The Austin Chronicle

Live Shots

Reviewed by David Lynch, March 16, 2001, Music

Recovery Issues Forum/Mental Health Issues Forum

Austin Convention Center, Saturday 17

Oftentimes alternate reality -- via mental health issues or substance abuse -- go hand-in-hand with creativity. As a result of an artist's quest to explore and express the unknown, this pursuit can lead to addiction and depression. Moderated by MusiCares Foundation representative Harold Owens, the "Recovery Issues Forum" featured David Adelson, executive editor of Hits magazine; Bob Forrest, singer-songwriter (The Bicycle Thief); Buddy Arnold of Musicians' Assistance Program; Wayne Kramer, MC5 great and now a producer at Muscle Music; and Peyton Wimmer, founder of Austin's SIMS Foundation. Beginning with a touching video showing many of the well-known musicians who've unsuccessfully dealt with substance abuse -- Janis Joplin, Keith Moon, Charlie Parker, et al. -- and with no set questions to discuss, panelists shared their experiences and opinions with the moderately sized but very attentive crowd. Forrest gave moving testimony about his own addiction battles, and Kramer, who has been sober for years, talked about the rise of drug culture in the Sixties: "Nobody knew about the Pandora's Box we were opening." Audience members also gave testimonials, including musicians who were fired for substance abuse problems and managers who dealt with dying band members. One person even told how a big label fixed financial statements so it could buy his band cocaine. SIMS founder Wimmer offered practical advice with the metaphor he uses to encourage musicians to be healthy: "Finish an old song, and start a new one." For his part, music writer David Adelson provided an accurate assessment: "The music industry is a $14 billion business, and most record companies couldn't care less about these issues; they care about Napster. It's more about money than ever before." On a broader note, the "Mental Health Issues Forum" later in the afternoon dealt with all the challenging situations facing musicians, including depression, fragmented egos, substance abuse, and notions of success. The forum featured Austin veteran musicians Dale Watson and Mark Rubin (who also moderated); John Hipple, counselor at the University of North Texas; and Michael Solomon, president of Brick Wall Management. Watson spoke frankly: "We're beer salesmen, we get called back when the bar sells a lot of alcohol. No other business has as many built-in pitfalls as music, with drugs, depression, etc." Solomon added, "When you're in Alcoholics Anonymous they tell you to distance yourself from your old friends and environment, which is fine if you're a banker, but it's different if you work in bars." Rubin, who did a fine job moderating, said that the tide may be turning: "It's a recent development to realize and discuss these issues." Panelists offered practical solutions for real mental health problems, such as setting up psychotherapy sessions over the phone when on tour. Counselor Hipple, who passed out an extremely helpful mental health guide for performers (which can be found at, thanked the organizers: "I have to give credit to South by Southwest, because each year they make a statement just by having these types of panels." No question about that, but given the grave weight of these issues, this statement needs to be louder and more forceful in the future.

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