Monthly Archives: October 2014

New Song, “Broken Breath,” To Help Southwestern Ontario Lung Association

One of the things I enjoy most about my work is that it puts me in the path of some wonderful organizations. I was thrilled when my journey took me back into the office of the Southwestern Ontario Lung Association about three years ago. I’ve been working with them ever since, in my capacity as a marketing consultant at Bell Media Radio in London. However this project transcends those day-to-day necessities.

First, a little background:

I’m a lifelong asthmatic, though you’d hardly know it to see me now. Treatment has come a long way in forty years, and I’ve also outgrown many of the daily symptoms (though allergies and other irritations still chase me at every turn, but that’s another story). When I was a child, I was very sick with asthma. I was in and out of the hospital and doctor’s office on what seemed like a regular basis. A big turning point in my life was when I was sent to a facility in Toronto that was better equipped to monitor and treat asthmatic children. I lived there, weekends excluded, for three months when I was seven years old.

Here I am at 7 years old, with my Dad. This is the only photo I still have that I know was taken at what we called "The Centre" - the hospital in Toronto.

Here I am at 7 years old, with my Dad. This is the only photo I still have that I know was taken at what we called “The Centre” – the hospital in Toronto.

At that time, my family was very involved with the Lung Association, as my parents and family doctor would do anything they could to gain access to any resources that might assist them in helping me. I’ve never forgotten that, and whenever I see the Lung Association’s red cross logo, I automatically think of others with asthma and other breathing problems.

Much later in life, after the worst of my asthmatic days seemed to be behind me, I wrote a song called “Broken Breath,” which is essentially sung from the perspective of a child with asthma who can’t breathe, doesn’t understand why, and wishes for something – anything – to help. The song also touches on the subject of my parents having no choice, for the sake of my own health, but to “send me away” (to that hospital in Toronto).

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I remember when I wrote the song. It’s dated 1997. I was going through a phase of listening almost exclusively to artists like Bruce Springsteen and Steve Earle, and wanted to have a track of my own that fit the mold of many of their acoustic, introspective songs that tugged at the heart. To be more direct, I wanted to write a song somewhat like Springsteen’s “Shut Out the Light” (originally a B-Side from the “Born in the USA” era), which is the story of a Vietnam veteran who is haunted by his experiences well after returning home, just looking for comfort, calls for his mother to “Throw your arms around me in the cold, dark night. Hey now, Mama, don’t shut out the lights.”

“Broken Breath,” obviously, doesn’t sound much like Springsteen’s song. But from an emotional and narrative standpoint, I feel I succeeded in capturing something similar. I’ve always been proud of the song.

A couple of weeks ago, I played “Broken Breath” for my two curious sons, who also happen to be my biggest supporters. It left Eddie, my 11-year-old, in tears. His reaction was a compliment in a roundabout sort of way, although I was sorry to see him react that way. He said he was sorry he got upset, but that he thought the song was touching and that he didn’t know I’d been through any of the things I sang about. His reaction told me that the song may indeed be able to kick open some doors for some people to have a better understanding of the kind of work the Lung Association actually does.

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Eddie (at left) & Jaden: My “Road crew,” sounding boards, inspiration and joy.

So here’s the plan as it stands: my friends at the Southwestern Ontario Lung Association have asked me if I would perform / MC as part of their “First Noel Preview Night” for their annual “Festival of Trees” event, Tuesday, November 25th from 6pm to 9pm at the Covent Garden Market here in London, Ontario. They would like me to debut “Broken Breath” that night, so I’ll do that along with, perhaps, a couple of other songs. And I’ll happily MC and help out however else I can that night.

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Whether we record or videotape the song that evening is still unclear. And plans to make a studio-quality version of the song are also very much up in the air, depending on time and cost. Ultimately, it would be great for the Lung Association to be able to use the song however they like in an effort to create more understanding and support for all they do.

I’m also trying to recruit a friend or two to come along with me to make the night more special on November 25th and give the performance more impact, but if that doesn’t work out, I’m happy to do it on my own, as the song was written for just acoustic guitar and one voice. That said, I tweaked the lyrics and melody just a bit to create a bit of a sing-along element to it toward the end of the song, so it would be great to have company that night! We’ll see.

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For now, it would be wonderful for you to consider attending the “Festival of Trees” at some point this holiday season (it’s free, and it’s a great display that kids will love). And if you’re so inclined to assist the Lung Association, perhaps consider their Christmas Seals program or at least keep them in your thoughts or spread the word.

I well remember the Lung Association’s phrase, “When you can’t breathe, nothing else matters.”

It’s true. I know what it’s like.

Maybe I can help.

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