musings from boston

screams, whispers and songs from planet earth

Reeves Gabrels and his Imaginary Friends Summon Mythical Beings at Cafe Nine

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Technically, I’m retired from this sort of thing (“covering” shows and uploading a pile of videos to YouTube), but I couldn’t resist the temptation to do it one last time for some truly mind-bending guitar wizardry from an old friend. Sorry, Reeves — what I meant to say was a friend whom I’ve known for a long time.

Reeves Gabrels has an impressive pedigree. Originally based in Boston, in the 1980s and 1990s, he was in several stellar and highly-regarded bands, including Life on Earth, The Dark, Rubber Rodeo, Atom Said (thanks, lazyelvis, all my stuff is analog), Bentmen and Modern Farmer. Although people might be a little more familiar with his later collaborations, David Bowie (starting with the brilliant Tin Machine) and The Cure (of which he is currently the lead guitarist). But on this night, Reeves was bringing his imaginary friends to a tiny but ferocious little dive bar in New Haven, Connecticut called Cafe Nine.

Cafe Nine looks like a cozy neighborhood corner bar, and it indeed is that, but from what I understand, it’s also a well-known venue for some rather formidible bands. The evening began with local boys The Outer Side (Jeff Maleri, Paul de la Reza and Ryan Boudreau). They were an enlightened choice of support act for Reeves and friends, as their guitarist is quite impressive as well, flying all over his instrument. Their set was in two halves, the first one being a marvelous prog rock, King Crimson-esque voyage to the beyond, and the latter half a harder punk set courtesy of their other guitarist/bassist, who not coincidentally was wearing a Mission of Burma T-shirt.

Reeves and his imaginary band mates (not so imaginary actually — Kevin Hornback on bass guitar and Marc Pisapia on drums and backing vocals) came out onto the small stage and quickly proceeded to shred the place apart in front of a deeply appreciative audience. With awesome creative prowess, mind-numbing chops and an arsenal of magic little boxes, it was a kaleidoscopic journey through exotic aural soundscapes and tightly wound rock tracks on steroids. Hornback and Brown kept an incredibly tight ship while Gabrels galloped and meandered all over the place. They played a good selection of Reeves’ solo and Imaginary Friends songs, including tracks from their self-titled album. They even played an old Tin Machine favorite, “Bus Stop,” and an unreleased Modern Farmer song, in honor of fellow farmer Jamie Rubin, who was in the audience.

It was a great honor to see these world-class musicians at the height of their powers in such an intimate, casual setting.

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Other Imaginary Friends Video

Clip 1 | Clip 2 | Clip 3 | Clip 4 | Clip 5

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Poor Prognosis: The AHCA and America’s Mental Health Care

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[This article was originally published on The Depression Army blog. Thank you, Dr. R., for editing. Note – this was originally written May 29. Three and a half weeks later, the Senate has indeed written their own AHCA proposal, and their “discussion draft” can be seen here].

People who struggle day-to-day with a mental health issue don’t usually spend a lot of time following politics. When the world is closing in, it becomes necessary to shut out all that extraneous noise, push away the distractions and focus single-mindedly on one’s well-being. However, with a new administration comes proposed changes to the American health care system that may make it more difficult for the less wealthy among us to find adequate mental health support.

Difficult as it is to take in all the information, ignorance is not bliss. People who are struggling need to be informed about — and sometimes even stand up for — one’s basic right to decent mental health care.

Mental Health Coverage Under the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare)

On HealthCare.gov, the official site of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), there is a mental health and substance abuse coverage page that clearly states the legal requirements of all ACA Marketplace health care plans. This includes behavioral health treatment (for example, psychotherapy and counseling), mental and behavioral health inpatient services and substance abuse treatment. Specifics depend upon where you reside and your health plan, but the law states that all ACA plans prohibit spending limits and must cover pre-existing conditions, which includes any mental illness. The ACA also provides “parity protections” for mental health services. This means that it enjoys the same protections as any other kind of health coverage in terms of deductibles, co-payments, out-of-pocket limits, treatment limits and care management.

