In Austin on November 17th Music and Memories are putting on a large fundraising event at the Moody Theater for the treatment and research of Alzheimer’s (and all other dementia related disorders). It will feature the fine performances of musicians Marc Broussard and Austin’s own Reed Turner. I was asked to interview them by Sundance Memory Care President Matt Stanley (who is co-organizing the event). Was great to talk to these guys about not just their music but also their own personal experiences of Alzheimer’s which is something I similarly experienced with my Grandfather and his dementia before he died. The interviews have been sent out to the public press but before they show I thought I’d share separate conversations with them both (Joel Greatbatch exclusive! And with the permission of Matt).
Music and Memories
The Rhythm of the Journey
Reed Turner interview for Music and Memories.
Your Facebook post regarding the Music and Memories event said it was a “bucket list moment” for you. Is playing in the Austin City Limits Moody Theatre a tick off the list?
Growing up in Austin the Austin City Limits is a huge part of our community and culture, and I remember before it was in the Moody Theatre that it used to be at this little tiny place that would fit 300 people. I remember in High School that Robert Plant was my hero and he was playing at the tiny ACL theatre. The way they used to do it was hand out tickets for free and you just had to be at a certain location in time to pick them up. So my buddy and I drove around all day with the radio on waiting to see what the location was going to be, and it was finally announced to be at RunTex, and we were right next to RunTex! Just happened to be there. We went in there and… we were at the wrong RunTex location and it was too late. So we went to the theatre with these fake press passes we made, I took a camera from my parent’s cabinet and had it around my neck, my buddy grabbed a pen and notebook and we tell them we’re from our high school newspaper. We said “there should be two tickets waiting for us” and they said we don’t have anything for a high school newspaper but there are some ‘stand by’ tickets if we’d care to wait. So we stand around for 2 hours and finally a guy comes up to us and asks “are you the two guys from the newspaper?” and we said “yeah” and then we get two front row tickets for Robert Plant live at Austin City Limits.
So when you’re 17 and you’re seeing and experiencing stuff like that, all I wanted to do was play at ACL. And once it got to Moody, which is in one of the most beautiful theatres in Austin, it’s now a huge moment for me as an Austinite and as a musician. And having had a grandparent that was affected by Alzheimer’s and to have it coincide with a benefit doesn’t get a whole lot better.
Matt Stanley, president of Sundance Memory Care, passed onto me that you’ve had a personal encounter with Alzheimer’s. Can you describe your experience of the disorder?
My Oma, which is my mom’s mother, had Alzheimer’s and we found out at a pretty inopportune time. She had just found out that she had small spots on her lungs and she was around 84 at the time. So with lung cancer that’s going to involve treatment and at that age it’s a pretty tough sentence. Because it’s already hard enough to go through something like treatment for cancer and she wasn’t sure if she wanted to go through it. And then on top of that, to find out she had Alzheimer’s, it felt unfair that she had been dealt that hand right at the very end of her life. She was also a strong matriarchal figure in the family and so I think it woke everybody up a little bit and really encouraged us to really savor the time we had left to spend with her which was both rewarding and frustrating. I would go to Kentucky to visit her and you could be having the most incredible conversation with them and really feel like you’re connecting, right up until to the point that they call you somebody else’s name or you realize they thought they were talking to someone else the entire time. You can’t think that you’ve just got to toughen up, because a sense of intimacy is always there once Alzheimer’s becomes a factor.
Has it had any impact on your song writing?
I think that all the experiences that you have and especially the tough ones affect your songwriting. And most often when it comes to the range of human emotion, this Alzheimer’s experience was new for me. So I think all that stuff finds its way into your songs some way or another.
Listening to music has been known to ignite memories and moments in our lives. Are there any songs of yours that trigger certain memories and milestones?
I don’t think my own songs necessarily make me think of that but I will tell you, even being a non-secular person myself, that my Oma was really religious. She is a person who introduced me to old time music and gospel music and those were the songs that I would play her. Because that’s what she wanted to hear. And so we’d sit around and sing her all sorts of those songs and those were the songs that really got those memories going. Also you could really hear some of that influence in my music, like when you listen to ‘Swim or Drown’ you get to hear the kind of gospel influence.
What was your time like when you were singing those songs for her? What could you sense happened in her spirit?
There are days with a lot of Alzheimer’s patients where for the most part they seem pretty fine. There might be a misplaced word here or a misnamed person there but other than that you might not notice anything different for 3 or 4 days out of the week. But the bad days are really hard to figure out, they can be confusing to anyone their speaking to and one of the things that’s interesting is even if she was having a bad day I could still sit there with her and sing ‘Down at the River to Pray’ or ‘In the Garden’. She might not be able to remember my name in that moment, but she could sing every word of that song with me.
