dropped the “hella good hair” and “sick beat” that “Shake It Off” was a good tune?

Regina’s own indie pop rockers Rah Rah keep amping up their game with each successive album, and now they’re playing in the big leagues with Vessels. People are taking notice because they’ve made high profile appearances on CBC’s q and The Strombo Show while also embarking on a world tour. Marshall Burns and company added more synths to the mix for a power pop extravaganza. “Chip Off the Heart” and “Be Your Man” are two of the years best singles.

If there’s one person who can give Ryan Adams a run for his money for being prolific this year it’s Jesse Malin. After keeping a low profile since the release of Love It To Life in 2010, the former D Generation frontman released two stellar albums, New York Before the War and Outsiders. New York is his big “statement” album while Outsiders is a little more loose and rough around the edges, but both are worth repeated listens. If both Joey Ramone and Bruce Springsteen have given him kudos over the years then he must be doing something right.

Roots/country singer Lindi Ortega can do no wrong. She keeps pumping out consistently fantastic albums at an impressive rate while touring like crazy. I don’t know how she does it but I don’t think she’s recorded a bad tune. With Faded Gloryville, Ortega seems to have come to terms with the fact that her old school brand of country will likely never vault her into the mainstream. But if she keeps releasing music this good, she’ll have loyal, appreciative fans buying her albums and going to her shows for years to come. In a perfect world, Lindi Ortega would rule country radio.

Well, that’s the rundown. Now, without further ado, here are my 40 favourite albums of 2015. 


1. Veruca Salt – Ghost Notes

2. Northcote – Hope is Made of Steel

3. Metric – Pagans in Vegas

4. Chvrches – Every Open Eye

5. Ryan Adams – 1989

6. Steve Earle & The Dukes – Terraplane

7. Dwight Yoakam – Second Hand Heart

8. Rah Rah – Vessels

9. Jesse Malin – New York Before the War

10. Lindi Ortega – Faded Gloryville

11. Frank Turner – Positive Songs for Negative People

12. Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats – Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats

13. Florence + The Machine – How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful

14. Megan Nash – Song Harvest Volume One

15. Supersuckers – Holdin’ the Bag

16. The Mohrs – Kings of Nowhere

17. Library Voices – Lovish

18. Dear Rouge – Back To Gold

19. Jesse Malin – Outsiders

20. The Dead Weather – Dodge and Burn

21. Best Coast – California Nights

22. Jason Isbell – Something More Than Free

23. Joel Plaskett – The Park Avenue Sobriety Test

24. Eagles of Death Metal – Zipper Down

25. Faith No More – Sol Invictus

26. Corb Lund – Things That Can’t Be Undone

27. Kathryn Calder – Kathryn Calder

28. Sleater-Kinney – No Cities To Love

29. The Vaccines – English Graffiti

30. Dilly Dally – Sore

31. Elle King – Love Stuff

32. Bryan Adams – Get Up

33. Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – Chasing Yesterday

34. Yukon Blonde – On Blonde

35. Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color

36. The League of One – Kill

37. El Vy – Return to the Moon

38. Third Ion – 13/8 Bit

39. Zac Brown Band – JEKYLL + HYDE

40. Butch Walker – Afraid of Ghosts


Tuning Out Depression: The Ramones

The Ramones in concert circa 1970.


“You don’t need to change the world; you need to change yourself.”

– Don Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom

Since I’ve acknowledged that I have depression and anxiety and made that crucial first step to get help, I’ve learned that treatment and recovery is a never ending process. The most difficult barrier to overcome has been reprogramming and retraining my brain since it seems that the default setting for anyone with depression and/or anxiety is to automatically focus and dwell on the negative. For example, if your boss calls you into the office you assume it’s because you did something wrong. If your girlfriend wants to talk you assume she wants to break up with you. Or, if you see ten news stories you focus on the politician busted for fraud or the latest school shooting.

As I mentioned in Tuning Out Depression: R.E.M., a big help in resetting my thought process has been reading and rereading The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom by Don Miguel Ruiz. This book has been instrumental in helping me see more of the beauty in the world and ignoring, or at least accepting, the ugliness. The reality is that the world can be an ugly, vicious place. Humanity is inherently flawed so, regardless of what decade you live in, you will always be surrounded by thieving politicians, senseless wars, racism, an unfair gap between rich and poor, you name it. What I’ve learned though is that you have a choice in how you deal with this reality. You can simply point your finger at everything that’s wrong with the world by ranting and raving and complaining, or you can focus on the positive things in your life and put forth positive energy into the world and hope that it rubs off onto other people.