In fact, there’s an entire government website devoted to mental health, with clear information about how the ACA has improved access to mental health services for many people, regardless of where they live and what type of plan they have. This official source says, “As of 2014, most individual and small group health insurance plans, including plans sold on the Marketplace, are required to cover mental health and substance use disorder services. Medicaid Alternative Benefit Plans also must cover mental health and substance use disorder services. These plans must have coverage of essential health benefits, which include 10 categories of benefits as defined under the health care law. One of those categories is mental health and substance use disorder services.” In the ACA program, mental health care is seen as an essential health benefit.

Despite the improvements to mental health care since the ACA first went into effect in 2014, a study by researchers at NYU’s Langone Medical Center found that mental care access in the U.S. is still inadequate. Nearly one in 10 Americans who had mental health problems in 2014 didn’t have insurance that would allow them access to treatment. For approximately 10.5 percent of people, there were delays in receiving professional mental health treatment due to insufficient coverage, compared to 9.5 percent in 2006. In 2014, 9.5 percent of those suffering with mental health issues couldn’t afford to pay for psychiatric medications, up from 8.7 percent in 2006.

The AHCA – Just Passed by the House of Representatives

The American Health Care Act, passed by the House of Representatives on May 4, seeks to roll back federal guarantees of mental health coverage and substance abuse treatment, instead leaving it to the discretion of individual states. Under the new plan, states can also opt-out of requiring that insurers cover pre-existing conditions. Other Essential Health Benefits (EHBs) left to the states to provide or not provide include emergency services, hospitalization, maternity and newborn care, rehabilitative services, chronic disease management, pediatric services and prescription drugs. The AHCA, as currently written, allows insurers in states that have opted out of covering EHBs to charge people more for their health insurance if they have pre-existing conditions.

What Do We Stand to Lose?

The ACHA bill leaves critical mental health care treatment and prescription medication coverage for poorer people up in the air. Depending on where you live, there may be state-provided financial assistance for psychiatric evaluations, counseling and potentially life-changing psychiatric drugs — or not. Should this bill go into effect, coverage that you’re currently receiving from your insurer, whether it’s through your employer or through the federal ACA marketplace, might go away. In a worst-case scenario, those families who need certain medical coverage for pre-existing mental health conditions may have to consider moving to a state where insurers will cover them. Unable to get proper care in their community, people with a serious mental illness are increasingly ending up in local jails, a sad development that is straining law enforcement. Mental Health America states that 1.2 million people living with mental illness are in jails and prisons every year. The Sentencing Project study referred to in the article found that six out 10 of those states with the least access to mental health care (Southern states) also have the highest incarceration rates.

The New Health Care Proposal: Here’s What Happens Next

As the House’s AHCA bill moves to the Senate for approval, the Congressional Budget Office(CBO) has issued their findings on the House’s proposed bill. The CBO estimates that the AHCA will leave 23 million more people without insurance by 2026 than if the ACA were to stay in place. They also discuss the dangers of leaving coverage decisions to the states. A CBO breakdown confirms that a state opting out of covering mental health care and prescription medicines, as well as pre-existing conditions, could cause out-of-pocket expenses to significantly rise for that coverage, leaving many priced out of the healthcare marketplace. The good news is that the U.S. Senate is unlikely to approve the House bill and in fact, they’re writing their own version. The bad news is that there are senators who may not heed the warnings in the CBO report.

What Can You Do?

