Song of Humanity
Richard’s early songs illuminated his learning experiences and self discovery. “After I left home, I moved to California and lived in a commune. I wanted to be a rockstar so badly. I did a lot living out there and I experienced a lot. Then in Wisconsin, I went to UW-La Crosse and got my Bachelor’s degree in the Fine Arts and Psychology. I also went to Stout for a Master’s degree focused on AODA [Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse] Treatment. I learned a lot about chemical dependency and how the brain works. I had a job at a counseling center that was pretty tough. There were a lot of inmates there, cocaine issues, and other chemical dependencies. I felt really fulfilled working there because I saw that I was good at communicating with people. I saw that I could be gut wrenchingly honest about my pain and my trauma and live through that. I want to point out that we need to work more with individuals’ environments. When we help someone in treatment and then send them back to a house where they all use chemical substances, how can we expect them to do any differently?”
The unpredictable rhythm of addiction settles itself in the lives of those experiencing hardship and Richard explained the complexities. “I've been addicted to one thing or another my entire life. I have learned how to live as an addictive person and do what they do. Addicts tend to flock together. There's a magnetivity between homeless people, I guess all people. People need people, it's human nature. We're all searching for something and I can't put my finger on it, but I know I need to find the answers to questions and feelings. A lot of times, when people are experiencing homelessness, they need each other, but then there's drugs and alcohol. It becomes a dual dependency problem. On top of that, there’s mental illness, you combine that with chemicals and now you have addiction and it isn’t just to the drugs, it’s all the people around you that are doing drugs too because they are your family.”
Homelessness does not match a single genre, but instead plays through different times and experiences. Richard shared shadows of the dark nights living on the streets. “I think I led myself to homelessness. No one pushed me there, but I didn’t have the skills that I needed. When I went out on my own, I didn’t know how to make my bed, boil water, or clean. I didn’t pay my rent because drug money came first. Everything comes secondary to chemical dependency for a lot of people. I have been involved with meth, heroin, and needles. I have done it all, but I have been able to see what I was doing to myself and come out of that. I was homeless for around five years. I lived in my motorhome for about four of those years. That was hard, the weather in the winter is freezing here [in Wisconsin]. At night, if I had nowhere to go, I would spend my time trying to find a place that was warm enough to get through the night. I had a few friends that had given up on their lives, overdosed, and then got hypothermia and died. It was a heartbreaking experience to be homeless. You see the real deal. You see how it really is when you have nothing. When you have nothing, anything is good. I never felt safe or secure. I was a spinning top, where does it stop, nobody knows.”
A simpler tune that Richard plays on repeat these days captures his new home and desire to live happily with his music. “My life now is pretty dismal, but good. My worst day now, being in my apartment and having my own things is better than my best day on the streets. I am 71 now and I spend a lot of time at my house. I cook a lot of food. I am actually a pretty good cook. I also love spending time with my music and my art. My cat, Penny [after Penny Lane from The Beatles], she’s the best cat. I have had her for six years now and she brightens my days. I love spending time with my friends too and just being in good company.”
Previewing his new tunes in life, Richard beamed as he dreamed about the possibility of travel and community. “In the future I hope to do some traveling. I am really positive about my future. I want to help others who have lost music and help them find their way back to it. I want a community where we can share stories and learn to love to play again. I have hope because I just can’t give up. I have been through so much. How could I throw the towel in now? I guess I’m just stubborn that way.”
Richard left us with a refrain that should be featured in every song--one of simple humanity and kindness. “I want people to start acting like human beings to each other. We have to remember that everyone has their own background and we all have our own world views through different shades of glass. For me, if I won the lottery it wouldn't change me. I still have a heart and I still want to help other people. I have been there, I have been helped, so I want to give back. I want everyone to be treated with human respect and humanity. I love you because you're another person and if I can help you, I will.”
Artist’s Note: Richard loves playing and listening to music. His story might inspire others to look at our own lives and the different experiences we have had. We all have different layers and different tracks, just like a record. As Richard said, we all have our own world views through different shades of glass. When you look through a lens that doesn’t match yours, you might be surprised by what you find.
2/15/2021 11:14:00 pm
I could listen to your stories for days and you have a true heart. Thank you for your friendship!
2/16/2021 03:45:39 am
Thank you for helping me get to know my friend better. He is right, everyone has a story. He is very brave to share his.
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