This shift in perspective has made me appreciate the music of The Ramones much more in recent years. I’ve always been a huge punk fan, particularly the Big Three of ‘70s punk: The Ramones, The Clash, and The Sex Pistols. All three bands were disenchanted and disenfranchised with the world, but they dealt with it in different ways. Joe Strummer and company were more political minded, with angry call-to-action anthems like “London Calling,” “White Riot,” “Know Your Rights,” and “London’s Burning.” Johnny Rotten and company amped up the anger with some added shock factor for good measure, unleashing seething classics “God Save The Queen” and “Anarchy In The U.K.” A few years later in PiL, Johnny Rotten/Lydon would later declare that “anger is an energy.” However, while anger can certainly be cathartic, it is also a negative energy. If you only hear Johnny Rotten scream that there is no future, well… that can be pretty depressing and bleak after a while. Anger can be healthy in small doses, but a little goes a long way.

The Ramones were just as disgusted with the world as The Clash and The Sex Pistols but they chose another approach in how they dealt with it. They planted their tongues firmly in their cheeks and took the piss out of the world, while still having some optimism for a brighter future in songs like “Something To Believe In,” “Strength To Endure,” and “I Believe In Miracles.” Instead of singing about fascist regimes and police and thieves, The Ramones sang about doing the cretin hop, bopping ‘til you drop, sniffing glue, beating on brats with baseball bats, psychotherapy, and being the quintessential outsiders. But aside from the goofball lyrics the music of The Ramones was *gasp* fun. The band took the bubblegum melodies of The Beach Boys and added in some buzzsaw guitars and breakbeat drums to create a sound that would set the template for punk music.

“I believe in miracles / I believe in a better world for me and you.”

– The Ramones, “I Believe In Miracles” from Brain Drain

When The Ramones broke up in 1996, Joey Ramone eventually started to work on his first solo album Don’t Worry About Me. Unfortunately, the circumstances were less than ideal during recording since Joey was dying of cancer. However, in typical Ramones fashion Joey dealt with his imminent death by recording perhaps the most uplifting and optimistic song of all time: Louis Armstrong’s “What A Wonderful World.” Joey was facing death in the face and still saw joy and beauty in the world. If that’s not enough to inspire you and put things in perspective, I don’t know what will. You can’t change the world with one single action, but you can change yourself. By doing so, even if it’s refraining from complaining, smiling at a stranger, laughing at a shitty situation, or sharing your story of kicking depression in the arse, you have the potential to inspire change in others. Joey Ramone and the music of The Ramones has inspired me and countless others, and has helped make this planet a pretty wonderful world.

Tuning Out Depression: R.E.M.


“Maybe we cannot escape from the destiny of the human, but we have a choice: to suffer our destiny or to enjoy our destiny.”     

      -Don Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom

Two and a half years ago I was in a pretty bad state of mind. A couple nervous breakdowns forced me to finally come to grips with something I always kind of knew in the back of my head: I have depression. And I needed help. Big time. During my initial steps in my journey to kick depression in the arse, a coworker of mine recommended a book that was (and still is) instrumental in helping me reprogram my brain: The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom by Don Miguel Ruiz. It’s a bit New Age-y at times but it is really insightful and has great practical advice on how to put everything in perspective and make life not seem so shitty.

There’s no way to sugarcoat it. Depression sucks. I wouldn’t wish being in the middle of a depressive episode upon my worst enemy. But the good thing is that depression is manageable. The first, and most important, step is acknowledging that you might have it (or a similar mental illness like bipolar disorder) and take steps to deal with it. Two and a half years ago I waited until I had a couple nervous breakdowns before I finally took the first step to get help. But at least I called SOS and went to the mental health clinic and family doctor before I became another statistic. There are far too many talented, intelligent, creative, kind, funny, successful people who commit suicide every day, and sooooo many of these people could have been saved if they just talked about their situation with someone. That’s the biggest thing I’ve learned through my recovery process… Talking about depression is SO important.

Since rebounding from my mental rock bottom, I’ve been pretty open about my battle with family, friends, and on social media and I’m constantly blown away by how many people I personally know have depression. What I’ve also learned is that lots of people who appear to have their shit together simply hide it better than most. Hearing other people tell their stories has helped me immensely and I’ve had people tell me that sharing my story has helped them in their struggle, so I’ve decided to pump life into this blog project and use it as a tool to keep the discussion about depression going and help eliminate the stigma that still lingers.