First, don’t despair! There are many people who are aggressively fighting these radical changes to a healthcare system that, although flawed and in need of fixing, many people rely on. However, if you’re someone who is especially sensitive to mental health issues, it is imperative that you add your own voice to the choir of discontent. Indivisible is a nationwide organization that encourages people to take local action to express their concerns and tell their personal stories. Town Hall Project has an interactive database of town hall meetings by members of congress that constituents can attend. Add yourself to the mailing list of upcoming events in your area. If you’re unable to attend a meeting in person, you can also contact your senators directly to tell them how important mental health care coverage is for you and your family. You can also contact your House Representatives. When your representatives aren’t legislating in Washington, they should be back in their states to meet with their constituents. You can view the senate schedule and house schedule for 2017.

Above all, keep yourself well-armed with information! Important decisions are being made right now that could impact your mental health care and essential support services. If you believe that healthcare is a basic right, and that those living with mental illness should have the same rights as anyone else who suffers from a crippling affliction, Speak Out and Speak Loudly!

Your voice matters, and the voices of millions of sufferers will be heard in the voting booths!

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Introducing… Lynn with “I Used To Cry”

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While this song “I Used To Cry” by Lynn is more mainstream sounding than what you’d typically see here on ‘Musings,’ it’s a powerful message and compelling video that we felt inspired to share.

The song and its video is a strong statement against high school bullying. As an 18-year-old who struggled with ADHD and had trouble fitting into the usual school cliques, Lynn is perhaps uniquely qualified to speak out against the horrible things that teenagers can do to each other, and to eloquently point out how bullying can take a very serious toll and undermine one’s self-confidence.

“I Used To Cry” was written and composed by Lynn, and it was produced by Yoad Nevo (Sia, Moby, Sophie Ellis Bextor). This song is from her upcoming EP, due out later this year.

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The Joy Formidable – Leave No Trace, Live in L.A.

The Joy Formidable

photo by Roy A Braatz

I’ve often said that the true test of a band’s worth is when all the electronics are turned off, and they’re left only with their voices and unamplified instruments. An acoustic performance, even one in such an acoustically pristine setting as the Cathedral Sanctuary at the Immanuel Presbyterian Church in Los Angeles, is a stark showcase for a band’s talents. Or lack of talents. In the case of a special performance by the phenomenal Welsh band The Joy Formidable, the result was pure magic.

This stunning intimate performance back in February was part of their semi-acoustic Leave No Trace tour. The 10-song set was released as Leave No Trace (Live in L.A.). Listen to “Underneath the Petal,” featuring special guest Anna Bulbrook on violin. She performed on two songs.

It was recorded (quite beautifully) by Scott Cornish, and the evening also featured guest Dan Mancini on bass guitar.

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Introducing… Midnight Vesta

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In Midnight Vesta’s “Second Chances,” a song from their latest album Seconds, they consider the possibility of reincarnation — a chance to come back for a “do-over” to correct the mistakes made in a previous lifetime. Or at the very least, can one be given the opportunity to make amends in a failed relationship — to heal, renew and recapture the original magic? It’s a serious contemplation set to a pretty pop song with the gentle sensitivity of a picked acoustic guitar, soft percussion and slightly wistful, inquisitive vocals that builds into a lushly instrumented pop song with buckets of tantalizing guitars.

The accompanying video is precious. Our protagonist, reimagined as a young boy, powers through his day at his warehouse job, dreaming of his girl. As he successfully completes his tasks, from sweeping the floor to wrapping boxes to counting pallets, we’re left to wonder if, having been reawakened and “reborn” as it were (quite literally, in this particular case), he could rekindle an extinguished flame.

It is a happy ending, as our working class hero returns home, all grown up, to find his love waiting for him. So sweet.

Midnight Vesta, based in Toronto, has transitioned from a banjo-based folk band to a guitar-loving quartet, yet still maintains that homey, personal feel. The thematic focus of Seconds is on transition. “Life is about managing the twists and turns that you encounter day-to-day. The date of birth, the date of death, and the “dash” in between: the loss of loved ones, failed relationships, and the prospect of new ones.”