And so when you talk about a way to connect with somebody, especially the way that music therapy is developing and seeing that in action, to just sit there with a guitar with her and have that connection, you know that’s a big deal when you feel like you’re losing somebody. I think one of the best parts about that is it kind of wipes the slate clean for both people in that conversation. She felt like she was engaged, like she knew what was going on again and I felt some sort of connection because we were both following the same page regardless of what else had been happening.
Do you have any memories of your first shows in Austin and when you began to establish yourself as an artist?
I started in Austin at this horrible downtown lounge called the Light Bar which is now closed. And it was the only place that would pay me any money and 10% of the bar to play for 2 hours or something. I’d just gather my friends during the summer and get them all down there. And luckily my friends like to drink a lot, so they kept having me back and did that for a little while. And then I started playing at Momos regularly which was Paul Oveisi’s legendary club. That’s where I really got my foot in the door and I started doing ok there. Then C3 started booking me for stuff and I just started grinding away before we started playing Stubbs sold out, the Parish and now Moody Theatre.
Is there anything you’d want people to know about you when you perform?
One of my great mentors is a musician named Livingston Taylor, James Taylor’s little brother, he was one of my professors in college and he used to tell me “Reed, what happens if the audience doesn’t like you?” And I would say: “I need to write better songs.” He’d say “No.” I’d say: “I need to put on a better show.” He replied “No.” So I’d finally say: “I don’t know Livingston what happens?” He said “You… die”. His point was that as a musician, as a performer your life blood is the performance, it’s what you live for and it’s literally what you’re making your living doing. It’s what puts food on the table and so he was always so clear that your job as a performer was to engage the audience. Really make them love you and to treat them accordingly. To really be appreciative and I always want audiences to know how much they do and I wonder if they know how much it means to us. Especially if you live in a city like Austin where there are 300 things you could do every single night and they’re all great options. So when somebody decides that you’re who they want to spend their evening with that’s a really powerful feeling. For most musicians that’s their favorite thing in the world to do. My very favorite thing in the world to do is to get up on a stage, stand in front of a microphone, and sing. I’d choose that over every other thing in the world. So to have people come and join in that experience with you is extremely powerful.
Marc Broussard Interview for Music and Memories.
You’re known not just for your music but also your philanthropic work, especially in your home state of Louisiana. Are there particular motives behind your involvement with each of these organizations?
I was raised by some good folks who instilled a strong sense of civic and moral duty in me from my earliest days. Some of my earliest memories are when my father was volunteering for a local festival, or even when we’ d go fishing, bringing a box of goods out to these old Cajuns still living in the swamp. I’ve always felt very passionate about helping out as much as I can in times of crisis. What I realized as time has progressed is just how many people are living in crisis. So I try to devote sincere efforts at affecting the world around me positively.
Was there anything that called to you when you were asked to support the upcoming Alzheimer’s benefit concert in Austin?
My grandmother had Alzheimer’s. I think we all know how terrible this disease is. To see someone you’ve known forever slowly fade away is tragic beyond measure. I’m honored to be involved, in some small measure, in seeking solutions for the families faced with this diagnosis.
‘Music & Memories’ is helping present the findings of how music itself is giving great comfort and confidence to those with Alzheimer’s. What do you think it is about music that can bring life to the mind and soul?
I can’t quite put my finger on it, exactly. Lots of theories exist. I like to think that music is life in that both have the power to confront us and almost extort us for emotions’ sake. A song that leads to heightened self-awareness and causes us to reflect on our own lives can lead to powerfully transformative moments. Just the same, a song that can make us dance with the ones we love can leave a lasting impression. I’m a very lucky man to make music full time.
We’re finding that music and our memories seem to closely intertwine. Are there any particular songs of other artists, or of your own, that ignite specific memories and moments in your life?
There’s a song called ‘Godspeed’ by Radney Foster that was written as a lullaby to his son who lived in another country. As much time as I’ve spent on the road away from my family, the song absolutely destroys me every time I hear it.
I’ve read that your Dad, Ted Broussard, was a musician himself. Was there anything you have learned from him about writing and performing music?
I learned from my father the value of real musicianship. He is what I would call an elite player. I always tried to surround myself with players on that level so that I would be made better by them.
Is he contributing again on your soon to be released new album?
He and I performed one of the tracks together on acoustic guitars as an added bonus. He and I have also been playing duo acoustic shows together recently and plan on doing many more.
You’ve been touring your music for many years now; are there any methods you’ve developed to be touring but still spend time with your family?
FaceTime is crucial. I’ll just hang out from the hotel room or back stage while my wife is cooking dinner. I love it. It’s almost like being at home.
With 7 studio albums under your belt, have you discovered a progression of different thoughts and themes with each album?
I like to think that I’ve grown significantly over the years as a man and a songwriter. But I can’t seem to shake this theme of HOME! I always end up writing something about home or family. We’ll see if I can break the chain at some point, but I doubt it!