Songwriting Saved My Life

by:  Sean Barrette

For me, songwriting has not only provided great joy and opportunities to meet and share my soul with really cool, interesting and wonderful people – it helped saved my life.

Music has been a thread that ran through my entire life, from having a musician father, to starting a career in radio in my hometown of Kapuskasing while still in high school. I moved to Sudbury twenty years ago for a full time job, and enjoyed a fourteen year career as a radio personality, music and program director, spanning multiple formats (rock, country, CHR). I’ve definitely helped put a few bucks in the pockets of some of the S.A.C.’s more famous members!

At the time me and radio parted ways in 2002, I’d done quite a lot of radio control room serenading and some stage work, but songwriting still wasn’t part of the picture (aside from some pretty forgettable lyrics I wrote for my first, very short lived band in 1994, in which I was lead singer.)

In fact, I was a late bloomer as far as playing an instrument, and didn’t really dig into songwriting until after I learned to play guitar in 2004.

It is how I got to that point where the story really begins.

In July 2003, I lost one of my best friends, Reggie Wainman, in a motorcycle accident. We started as acquaintances, and after a chance encounter in a grocery store, Reg and I jammed together for seven years. Reg played guitar, I sang, and we enjoyed hanging out and covering other peoples’ songs. He played like two people – there had never been a need for me to learn. When Reg died, his brother, Doug, also a great guitar player, gave me one of his guitars as a memento of our friendship. Unfortunately, it sat silent in the corner as other events conspired to keep me reeling.

A few months later, October 2003, I was assaulted outside a bar and had the end of my nose bitten off. This required extensive reconstructive surgery that would take close to two years – and a lot of mental and spiritual work. You just don’t see something like that coming – there is a cognitive dissonance that occurs between thinking you live in a civilized society, and having somebody cannibalize your face. How do you make sense of that? As it is with most things, I would eventually discover that the answer is found inside of you, in how you choose to deal with it.

But I didn’t really have time to think about that. A month later, in the cruelest twist on the adage “bad luck comes in threes”, my 53-year-old mother died of cancer that had been diagnosed as terminal only that August. Believe it or not, bookended by the first and third losses, what had happened to my face seemed almost inconsequential.

It was, to say the least, a rough six months. What do you do to bounce back from that? The question kept me awake at night. How the hell am I going to live through this? I was 33 years old, and ever being happy again seemed a distant thought.

But – isn’t there always a “but?” – I was fortunate to be married to a very good woman. And in December, we found out we were pregnant with the first of our two beautiful children. So there was some light. But there needed to be another focus.

Early in the New Year, Reggie’s brother, Doug, called and asked if I’d like to come over to his place to work out a few tunes. He asked me to bring Reg’s guitar with me, and that was when he started teaching me to play. The way it all unfurled was a real circle of life kind of thing, and I still marvel at it. The Universe works in very mysterious ways.

After learning dozens of other peoples’ songs, my attention turned to the ones that were finding their way into my own consciousness. And I started writing. It turns out I had a lot to say, not only about that period of my life, but in general. Some of it is intensely personal – some of it comes from nowhere. My process is just to let it in, give it a voice, and see where it goes. Because I believe songs are living things, and I am always thankful when I am the one chosen to bring them forth.

This was all good, positive change, but I still had to do other work, and I don’t mean the kind that pays the bills – I mean the kind that gets your head, heart and soul straightened out, and keeps them there. I had to learn to accept what had happened, to forgive, and to move on. I had to tap into something deep inside.

I did a lot of reading, a lot of contemplation, a lot of soul searching. I came to the realization that I had led a charmed life, and despite it all, that had not changed. I was still alive, I was lucky, and I had to be grateful for all I had. What I had lived was all part of where I was headed, all part of whatever I was supposed to be doing, and eventually I was able to not only understand and accept, but to appreciate and love all that had transpired. Because it was all part of the person I had become – and I liked that guy quite a bit, in spite of his faults.

I gave myself permission to call myself a songwriter and the songs started to come in a flood. There were scraps of paper everywhere and I had two MP3 recorders on the go at once, full of melodies and notes. Now what?

Recording was the next logical step, so I bought a little ZOOM recorder and put them down. But that was guitar and voice, and in my head I heard something bigger for those tunes. I had to get into a studio and I knew it.

Last year, on my 40th birthday, my friends and family gave me studio time as a gift, so I could quit talking about recording and actually do it.

So I did.

Live Through This is my debut album, and was released this past July. They say if you want to catch water, you don’t try to grab it – you just hold out your hand. Everything about the project has gone exactly as I would have hoped – better, in fact, just by letting it be what it’s going to be.

As I write this, it is my 41st birthday, and I am in a good place in my life. The events I described are eight years gone. I cannot believe how far I’ve come since then.

From the ashes of that trying period, I am happier, more peaceful, and comfortable with myself and others than I have ever been. I draw inspiration from my family, and the love around me. What has unfolded in the past year has been an incredible experience – joyful, nourishing, and beautiful.

I am lucky and grateful to be alive, and for the family, friends, and acquaintances old and new who care so much and have supported me through everything.

I have been blessed, and I will never take this incredible gift for granted.

I am a songwriter, and for as long as I am drawing breath, I will be thankful for every word, every note, and every song.

Click Here to visit Sean’s Songwriter’s Profile (and hear some of his tunes).


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