Grief & Resilience or: How Heartbreak Led Me Back to the Music Industry26th August 2014 • 30 comments
I readily talk about the death of my fiancé, but I’ve never written about it. I don’t really have an outlet to do so as I’m not someone who could (or would necessarily want to) write a book, and, as a music industry writer, none of the outlets that publish my work would be particularly interested in my experience. Our lives weren’t extraordinary enough to be of interest to publishers. Our story wasn’t perfect, but it was ours. He wasn’t perfect, but he was perfect for me. One thing was certain; I loved him. More than anything. 4 years after his death, this remains unchanged. Telling the tale involves a bit of back story and a woven path through the music business.
While most people are introduced to the music industry by way of something cool, e.g., a radio station or record label internship, being in their town’s hottest band, etc, my introduction came by way of Bop Magazine when I was 11 years old. Like many girls my age, I was a die-hard New Kids on the Block fan and would read all that I could about them. I kept seeing the name Maurice Starr and the word manager. I wasn’t sure what this manager person did so I went to the oh-so-helpful Encyclopedia Britannica to find out. I don’t recall exactly what it said and God help me if I can find an Encyclopedia Britannica now, but the definition intrigued and captivated me instantly. From then on I tried to find out more about managers and what they did, which led me to the Bible of music industry publications in America: Billboard. While I kept reading Bop, it was also during this time that I started listening to more styles of music on my own. I also began using my allowance money to buy Billboard magazine. I wasn’t entirely sure what all of it meant, but it fascinated me. I was also quite interested in Ricky and Ozzie Nelson, which was slightly strange for a young girl in 1990s America. In the name of full disclosure I should admit that after my New Kids on the Block phase came a brief foray into Nelson fandom. As much as I still get ridiculed by my family for this, it actually did a lot of good. It taught me that I don’t much care for men with long hair, but more importantly, it taught me a lot about the business side of entertainment. I would read about Ozzie Nelson and how he negotiated contracts, how he managed Rick Nelson, and had creative control of all aspects of The Ozzie and Harriet Show. All of this taught me a lot about what it took behind the scenes to make entertainment work and I was awe-struck by how much had to happen for my favorite music and television shows to see the light of day.
To cut through a lot of really uneventful years of me doing little more than reading industry trade magazines, skip ahead to 2000. I began working with independent labels and marketing companies promoting their up and coming projects. Being based in Chicago is interesting. There is an incredible music scene here and always has been, but there is NO industry to speak of. Because of this, these labels and marketing people would send me promo materials, music, concert tickets, etc, and I would get to work promoting people no one had heard of. Some of it was easy because the music was good. Some of it was the most horrible music you’ve ever heard in your entire life (I won’t mention those artists by name, why be mean?). I got to work on the first records made by Zero 7, Maroon 5, Gorillaz, and Sigur Ros. I also got to work on projects for Telepopmusik, Beulah, South, and a host of other projects, most of which had a really strong buzz about them. I was then put in charge of organizing street teams for the whole of the United States. The music industry is a wonderful and funny place, which largely plays on ego. The street team thing may have happened because I was genuinely doing that good a job, or because no one else wanted to do it. Either way, it gave me something to add to my CV, and progress was being made. (Yes, this does all have something to do with the opening line, I promise.)
One day in September 2004, I was invited to see Chicago band Local H and, since I liked the handful of songs I knew by them, I accepted. The band blew me away with their energy and immediately upon returning home I reached out to the ‘contact’ address on the band’s website. I told them about my experience with marketing and street teams, mentioned that I was in Chicago, and told them if they ever needed any help with anything to give me a call. I didn’t really expect to hear anything but I got an email from the band’s label a day or two later asking if I’d be willing to help organize a street team. They explained that the band was newly signed to the label, they were just beginning the marketing push, and they’d love my help. I was eager to do all I could and we got started. This led to me joining the Local H message board. I say with all sincerity that few things have changed my life more than Local H or the Local H message board. Emcrate, Fenyx, Dewey, Vaudiophile, Wade, ToddX; these quickly became familiar usernames and cherished friends. Emcrate ran the board; he was funny, slightly firm, and always fair. I got to know all of my other H board friends in person before I got to know him. When we did finally meet, it was as if we’d been lifelong friends. That’s what happens when you become friends with someone online before meeting them in person. It’s also what happens when you meet the person you want to spend your life with. After that there was a bit of a gap between our visits as both our schedules were busy; his with law school and bar exams, mine with school and work. Then, when he moved 3 hours away, it seemed like the perfect time to begin dating one another.
