Broken Breath

Song Blog, Vol 1: “Broken Breath”
(c) 1997 – 2015 Kevin Bulmer Enterprises
Written by Kevin Bulmer (SOCAN)

I decided to start my Song Blog with “Broken Breath” because it’s a track that has come up in a unique way and has been referenced often in recent times. It’s been performed publicly at a few different events but has never been shared other than that. And in fact, at the time of this writing, I am scheduled to perform the song tomorrow at an event in support of the Southwestern Ontario Lung Association. I wanted people to be able to have the chance to hear it.

Lyrics:

When the lights go out in our younger years
All the demons dance so free
The night can be so frightful
Leave the door open for me

In the haze, a child will seldom understand
Just as seldom will they care
They think think they cause is not important
If the consequence is there

Won’t somebody help me?
I can’t breathe
The pain that’s in my chest
Has me at it’s mercy
Please, won’t somebody make it go away?
Ain’t there nothin’ you can do?
Ain’t there nothin’ you can say?

Now suddenly you’re thinking of
Maybe sending me away
They’re gonna take me from my home
But it’ll serve me well some day

Unconvinced, you packed my suitcase
And gift box full of toys
They were only a distraction
But you didn’t have a choice

Won’t somebody help me?
I can’t breathe
The pain that’s in my chest
Has me at it’s mercy
Please, won’t somebody make it go away?
Ain’t there nothin’ you can do?
Ain’t there nothin’ you can say?

The years go by and now I sleep
For hours, unpeacefully
Awake again with broken breath
I wonder what will become of me …

Won’t somebody help me?
I can’t breathe
The pain that’s in my chest
Has me at it’s mercy
Please, won’t somebody make it go away?
Ain’t there nothin’ you can do?
Ain’t there nothin’ you can say?

About the song:

In 1997, I was heartbroken over my favourite band, Extreme, having broken apart. To that point, I’d listened mostly to their music and other bands of that time (Saigon Kick and Thunder were two other favourites of mine from that time). But as the back half of the 90’s progressed, I entered into a heavy Bruce Springsteen and Steve Earle phase. And I took great interest in their more morose, introspective material. In particular, it wasn’t the anthem-like arena party rock I liked from Springsteen. I was a “Nebraska” guy. I loved “Ghost of Tom Joad.” Those songs spooked me good. I loved them.

Naturally, I wrote some darker-sounding material at that time. I specifically remember wishing I had a song that featured a vibe similar to Springsteen’s “Shut Out the Light,” a brilliant track that tells the tell of a Vietnam veteran’s inability to re-acclimate to his life after returning home. In the chorus, he sings, “Oh Mama, mama, mama, come quick. I got the shakes and I’m gonna be sick. Put your arms around me in the cold dark night. Hey now, mama, don’t shut out the light.”

I am in no way trying to compare myself to Springsteen, of course. But “Shut Out the Light” most definitely was the original inspiration that got me writing what became “Broken Breath.”

All my life, I’ve been asthmatic. To see me now, you wouldn’t know it. But as a kid, I was very sick, in and out of hospitals a lot. We had a “compressor” with an oxygen mask I’d use four times a day to mist saline solution and medicine into my lungs just to keep me breathing. We had a portable foot-pump-style one as well. One of those was kept at the office at my school. The other would come with us on trips.

I was at the doctor a lot. I was in the hospital several times. And when I was 7 years old, I went to a place we called “The Centre” in Toronto, about 2 hours away, where I lived for three months, coming home only on weekends. At “The Centre,” we were called the “Breathless Wonders” and were given specialized treatment and care that probably went a long way to saving my life and my parents’ sanity. But at the time, I was just a kid who couldn’t understand why he couldn’t breathe and had to be away from his family.

“Broken Breath” is an autobiographical song about what that was like. In fact, I’ve often thought about changing the second verse, as I fear people won’t be able to relate to it. Those lines simply recall the story of when my Mom told me she thought it would be best for me to go to “The Centre,” mostly away from home for a few months. It must have shattered her right through her soul. But it had to be done. And it had a happy ending.

The “gift box full of toys” I refer to in the lyrics is a reference to what my mom called a “Sunshine Box.” There was a present wrapped up for each day of the first week I was to be at that hospital. I was to open one each day so as to have something to look forward to in getting through my first week. I remember that some of the toys were Star Wars figures and “Dukes of Hazzard” toy cars. I also remember that one of the other kids there, Werner, opened up a few of the presents before I could. And I was very upset about that. But looking back … poor Werner was just a kid away from home too. I don’t think anyone packed him a sunshine box. I was lucky.

Ultimately, I decided to leave that verse alone. It’s a true story and it’s honest. And at least now I can explain it.

I did, however, change some of the lyrics over the years. In somewhat of an homage to “Shut out the Light,” the chorus lyrics to “Broken Breath” used to say, “Mama, mama, help me – I can’t breathe.” But I eventually decided that just felt to raw and upsetting to sing the song live, which I have since done many times in support of the Southwestern Ontario Lung Association. I changed that line to “Won’t somebody help me – I can’t breathe.” It’s still sad and honest, but a little less raw.

My family was fairly involved with the Lung Association in those days. I am grateful to be some small support to them now. We’ve discussed recording “Broken Breath” properly and allowing the Lung Association to use it for marketing and general awareness. It’s my hope that the song gives people who’ve never had a breathing issue even a tiny sliver of an idea of what it’s like. It’s no fun. As they say, “When you can’t breathe, nothing else matters.”

For a fairly simple little song, I’ve come to be proud of “Broken Breath,” which was originally conceived as a song over 18 years ago now.

I hope you enjoy it.

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