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Introducing… Kurt Swinghammer

Kurt Swinghammer

Photo by Lori Cullen

Sometimes the best stories are not the grandiose, but the quiet, intensely personal ones. In “Jack Layton and Grace Appleton,” Kurt Swinghammer sings a touchingly sweet and poignant tribute to Jack Layton, leader of Canada’s New Democratic Party — and his mom (Swinghammer’s, that is). These were two people who had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with each other, except that they passed away on the same day and had a profound impact on him. The video for this song features Swinghammer’s 1200 hand-drawn frames, in a lovingly created work of art.

As he explains it:

I turned on the TV one morning to see CBC News anchor Peter Mansbridge with tears in his eyes announcing the death of Jack Layton, the charismatic leader of Canada’s left wing New Democratic Party. It was a sad start to a new day, but then later that afternoon my mom died. These two people were very important to me for entirely different reasons, and as often is the case with significant personal experiences, it inspired me to write.

This was the first musical piece that was developed into a song cycle entitled Another Another, his 13th full-length release, in memory of his mother. At the National Music Centre in Calgary, Alberta, he had access to their collection of synthesizers, and it was there that his album took shape. This track includes the sounds of a rare Clavivox, first invented in 1952. Michael Phillip Wojewoda engineered the recordings on the Rolling Stones Mobile desk.

Kurt Swinghammer is a Toronto-based musician and visual artist who balances his personal projects and his commercial work. The album cover, his own illustration, is a portrait of his mother, Grace, with a quote from Brian Eno’s Another Green World. His mom was a fan of Eno’s ambient masterpiece, “Music For Airports,” and he played it for her during her final days, so this is quite fitting. Previous projects include co-writing and arranging Lori Cullen’s “Sexsmith Swinghammer Songs” and composing the score for an episode of David Suzuki’s “The Nature of Things” television series. He took part in Artists Against Racism, contributing an illustration to their nationwide Canadian billboard campaign.

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Sara Forslund, Lárus Sigurðsson and David Åhlén’s Poems of Despair

Poems of Despair

This breathtaking music that goes by the title Songs of Despair, a collaboration of Swedish artists Sara Forslund (Birch and Meadow), Lárus Sigurðsson (composer, arranger, musician, musical instrument maker and artist) and musician David Åhlén, began as a pilgrimage to Jerusalem by Åhlén and artist Samuel Sander. Sander had the desire to create an artbook based on the biblical Book of Lamentations. The story is of the destruction of a city and a holy temple, and the despair of the inhabitants left in its ruins. It is also a story of people in exile in a foreign land. The project became a series of art pieces and later, this mournful, melancholy collection of songs, delicately and powerfully brought to life by world-class artists.

“Death is my hope.
But my thoughts of it
strike me with fear.

I thought I believed.
In life, love.
In some kind of god.”

– The Meaning, from Poems of Despair

The exploration began with a five-day visit to Jerusalem’s Western Wall during Tisha B’av. This inspired audio and visual sketches that culminated in an art exhibit in Sweden. From that auspicious beginning came a collaboration with priest, psychotherapist and poet Bengt Thurfjell, who then penned the collection, Poems of Despair. In 2015, Åhlén began setting these poems to music, and was soon joined by Forslund and Sigurðsson.

This stunning album was recorded in different studios in Iceland and Stockholm, and mixed by Lárus and Birgir Jón Birgisson (Sigur Rós’s studio engineer) in Sundlaugin studio, Reykjavik. It is the first release by fledgling Gotlandic label Kaip.

poems of despair – bandcamp | poems of despair on spotify | Sara Forslund | Lárus Sigurðsson | David Åhlén | the book of lamentations art book | kaip musik

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Letter from a Jilted Lover

Letter from a Jilted Lover

Dear Beloved,

This is very difficult for me to write, but it’s extremely important that I do so. I have tried to be patient. I offered my gifts to you freely, as a lover does, and all I expected in return was that you would respect me and treat me well. But something sinister has come between us that threatens to rip us violently from our warm embrace. Read more >>

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The Twins

Drawing based on a photograph by Alaa Alyousef via AP

Drawing based on a photograph by Alaa Alyousef via AP

It was the photograph, really. There is always a defining moment when an awful situation reaches its apex. In this case, it was the image of the grieving Syrian father and his 9-month-old twins. He holds the eternally sleeping, dead from poisonous gas babies for the cameras, for the world to see, as if to say “See? See what our world has come to?”

