Let’s call it mental muscle: exercising your mind to cope with tragedy. Blues music has been doing that since the days of the field hollers when slaves communicated truth to each other under subhuman conditions. Tragedy exercises the mental therapy muscle and don’t let anyone tell you it’s a placebo. Take the case of acoustic blues singer/songwriter/guitarist Doug MacLeod.
We begin his story on a Monday night at the Atlanta Airport waiting for a call from his wife Patti about their son Jesse who has cancer. “My son’s cancer came back in August, and it had metastasized to about six places in his body, and we were at the point of thinking we might lose him. I couldn’t sleep one night, and I went out, and I decided I would talk to God and say, you know, ‘Just give us a chance. Can you just give us a chance?’
“Of course, the hardest part about this is your child is not supposed to leave before you do, and that is inside your heart. It upsets you. It makes you feel you’re walking with one foot on the sidewalk and one foot in the gutter. You’re not balanced. You don’t feel right.”
Jesse had just had his first immunotherapy treatment.
“I was on pins and needles because Jesse and Patti Joy had gone to see this doctor, and we were waiting to see what the first word was. I would either be on a plane to get back before he passed away, to see him before he died or see him while he still knew who I was.
“Patti called me. They had seen the doctor, and he said we have a fighting chance. And that was like one of the biggest blessings I ever heard in my life. Then, to have to wait through Labor Day weekend before they could start the therapy. And my family said for me to keep on traveling.
“Jesse responded phenomenally well to the first treatment. All of a sudden, we weren’t in the gutter. I was up on the sidewalk, and we’ve been able to see progress, and now there’s a lot of hope. Immunotherapy is working. It’s an amazing thing. It’s a beautiful thing, So, we’re grateful.
“We found out that they don’t have to eliminate the tumors. All they have to do is choke ’em. What that means is the tumors may not shrink anymore, but if they’re dead, he can live a good long life with that scar tissue in his body. So, a special clinical trial they did in L.A. has actually saved his life, and there’s a song about that.”
Doug sings about his son on “There Is Always Love” on his upcoming album which he is shopping around. When the pandemic is over the album will be released. It is his immunotherapy.
“What happened that night was in the song, and then later on what’s happened with immunotherapy has shrunk the tumors by 38%. I don’t think you ever stop being a parent. You know, you don’t stop. You have to learn to let them go, my goodness gracious, but I don’t think you ever stop.”
Doug is more than just another artist I write about. We’re brothers of another mother. I was the first journalist to interview him about the sexual abuse he suffered as a child. He exercised that mental muscle in the title song of his 2018 album “Break The Chain.” Two years ago he talked to me about the first time he performed the song live.
“I was doing a festival. I was in this room. There must have been about 300 people there, and they all stand up there in Denmark. And I mentioned the story of “Break The Chain.” How do you break the chain of abusive families to overcome adversity and not be subject to it?
“I saw some movement as I was singing the song, and there as a young man, maybe 20 years old. He kept moving up through the crowd. He sat down in front of me as I was singing the song, and he sat down like a person who does meditation. He crossed his legs, the hands out on top of the knees, and he was listening to the song.
“It was the last song of the set. When I got done, I was signing CDs, talking to people, and he waited until the very, very end and came up to me. I thought he wanted a CD, but he didn’t want a CD. He just said to me, ‘Mr. MacLeod?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘I heard your song “Break The Chain.’” I said, ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘This means I still gotta chance, don’t I?’ I said, ‘Yes, young man. You still got a chance.’”
We all still gotta a chance. And music is the best way to exercise our mental muscle.