Because of the distance, our relationship was never an easy one, but it was always a great one. And it was always worth it.
Our relationship began with challenges. The October before we began seeing one another my Grandmother, who is more like a mother to me, suffered a fairly massive stroke which left her paralyzed on one side. She requested that I be her caregiver so I quit my job and my aunt and I tried to care for her. Neither of us qualified, nor prepared, for what this entailed, this left no time for me to travel to where he lived. He had a very high stress job and it was impossible for him to get away as well. Fortunately it was the age of mobile phones and we could talk at night. Even more fortunately, we were best friends.
Eventually I went back to work as it became evident that my Grandmother needed more care than family could provide. He was still deadlocked by situations at work but that soon became the least of our concerns. I’d been suggesting he see a doctor over concerns about his health but because of things going on at his office, no one could easily take time off. He didn’t want to seem as though he wasn’t a team player and sadly, this lead to a lot of really bad things.
Without going into too many specifics, (out of respect for his privacy) he ended up being hospitalized 11 times in 2008. After a healthy (for the most part) year in 2009, we thought the worst had passed. He started to show some signs that something wasn’t quite right in early 2010. His goal was always to get back to Chicago and that seemed ever closer; it actually seemed to be happening! We began to plan our wedding for that November and had loosely confirmed an available date with Wrigley Field, though hadn’t put down a deposit as we weren’t entirely certain he’d be back in town by then. He sent me an email at 7:48 pm on March 11, 2010, which contained a forward from a person in Chicago who had offered him a position here. It was all coming together, finally. We had an appointment with a doctor in Chicago scheduled for the weekend; he could get treatment, stay here, and we could finally get on the track our lives were meant to be on. We could finish planning our wedding, we could start our family and travel more, and I would have his name. Finally it was happening.
I’d been sick for the better part of a month with a sinus infection, bronchitis, 2 ear infections, and strep throat. I called a friend to tell her of the Chicago job but, for whatever reason, became very upset about actor Corey Haim and his death. My lungs had felt heavy for some time and, on my drive home from picking up dinner, I started crying about Corey Haim and how he died alone. Not being hypochondriacal, it’s very unlike me to behave in such a way, but I started to cry and almost panic about how fearful I was that I would die in my house alone that night and how sad and scary it must be to die alone.
The next morning I woke up and something felt off, somehow. I didn’t know what exactly, so I attributed it to the medication I was on and went about my day. I’d been working with a fever of well over 100 for weeks so I was quite used to feeling strange and ignoring it. I got an overwhelming urge to call my fiancé but there was no answer. I figured he was showering so I didn’t give it much thought. I felt the urgency to call him again, so I made another attempt to reach him. It was extremely rare that I phoned him in the morning so I wasn’t entirely certain what this sensation was about, but I always trust my instincts, so I went with it. He wasn’t picking up. I tried to reason with myself and thought he had a migraine, overslept, or any number of things. I messaged a colleague of his to see if anyone at his office had heard from him. I had not done a single one of these things before as I’m not one to go through a boyfriend’s phone, search a wallet, or anything of the sort, I just could not shake this feeling. No one from the office had heard from him. I felt anxious, like something was wrong. At the risk of sounding like a lunatic, I called his doorman. I told him I was very likely insane but my fiancé had been very sick for a while and I was hours away. I asked if he could knock on his door and call 911 if there was no answer. A few minutes later I got a call from a detective telling me they had found my fiancé dead on the floor of his apartment.
