Helping Soldiers with PTSD through Music


As you know, a few days ago I set up a new Facebook page called Musicians with Cancer and other Maladies. It is about people helping other people. Today I came across a group that help soldiers with PTSD by using songwriting to express themselves and tell their stories in a trust environment, which is helping a lot of people, even those who are not musical themselves, or don’t realise they are.

Several years ago I wrote a song called Another Stretch in Iraq. You can hear a demo on my Reverbnation page. It was motivated by a newspaper story of a service woman who came home looking for some love and normality only to find that her man had left her for another woman. A common story sadly.

I joined a military blogging (milblogging) site and spent a good year or so talking to military personnel, mostly serving overseas at the time to get a feel (as much as that is possible, given that family members who served almost never spoke about their experiences when a civilian was present).

They trusted me and I learned a lot about their lives, their hopes, their agonies in losing brothers and sisters, general life and the isolation from their families where their fellow soldiers in fact became their families such that many could not and still can not adjust to civilian life without their brothers and sisters from he service.

When I was in Orlando some years ago, I played a couple of sets at a biker-friendly bar in Longwood and my song Another Stretch in Iraq was one of the songs I played with some great backing from the house band. I wish I had taken some photos because it was the classic bar with 30 Harley’s in a neat row out front, sawdust on the floor, the sort of place that Kiwis only see on movies and TV shows and that the cab driver thought I had no place being until he saw the friendly bear hug greeting I got from the woman who ran it.

After finishing the song a group of 6-foot something burly men came up to the stage. The biggest of them all came up to me with tears in his eyes and I thought I was about to become roadkill. He and his friends looked me in the eye and then he shook my hand and said I took him right back to the theatre at Desert Storm. He re enlisted twice and his son had just left for Iraq a week ago.

It was so rewarding to me that I had captured the emotions and environment with integrity and that the song gave them some comfort. I haven’t worked harder on a song and would love to record it professionally. It is on Reverbnation as a free download and is also on a couple of sites of free MP3 downloads that is made available to all serving US military.

Back to the Facebook page. There are thousands of returned servicemen in dozens of countries who suffer from PTSD. They come from all walks of life and many of them play musical instruments, or used to. Many of them can no longer motivate themselves and need a hand. Some of them join groups like the one in the video above. Many will not join groups, either because they can’t or won’t ask for help, because they don’t want to appear weak, or because they are still in service and don’t want to jeopardise their careers by showing weakness.

The concepts in this Facebook page mean that all they have to do is talk to a few friends and family that they are close to and trust. Then all they need to do is ask for a little encouragement, it’s as simple as that. For those who wish to or are able to contribute stories, I am hoping they will join the Facebook Group because it can only grow and flourish if they know about it.

I’m hoping that if you know people like that, you will share this post or the link with them so that they can be made aware that help is available and whilst it is not easy as it sounds, with a little help from their friends it can happen.

As John Lee Hooker and my idol Carlos Santana sang, Blues is a Healer. It heals those who play it as much as those who listen to it. If you can help someone pick up their instrument, or raise their voice and break the silence, you can have a profound influence on people’s lives and it can be as simple as my mate Rob sending me a TXT message saying “pick that gat up and play for 10 minutes man.”

If you know of anyone that could benefit, please share the Facebook group with them and perhaps join us yourself. My thanks on their behalf.

Returning Veterans in noncombat car crashes (Read Time 1:33)


Motor vehicle crashes are part of every day life and I have an interest in what causes them and how to reduce them. I’ve been listening to a podcast by Dave Wallace, the Traffic Safety Guy, called Highway to Safety.

From a Bradley to a Civy Street

From a Bradley to a Civy Street

Something I have heard of previously but isn’t front of mind in New Zealand because we are a small country with a small defense force, is what happens when you take someone who has spent 18 months in a combat zone, where they literally have to make split second decisions, and when they come home they pop into the family car to go out for a drive.

When we learn to drive, we learn to look out for animals, for kids running our from behind a bus or an SUV or for drivers of other vehicles driving their cars in an unusual manner, all of which are common day occurrences.

Now take hardened, combat ready veterans who have seen innocent looking situations turn into death traps, where sub second muscle memory instinctive and instant actions can save lives. That family pet lying on the side of the road at home could be a sleeping pet, but in the combat zone, could be a booby trap.