And we did see. In one crystal clear, revolting moment, we were spun once again into a darkened dystopia. It is a reality seen in harrowing fiction like Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road,” where our humanity is reduced to pushing around a shopping cart in a barren world, trying desperately to pull scraps of food and hope from the embers. Read more >>

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Introducing Tunisian singer-songwriter and activist Emel

Emel Mathlouthi

Photo: Alex + Iggy

Tunisian musician Emel Mathlouthi, known as Emel, is a visceral artist who prefers that you connect with her music on a purely emotional level, rather than study it in depth. But it is nearly impossible not to want to translate and analyze her Arabic words, once you know her story. With her unique blend of traditional Tunisian acoustic music, electronic beats and fiercely independent lyrics, her work gained widespread recognition after she recorded “Kelmti Horra (My Word Is Free)” in 2007 and it became an anthem of the Arab Spring. She found herself being called “the voice of the Tunisian revolution” and was invited to perform at the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize ceremony.

On Ensen, her second album, she incorporates diverse musical styles, with influences such as Joan Baez, Massive Attack, Björk and Egyptian protest singer Sheikh Imam. The album, released in February on Little Human / Partisan Records, was recorded across seven countries on two continents with several producers. This included her primary collaborator, French/Tunisian producer Amine Metani and Valgeir Sigurðsson (Björk, Sigur Ros). The music has an expansive, cinematic feel that accompanies Emel’s powerful, heartfelt vocals.

Here is the official video for “Ensen Dhaif (Human, Helpless Human).”

Emel Mathlouthi now lives in New York, where she relocated after living for a while in Paris. In 2008 during the rule of Ben Ali, she was forced to move from Tunisia after her music was banned for her messages about personal freedom and government corruption. Her debut album Kelmti Horra was released on World Village in France in 2012. NPR covered her music in 2013, in a piece called “Emel Mathlouthi: Voice Of The Tunisian Revolution,” and fellow Tunisian singer and composer MC Rai said, “She has so much courage to sing that around that time. When the dictators in Tunisia, the old regime, were in the top of their power — and for her to even have the courage to sing that, when she was living still between France and Tunisia — I thought she really was a true artist, because that’s what the art is about.” Four years later, her music was once again at the center of a grassroots uprising, as she sang “Kelmti Horra” in the streets of Tunisia, hours before Ben Ali fled the country. Here are the lyrics, translated from Arabic.

You can learn much more about Emel Mathlouthi’s life, music and inspiration from an in-depth Pitchfork interview.

Emel is currently in Europe on tour, and she’ll be performing a string of dates across the U.S. beginning on May 3 in Washington, DC. See the list of shows below. Her new album can be purchased from Partisan Records (CD, vinyl or digital) or on iTunes.

5/03/2017 – Washington, DC – DC9
5/04/2017 – Philadelphia, PA – World Cafe Live
5/05/2017 – Boston, MA – Brighton Music Hall
5/06/2017 – New York, NY – (Le) Poisson Rouge
5/09/2017 – Evanston, IL – Evanston SPACE
5/10/2017 – Minneapolis, MN – Cedar Cultural Center
5/13/2017 – Seattle, WA – Seattle Meany Center
5/14/2017 – Vancouver, BC – The Rio Theatre
5/15/2017 – Portland, OR – Newmark Theatre
5/16/2017 – San Francisco, CA – Swedish American Hall
5/17/2017 – Los Angeles, CA – Echo

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