Very dark days followed. I’ve always been very independent, and remained so with him. It’s strange once you meet your match and begin to want a marriage and children for the first time; It’s difficult to un-want those things. What’s more, once you want them, how do you see yourself having those things with someone other than the person who made you want them in the first place? Time becomes a funny thing following a death. There’s little delineation between hours, days, months, or, in some cases years, as it all blurs together. I barely remember much of it. I became obsessed with autopsies, or postmortems as my friends in the UK would call them. I would watch and read all I could about the process while sitting alone in my house and hyperventilating. I would imagine the life we planned, look at photos of him as a child and think: ‘That’s what our children were supposed to look like.’ I wore his clothes everyday for 2 months or so and listened, almost exclusively, to The Dance by Garth Brooks, The Luckiest by Ben Folds (which was to play at our wedding), I and Love and You by The Avett Brothers, I Don’t Believe in the Sun by The Magnetic Fields, and How to Disappear Completely by Radiohead.
I got in to see a grief counselor within the first couple of months, which was probably the best thing I did. I’ve always been good at coping and facing problems head on but, this was, by far, the most significant loss I’d suffered. While I’d been through more than most, I believe that all of those events occurred to give me the strength and self-reliance to handle this. I knew I needed something to distract me; something other than autopsies and imagining what our children would look like. People were pressuring me to write a book but as I kept getting lost in my own neighborhood and forgetting to turn my car off, it didn’t seem as though I had the attention span for that. People were pressuring me to date but there was absolutely NO WAY that was happening. But I did need something to get me out of my own head. I did need a positive focus. I needed something that was mine, that didn’t have memories of him, of us. This brought me to the music industry.
I’d received a rather well-timed and serendipitous tweet from Shaun Letang about a music industry course he ran. It was online, which worked with my schedule. It wasn’t a degree course, which I was fine with as I was just brushing up my skills, anyhow. It seemed to be a sign, so I took it as one. I looked into it (because that’s what I do) and Shaun was a highly respected music marketing guru in the UK. The price was unbeatable and it seemed to be just the thing to slowly get me back in the swing, or not. Either way it would show me if I still had an interest in the music industry. I had been on the caregiver-wife-mother track and, for all I knew, I may not have even cared about the music industry any more…and the industry may not want me.
From the day I registered in Shaun’s course I felt like I was where I belonged. For the first time in a long time I started to feel like a small part of myself was back. I became active on the message board; sharing industry news, chatting with other ‘students,’ and getting to know what the others were hoping to accomplish. The others were all musicians and I was the only one who was into the business side of things. One day Shaun, whom I always referred to as our fearless leader, asked if he could message me about something outside of the board. I sent him my email address and panicked about what I had done wrong. Always one to analyze a misstep I may have taken, I checked the articles I had shared, and considered whether I had been too involved on the board and made myself a nuisance. (*this is what life is like when you’re neurotic). Shaun emailed to say he’d been really pleased with my participation and loved my insight, advice, and take on the industry. He asked if I’d be interested in writing a feature for his music industry website. Given how low I’d been it was a huge boost for me and I jumped at the chance!
One of our ‘assignments’ was to build a website. Since everyone else was a musician of some kind, the focus of their websites was straightforward. I agonized over what to do as I didn’t know what I wanted to do. Shaun inadvertently helped me answer that question.
I’d often complained about the lack of material I wanted to read on other industry websites, so I decided I would make a website featuring that content. I had no clue how to make a website, but I figured I’d learn.
I needed a name, though, and it had to meet a few criteria:
1) I knew I wanted ‘Rose” somewhere in the name, somehow. It was his name. I should have had his name but it didn’t work out that way. As I saw it, the journey of my life led me to him, which led me to this. He was as much a co-founder as anyone could be.
2) I didn’t know what may become of this website or what I wanted to do with it, if anything, but I was clear-headed enough to know that consistency is imperative. If I chose a name like ‘Musicindustryarticles.com’ then all I could ever provide would be music industry articles and that was far too limiting. I needed something that allowed growth because I was growing-constantly.
3) All I could think of was my 11-year-old self reading about Maurice Starr and learning about management. Of course, I would never be in management, but let’s just say one day I did have a company of some kind, I had to have a name that was vague enough to provide random music industry articles and music news but may one day morph into something in case I, too, morph into something else.
4) I need to do all of this while somehow creating my own identity in my brand new life on my own AND paying tribute to him, without whom none of it would be happening. No pressure.