According to a 2009 Army study, quoted in the podcast, Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are 75% more likely to die in car crashes than the general population. In fact from 1999 through 2012, 4,423 active military personnel died in non combative crashes.

I can’t imagine what it must be like re-integrating between or after terms of duty, but it makes total sense that there is a problem and it is being addressed. A Home Safe, Drive Safe campaign is being adopted by the various sectors of defense in training offered to service people when they return home.

As you will hear in the brief PSA video by Nascar driver Richard Petty, more returned veterans die in their first year back home in motor vehicle crashes than for any other reason.

This is something I have never considered. We hear about all sorts of adjustments people have to make, but next time I hear of a returned soldier who has had a serious accident as a consequence of responding to a situation that would for most of us be a non event, I’ll be wondering if the have had that part of the debrief and are conscious that they are not in a war zone.

So from someone who has never been in that situation, but enjoys living in a free democratic country, I say “Thank you for your service, we want you to stay alive, safe and well.

If you have a story about this topic, I would welcome it if you would like to share an experience or comment.

On Ray Kurzweil and Thinking


I was reading a current article by Ray Kurzweil in this month’s edition of The Futurist and it got me to thinking a little. Here are a few random synapse connections from me.

He talked about how the digital neocortex will be be much faster than my wet-ware and that the roughly 300 million pattern recognisers in our biological neocortex will allow us to think in the cloud, using billions or trillions of pattern recognisers.  The IQ part of my brain thinks this could be amazing, although I would worry about dendrite overload or glutamic acid over stimulation, which is associated with conditions such as Alzheimer’s. It’s one thing to connect my brain or nervous system to additional memory, but to extend the processing in and out, is something that I think may require a lot of very careful study.

Earlier this week I wrote a blog about a potential future condition, Google Glasses Separation Syndrome. I recently introduced my daughter to the brilliant book, Flowers for Algernon which follows a similar thread. What happens when you expand a person’s capability to the point that it changes their existence and then potentially remove it again.

I noted that Ray perhaps doesn’t like driving very much because he talked about self driving cars alleviating the requirement of humans to perform the ‘chore of driving’. Sorry Ray, I love driving and so do a large percentage of the people I know. I appreciate that you now work for Google and they are pioneering driver-less cars, but I don’t want to live in a city where eventually the law requires hat the ‘network’ takes over my car. Yes there are benefits in road safety etc.  but with systems such as Fleet Management, MobilEye, and the incentives of PAYD Insurance the roads will become safer without requiring us to take our hands off the wheel.

So IBM‘s Watson won Jeopardy, cool. It is an amazing AI and I love that it is now being used to look for cure’s for cancer amongst other things. But if you start thinking about Watson, a digital neocortex and singularity, what about EQ? It’s one thing to be able to identify things, to be able to locate information, to be able to combine apparently disparate bits of data, but how about feelings, intuition, id and ego? These are the things that make us human.

I like where this is going, but I also want to keep that which is me. Watson might be able to write a hit song by understanding the formulas and this has been tried before. But the song I wrote about a boy whose father lost his job at the plant and asks Santa to find his dad a job, while his mother sits and cries in the bedroom, or the one I wrote about a guy who returns from a tour of duty in Iraq to find his best friend is now sleeping with his girlfriend, that brought tears to Desert Storm vets isn’t going to come from an AI. An AI may understand the chemical reactions of the brain and intellectually that these experiences can cause people to be sad.

The ultimate AI could use impeccable logic to say that humans are bad for the planet, they are frequently illogical, their emotions cause them to make bad decisions and basically shouldn’t be here. Perhaps when Watson really ‘thinks’ about cancer, it might determine that humans are in factor a cancer on this planet and should be booted down. Then we will be left with the singularity which will contain all information, ask why and then boot itself down because having access to all the information in the world, does not impart any meaning.

 

More on Mugabe


I sit here in the comfort of my living room with a coffee and having read the newspaper and being grateful for the good fortune to have been born in a peaceful country and to be living comfortably in another. I read the morning paper online to the news that Mugabe receives welcomes and hugs at an African Summit after the sham of the latest election.