Unfortunately, depression doesn’t have a single cure. I took antidepressants for a year (and will likely use them again at some point), and they were a HUGE help in balancing out my nerves and rebooting my brain, but drugs alone won’t get you back on track. Talking with a clinical psychologist at the mental health clinic was extremely beneficial for me, so I would recommend cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) if you have the health plan or resources for it. For me, running and working out regularly have been essential, along with reading self help books along the lines of The Four Agreements. Arguably the biggest medicine for me has been music.

“Music will provide the light you cannot resist.”    

      -R.E.M., “I’m Gonna DJ” from Accelerate

Combine a killer soundtrack with a good run or workout and I instantly feel recharged and ready to take on the world. Exercise helps reduce stress and anxiety, releases endorphins, and can be meditative at times, but adding music to the equation makes it the ultimate therapy. There have been countless studies about the healing properties of music and I’m living proof. Luckily for me I’ve been a huge music geek ever since I was a wee lad watching MuchMusic in its early days when VJ’s JD Roberts and Christopher Ward literally burst onto the scene in 1984. Ever since then I’ve been a music junkie: reading music magazine after music magazine, writing/blogging about music, hosting karaoke, singing with bands, volunteering at music festivals, working in the radio industry, you name it. I used to look forward to New Music Tuesdays ( I still can’t get used to new albums being released on Fridays) because I could’t wait to see what new albums were out that day.

Since I’m incorporating the power of music into the discussion of depression I may as well start with my favourite band: R.E.M. The “little band that could” from Athens, GA always stood out for me on MuchMusic. Even though I was more into hair metal during the ‘80s I was always fascinated by R.E.M.’s quirky, low budget videos that the band weren’t even in. There was an element of mystery to me which always appealed to me. By the time I got to Grade 9 and purchased Out of Time I was hooked. I devoured their back catalogue almost instantly and was at the record store the day they had a new album out. After 31 years R.E.M. decided to amicably call it a day but their music remains as relevant and helpful to me as ever.

For me, R.E.M. were my “gateway” band. In interviews, Peter Buck, Michael Stipe, Mike Mills and Bill Berry would sing the praises of the Ramones, Tom Waits, the Replacements, Patti Smith, the Velvet Underground, Iggy and the Stooges, and the New York Dolls. This gave me the urge to check out groundbreaking music that you just didn’t get a chance to hear in a small, prairie city like Regina, Saskatchewan. Their music ranged from folk to punk to hard rock to electronic to soul to surf rock to country… but yet it all sounded like R.E.M.

In the self help reading I do I tend to take away certain quotes and use them as mantras for constant positive mental reinforcement. While most of Michael Stipe’s lyrics in R.E.M.’s songs are abstract to say the least, his lyrics gradually became much more direct over time. As much as I love literature, poetry and prose, I’ll admit that the lyrics of a song tend to come secondary to melody for me in a song at first listen. For a song to grab me it has to be the right combination of melody, instrumentation, phrasing, tone of singer’s voice, and lyric. That being said, certain lyrics always tend to pop out, and that’s certainly the case with R.E.M. for me.

Arguably their trademark song, “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” is not only a fun song that is nearly impossible to sing at karaoke, but that phrase is a perfect motto for life. It also relates to what I’ve learned from The Four Agreements. You can’t control the actions of others, but you can control how you react to the actions of others. If you’re having a shitty day and it seems like the world is going to end because of cranky coworkers, tight deadlines, a flat tire, unreasonable clients, etc, you can either stress about it… or you can understand that you can’t control anyone else but yourself. What you can control is how you react to your circumstances. Stipe revisits this apocalyptic theme in later songs like “Radio Song” (“The world is collapsing around our ears/I turned up the radio/I can’t hear it”) and “I’m Gonna DJ” (“Death is pretty final/I’m collecting vinyl/I’m gonna DJ at the end of the world”). It’s easier said than done, but choosing to focus on something positive and shrugging off the actions of others can make a shitty day feel much better. Retraining my brain to stress less about things I can’t control has been an immense help in addressing my depression and anxiety.

There have been many times where it feels like the world is collapsing around my ears and that it’s the end of the world as I know it, but music, and particularly the music of R.E.M., has helped me feel fine.