Somehow the name Thirty Roses did every single one of those things. Every. Single. One.
It was slow going at first. Very few people in my personal life knew about the website or the music industry course and no one in professional circles knew what was going on in my personal life (most still don’t). I had no idea how to do anything with a website (I still don’t, though I’ve learned a lot). The growth has exceeded anything I could have imagined. As much flack as the music industry gets, most of which is well deserved, it’s also an industry filled with warm, loving, welcoming people who will do just about anything to help one of their own.
In the two years I’ve been back at just about full swing, Thirty Roses has become a global source of music industry news and advice with thousands of subscribers, I’ve become a Grammy member, been interviewed and featured in numerous publications and blogs about the industry, and what began as my website featuring the articles I wasn’t finding anywhere else has, in fact, evolved along with me.
We’re doing artist consultations now and, as the girl who just two years ago thought could never never ever manage a band, I’ve actually become one of the managers of, not just a band, but one of my favorite bands; Noughts and Exes.
My relationship with Noughts and Exes is an interesting one as I was a fan first. I wrote an article that mentioned the band in one of my columns on a music industry website I used to write for. I mentioned how perplexed I was by their lack of popularity in America and unbeknownst to me, someone with whom I’d become recently acquainted was managing them at the time and passed it along to the band members. They got in touch with me upon reading it and we stayed in touch, eventually becoming friends. From there they would ask me questions about the US music industry and I began working with them as a consultant, answering questions and assisting Spencer Douglass, who eventually took over management duties. Recently it became evident that with the amount of momentum and success the band have, even with all Spencer does and the band themselves handling a great deal, their career required another team member, and they asked me join officially. There are so many exciting things going on with Noughts and Exes and with each exciting event I miss my fiancé a little bit more. The band will be seen in upcoming romantic comedy It’s Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong, their flashmob video for #1 single “Hearts“ is still getting global attention, and their current single “Seasons” is as popular as ever. I know that he’d be proud that I’m a part of it and I wish everyday he were here to share in all of this, too.
It’s been a remarkable ride, to say the least, and one that never ceases to astound me. It’s been challenging, sad, chaotic, and trying, and I still have moments where I’ll break down. Somehow, I’ve made it this far. Because of him I made it this far. Because of me I made it this far. What began as a distraction and way of passing time in the absolute darkest days of my life has somehow evolved into the greatest joy in my life and a career which I never imagined I’d have. Not only has it given me the chance to meet wonderful new friends and amazing artists around the world but it’s become my dream job. I don’t think that’s a coincidence. While I acknowledge that I work very hard, I also never underestimate the role he played in both leading me to the place I am today and in making me the person I am today.
I’ve learned that, while the grieving process never ends, neither do relationships. There’s never logic or reason behind loss or why people die, especially at a young age. I still try to figure out the ‘why?’ and constantly question his loss and I don’t know that there are answers to be found. I wish there were some quick sound-byte that could encapsulate the grieving process but honestly, grieving doesn’t end. It never gets easier, it merely changes over time. I suppose when you love someone the best you can do is live a life that would make them proud; if you do that, eventually you’ll start to find little bits of joy again.
When You’re Dreaming With a Broken Heart, the Waking Up Is the Hardest Part- My Grief Mix
*Yes, it’s erratic
The Luckiest- Ben Folds
The Dance- Garth Brooks
I Don’t Believe in the Sun- The Magnetic Fields
Smile- Nat King Cole
The Shape of You- Jewel
Out of This- Autamata
Happiness – The Rembrandts
I Was Made For You- Rivers Cuomo
Fire and Rain- James Taylor
Only in Dreams- Kate Earl
I And Love And You- The Avett Brothers
The World Has Turned and Left Me Here- Weezer
Sweet Old World- Emmylou Harris
St. Patrick’s Day- John Mayer
Dream (All I Have To Do)- R.E.M.
Woke Up New- The Mountain Goats
A Bad Dream- Keane
Summer of Boats- Local H
Forests and Sands- Camera Obscura
I Have Watched You Fly- Billy Squire
Better In Time- Leona Lewis
How to Disappear Completely- Radiohead