I have met several people from Zimbabwe who have come to New Zealand having lost pretty much everything, who constantly live in fear for friends and family that didn’t have the wherewithall to leave or refused to leave their homes that they spent their lives building. It is impossible to imagine what it is like in Zim right now. Mugabe has engineered another election and is of course the victor. South Africa which fought for the rights of coloured and black people seems to be torn with the fact that Mugabe kicked out white people and that he is now having people beaten, tortured and killed for trying to use their free will.

President Bush and others including our Prime Minister Helen Clark are calling for sanctions. The problem is that weapons supplied to Mugabe’s regime come from China and other countries such as South Africa and they are unlikely to cease this lucratuive trade, although how he manages to pay for them in a country that is essentially bankrupt, beats me. The people of Zimbabwe are worried that they will now be tomorrow’s news and will be forgotten. China has also refused to deny Zimbabwe’s attendance at the Olympic Games, which is understandable having been the subject of boycotts and ‘political intereference’ themselves in the past and they don’t have a great track record when it comes to human rights.

Many people painted their fingers red or deliberately invalidated their votes to avoid voting for Mugabe. There are stories that the Zanu PF were out in force with a project they called ‘Show Me Your Thumb‘ and beating those who hadn’t voted. There are now rumours that voting lists have been obtained by the Zanu PF thugs which will be used to punish those who did not vote for Mugabe.

So what happens next? In my humble opinion, the result of boycotts and sanctions will simply make the situation in ZImbabwe more desperate. More people will die and the country will be washed in rivers of blood followed by disease and starvation while Mugabe languishes in his oppulence. There won’t be much to save before long.

I’ve asked the question before, why do people rush into Iraq to ‘save the people’ and not into Zimbabwe. I know the answer is oil. Come on world, lets not sit back and watch this continue. I challenge the people of the United States, the most powerful country in the world. You, who managed to leave your countries for a better world, who said, “we must not forget” after World War ll. New Zealand, as always will play our part, but we don’t have the might to do more than condemn and send in a few supporting Peace Keepers. We are after all a country smaller than many of your cities. We played our part to bring down Apartheid but this needs worldwide support. This sort of despot should not continue to play his games with the lives of human beings.

Final question. How does he manage to travel the world with impunity? Why is it that an ‘accident’ doesn’t happen to him? Is there a reason that his presence is tolerated? Am I missing something?

Free Trade with China


So here we are, it’s 2008 and New Zealand has a Free Trade Agreement with China. Lots of people are complaining that it will be one sided and that there are still tarriffs which will keep the balance fairly one sided. But the thing is we need export partners and we need tourism and our ‘friends’ in the USA won’t sign an agreement with us.

A couple of years ago I wrote a song called Mr Bush Why Can’t We Be Friends which was about this issue. New Zealand has always felt a kinship with the USA and yet they won’t give us a Free Trade Agreement. Last year I performed this song in the US and I also sent copies to various people including President Bush and Hilary Clinton.  Of course they didn’t reply, but other people have commented both from my live performances and from sites like Music Forte and the general comment was ‘Don’t judge the country by the politicians’.

But the end result is that we now have friendlier relations with China than we do with America and in my book that is wrong, very wrong. You can hear the song on my Music Forte page. The lyrics are:

Mr. Bush, Why Can’t We Be Friends

©Luigi Cappel 2006

1

We’re the social conscience of the world

We live Downunder and

We just can’t understand the way you think.

In 1984 we closed our ports to nuclear powered ships

We were clean and green

With water safe to drink

Chorus

Oh Mr. Bush I’m asking why we can’t be friends

It’s our environment we were trying to defend

Our men fought along with yours on a dozen foreign shores

Your logic I just fail to comprehend.

2

You suspended us from ANZUS

From joint training you then banned us

And a free trade agreement is out of sight.

Now we free trade with China

But not with Carolina

This is something that we think you should put right.

3

We have a peace-keeping force

That we use to reinforce

The rights of people and democracy.

We sent people to Angola, Yugoslavia and Cambodia

To East Timor, Iraq and Fiji.

4

We were in Afghanistan, Sent a frigate to Oman

We train with Aussie, UK and Singapore

We reserve the right to fight

For our democratic right

But when we want to train with you

You shut the door.

