THOUGHTS: How Lockn' Healed Me. How Depression Is Real. Rock In Peace, Neal.
I went to Lockn' last week because I needed Circles Around The Sun to heal me. And I was confident they would do just that. The week leading up to Lockn’, I was in a lot of physical pain, due to a back injury. I went to the chiropractor the Thursday Lockn’ started, he did his thing, and strongly advised me not to go. When I told my fiance we couldn’t go, she was crushed. She has been to every Lockn' and we had been looking forward to this all summer. And to be honest, I had been under a lot of stress for a few months, and I had been holding a lot in, and she knew that I needed to hit the reset button at Lockn'. She knew WE needed to reset at Lockn'. As we decided not to go, and started to accept our disappointment, I got a text from Circles Around The Sun drummer Mark Levy, which ended with the following sentence, "Love You, Man. I can't wait to see you." I knew at that moment hearing CATS play their late-night set in Garcia’s Forest that night was the medicine I needed.
So, we decided to go, because it felt wrong not to. And we are grateful we did. Because it turned out to be the last time I got to see Neal Casal play with his organic and beautiful creation — CATS. I came home from Lockn’ feeling renewed and healed. I have no doubt it's because I stood in front of Circles Around The Sun, shifted both paradigm and perspective, and allowed the vibes to pass through every pore. "If you get confused, listen to the music play."
I first met CATS drummer Mark Levy when I started writing about music in Denver, Colorado about 9 years ago. He was playing with The Congress, Bonfire Dub, and various one-offs and side projects. And when I started a weekly music series at the now-closed Park House, Mark was a mainstay behind the kit during the 2 years the series was in existence.
I distinctly remember having a particularly bad day when I was living in Denver years ago, and when Mark Levy arrived for a SoulFax Session that night, I told him I needed him to play my blues away. So, I took a pair of drumsticks that were played with by Levon Helm out of my office (a whole other story), and handed them to Mark. I asked him to tap into whatever was in those sticks, and he played them until splinters flew off of them. It was just what I needed. He still has the sticks. I still have that memory. That's what friends are for.
When Mark got the call for Circles Around The Sun, I interviewed him. When CATS played Brooklyn Bowl on their first tour, I went and hung out. And when Mark played with Phil Lesh and Friends at The Capitol Theater, I was there, hugging Mark when he was done with his set. Simply because I was so proud of him and because he deserved the momentum so damn much. It made me feel good watching him succeed. I followed Mark's journey with CATS, and beyond, every step of the way. Through that journey, I was around Neal Casal a little bit.
So, when I woke up this morning, and heard Neal Casal had died by suicide, I thought about my friend Mark, and how much this was going to hurt him. I also thought about my own battle with depression over the past 20 years. I have been hospitalized a couple times due to depression and anxiety. I took 7 medications for 10 years, which made me feel different, but far from “good”. I have stayed in the house for days on end, too scared to face the world, and too hurting to see anything clearly. Just when I thought I make some headway, the darkness found its way into everything I did. As I have gotten older, I have found some tools to deal with it, and things aren’t nearly as bad as they used to be. But it hasn’t gone away. I am thankful it doesn’t hold me back like it used to and that I don’t have to take any medications to keep it at bay. My mom had it worse than me. I say this not to gain sympathy on my behalf, but because I have never publicly admitted my battle. And I think more light needs to be shined on the subject. Depression and anxiety are real.
Circles Around The Sun were at the top of their game. They had just wrapped up their newest album last week, and planned to release it before Jam Cruise, which they were set to play. They also announced a tour this fall, and some of those shows were already sold out, or close. Neal Casal was also about to produce local Raleigh musician Kenny Roby’s new album. But when things are going good, life doesn’t always feel good to those fighting internal battles.
I have no wise words. But I do have the memory of hanging backstage after CATS crushed their late-night set at Lockn' this weekend, talking to Mark and everyone else, watching a good friend of mine live his dream. The dream is still alive. And the three albums Circles Around The Sun recorded with Neal will stand as masterpieces for decades to come. Mr. Casal, I want to thank you for giving my friend Mark a chance. I want to thank you for making some of the most moving music I have ever heard. And I want to thank you for healing me last weekend. I wish the weekend healed you as much as it did me.
We never know when something is going to end. We don’t know what our friends and acquaintances are really going through. We don't know when bands are going to break up, when musicians are going to leave the earth, or if we’ll ever have another chance to be in someone's presence. Shit, we don't know how many more concerts we’ll be able to make it to ourselves. So, take it all in. Put your phones away. Let the music move every damn cell in your body. Hug your friends. Tell people you love them. Ask friends if they are doing okay. Tell your friends if life is getting too heavy for you. It’s nothing to be ashamed about. We are all just trying to do the best we can with what we have within us. The music and hugs help. Rock in peace, Neal.
Words by Brian Turk
Above Photo by Neil Peek - Taken 8/24/19 at Lockn’ Festival
Below Photos by Dave Vann - Circles Around The Sun in Garcia’s Forest at Lockn’ - 8/22/19