Kiwi’s are proud to play their part in the world and in my opinion fight way above their weight. It’s about time that good things happen to good people and the US stops treating us like naughty little children. We always felt an affinity with the US and still do, but instead of enjoying free trade, we are going to be getting closer to China. I suppose next thing they will call us disloyal!

Seth Godin et al


When I was at Song Summit Sydney organised by APRA a few days ago many speakers made suggestions of books to read as well as blogs and other sources of data. One speaker suggested that all song writers who want to market themselves should read Seth Godins Blog.

Now I’ve been a subscriber of his for quite a long time, but don’t read every one of his blogs, I suspect that he doesn’t read any of mine, but anyway, today I decided that I should check out his recent postings to see what was new and found a sage bit of advice, which is “Write like a bloger”. This is great advice and I can attest to it’s value.

Many people love to pontificate and show off their literary prowess by using the longest and most obtuse language and jargon they can think of and it makes their writing boring. Over the years I have written as a freelance journalist and magazine columnist, mostly about technology and of course there was also my book Unleashing the Road Warrior. I always wrote in a conversational manner and I frequently got positive feedback including pone calls, emails and letters to editors in the publications I wrote for. The result of my writing style was:

  1. People felt like I was talking to them and many people feel like they know me even if we haven’t met, with the consequence that when I spoke at conferences and seminars people would come up and talk to me because I was acessible.
  2. People understood what I was talking about and were able to find the information they needed.
  3. I got a lot of business out of it as well as opportunities to speak and present at events all over the world.

I am still in the technology world, although the majority of my writing these days is about my other passion, which is songwriting and I hope eventually to do this full time. All I need is my first number one hit:) In songwriting the same thing is true. Your writing needs to be accessible to your target market. If you are writing for a teenage audience, your language needs to fit the way they think and talk, but it does of course also have to be authetic.

When I wrote my song ‘Another Stretch in Iraq‘ I wrote it for Americans who had served or were serving and I spent 6 months researching the topic. Yes, I used some phrases that weren’t exactly as you speak them and I used some metaphor, but we do that in speech anyway don’t we, I don’t think I’ve opened a can of worms here. I picked up some jargon like MRE, which is short for Made Ready To Eat or is otherwise known as rations. A lot of people won’t get that, but the they aren’t my target audience for the song. The proof was in the pudding.

When I played this song to a live audience in the USA last year the reaction was amazing. One guy co-incidentally known a Mack came to the stage after I played the song with tears in his eyes. He said he had served in Desert Storm and his son was on furlough in Hawai and about to head back to Iraq for another stretch. He said that listening to the lyrics took him right back to the front, so to speak. Even though I had never been there, I had done my homework and made it real, I wrote’ in Seth Godin’s terms, “like a blogger”, and when people listened to the song, it was almost as if they were talking to themselves.

The important thing which I think Jimmy Webb said in his presentation at S3 was to know your market and to write to it. A great song is one that people listen to and totally relate to. They should feel like they own the song, as if it was written for them, or in fact almost as if they wrote it themselves. Then they are in fact relating to themselves.

The thing is that you are the most important person in the world, although my wife says that she has to be the most important person in my world, but if I don’t exist in the first place then she can’t be important to me. Let me put that another way. If we had a party on the weekend and I came to see you with a pile of photos that were taken at the party. Now unless you were incredibly attracted to someone there, which photos will you spend the most time looking at ? (now I don’t want to get involved with genderalisations here (yes I know that word doesn’t exist, but this is my blog right?) but which photos are you going to spend the most time looking at? your own of course).

So my goal as a songwriter, which was ultimately the purpose of this blog is to write commercial songs, i.e. hit songs and part of my method in doing that, in writing like a blogger, is that the person who sings along with the radio or performance feels like the song is theirs, that it is about them, that they own the experience that the song is about.

By the way, if you happen to know an artist or A&R person looking for a new song, please point them in my direction:)

While this blog is starting to get a good following, I would love to get more readers and encouraging me to keep writing. If you feel that my blog is interesting I would be very grateful if you would vote for me in the category of best blog at the NetGuide Web Awards. Note that the form starts each site with www whereas my blog doesn’t and is of course https://luigicappel.wordpress.com.

Thanks so much for your support:)