So, an article surfaced on the net speaking of a man who says that while he was working as a mixing engineer on Metallica’s “…And Justice For All” album, conscious decisions were made regarding tone by Lars Ulrich.  If you wish to read it, it lives in a lot of places, but the version I read was from here ( http://www.blabbermouth.net/news/lars-ulrich-is-to-blame-for-lack-of-bass-on-metallicas-and-justice-for-all-album-mixing-engineer/ ). 

There have been conspiracy theories, there have been musings, there have been rants, but one thing remains a constant – “…And Justice For All” is a solid, seminal album that shaped a generation of musicians and helped start the meteoric rise that Metallica enjoyed and, for the most part, has continued to enjoy.

Here’s the thing – I, for a long time, considered “AJFA” to be darned near close to perfect.  I noticed the drums sounded paper thin and there was no audible bass, but those were things that once I got a stereo and external EQ, was easy to take care of and I didn’t think twice about it.  Having started that road down mixing and production, however, I’ve discovered that one of the goals of a producer should be to deliver an album that doesn’t need external equalization, but will hit the listener with full-range, full-bodied music with a flat EQ.  “…Justice” just doesn’t do that, unfortunately. 

The thing that I find most interesting, over the years, is how many of Metallica’s "bad" decisions come back to Lars.  I’m not sure it’s a 100% fair criticism, but I will say that his choice of drum tone on "Justice" and then "St. Anger" should be clear enough evidence to keep him away from the EQ knobs even regarding his own tone. His personality must be extremely overpowering to be able to push around producers to a point of having "this tone stinks" be countered, successfully, with "I like it, so it stays."

So, there’s your dilemma.  You’re a mixing engineer, or producer, being paid a zillion dollars  by Metallica, and you have a mix that you think sounds GOOD.  Lars, the most vocal and, arguably, the most influential in this portion of the recording process listens to it and promptly says, “no.  I don’t like it.  Go with the other one.”  The other one is the one you listened to earlier and thought was god-awful.  So, what do you do?  It would be different if you thought any discussion would end with something other than, “I’m @#$%@#$ Lars Ulrich in @#$%^&@ Metallica.”  It’s kind of hard to argue with that, really, except that I would have to take the stand I take in programming, which is “do you want it, or do you want it right?” which, of course, refers to unrealistic deadlines imposed in the software industry.  In this case, my argument would have to be “do you want it how you want it or do you want it to sound good?”

I don’t really have an answer for this because, honestly, it *does* come down to the band signing off on an album sounding the way they want it, even if the producer disagrees with the production.  I went round and round with my wife on this very topic a couple of times because I would vent in frustration about not wanting to do something specific to the album I was producing, usually involving volume, and would just get back, “it’s what the artist wants and it’s the artist’s album.”  I agree with this…to a point.

It’s kind of like the adage, “the customer is always right.”  For the record, the customer is rarely purely “right,” but more than anything needs the feeling of validation that comes with being listened to.  The same is going on, here, when an artist seems to be making requests that would be counter to what the producer thinks would sound good on the album.  I’m just not sure how I would approach the situation with Lars, you know?  I’d love to have the opportunity to work with Metallica, and help shape that seemingly elusive next album, but wonder about how it would be to work with such strong personalities on their artistic baby.  I say that because “…And Justice For All,” “St. Anger,” and “Death Magnetic” all have choices that were made on them that I find truly baffling.

On “…AJFA,” the obvious questions revolve around the drum kit that when the album was released friends and I joked, “oh, he found his ‘Muppet kit!’” as well as the burying of the bass in the mix.  I have messed with the “stems” from Guitar Hero for some of the “…AJFA” songs and I can tell you without a doubt that giving the drums some dimension and bringing the bass up to audible levels makes the songs not only completely different from the album versions, but also come alive in a way that I think has been missing for close to 30 years.

With “St. Anger,” there is a certain amount of “where to begin,” especially when it comes to the overall “production” of the album.  I know they were going for raw, but even “raw” garage bands have a better sound that this album.  I also have an “A Clockwork Orange”-themed fantasy regarding Lars’ drum tone and just imagine him being stuck in a room with his snare on infinite repeat for hours on end.

Finally, “Death Magnetic” has problems from the ground up, as a lot of the “unmastered” stems that have circulated over years, thanks to Guitar Hero, still have audible clipping.  This is a problem.  There’s nothing you can do with it, ultimately, if the recording process gives you inferior audio to work with and if you’re mixing pre-crackly, pre-clipping guitars and drums, all the gentle mixing and avoiding being a participant in the “loudness war” will matter very little – you’re still going to have a crispy, clipping album that will displease the listener, much like Metallica has seen with “DM.”

You know what I think would be fun, though?  I think it would be awesome to have Metallica have a contest.  You know the kind of contest Metallica is known for – BIG, BOLD and OVER THE TOP.  What kind of contest, you ask?  Simple: Remix and Remaster their albums. This could be a free-for-all OR controlled chaos.  Honestly, in order to protect the music, since we know that Lars and the boys – rightly so – are big on this, have a buy-in.  For example, $10 gets you an albums worth of honest-to-goodness raw stems for the album…none of this Guitar Hero nonsense, no I mean straight from the Zazula archive, in the case of “Kill ‘em All” or Rasmussen’s for “Ride,” “Master,” or “AJFA.”  I’m not sure you really need “NMB” (James’ pet name for “The Black Album” was “None More Black,” and I always have found it more poetic…) or the “Loads,” as, despite what your feelings are about the actual music on the albums, they sound GOOD. That would then leave “St. Anger” and “Death Magnetic.”  Maybe have a sliding scale from $10 up to $50 to get a chance to reshape the albums that have shaped us.  At any rate, with a buy-in like that, it would cut down on rogue distribution, a bit, since there would be a list of who had what album, and so on.  Also, it would give added incentive to produce an awesome album because you would want the prize – your name as producer on a Metallica album, a chance, perhaps, to meet the boys, be flown out to wherever, have a release party and whatever else Metallica would feel like making it worthwhile for you to pay for stems and them to have to listen to thousands of versions of their songs.

Now, this is all just in fun to think about, but I think it would be an awesome opportunity.  Of course, my preference would be to actually get to work with Lars, James, Kirk and Robert, producing their next album, but I see that as being as likely as Jimi Hendrix playing live at my next birthday party… 

So, in summary, there’s that line between giving the band what they want and giving them what they need and I’ve found that, in my experience, the big bands win.  I’m not sure it should be this way, but when you’re faced with, “I’m Lars, I like it, so it stays,” sometimes that’s how it has to be and when asked about it, later, you say, “Lars liked it, so it stayed.”  That said, I’d still love a crack at the next Metallica album…

One thing that happens with every album, ever, in the history of record production, is that it will leave the artists’ control completely and go to the hands of the Mastering Engineer.  This is the step that puts the polish, the pizzazz, the extra touches on the songs to make them come together as an album.  It’s also, of late, where a completely listenable album gets killed.  This was the lesson I learned from Metallica’s “Death Magnetic” album.

Dear Metallica:  Do NOT allow this to happen, again.  Please. Please. PLEASE.

For reference, as I sat listening to “Pack Your Bags,” the aforementioned monster with the wall of sound and face-melting music, I was reminded of the difference between the released version of “Death Magnetic” and what later became known as the “Guitar Hero Mixes.”  If you’re not familiar with the tale that wasn’t right, to borrow from Helloween, the following transpired:

  • Metallica recorded “Death Magnetic.”
  • Guitar Hero Metallica needed the mixes – so the unmastered versions were sent.
  • ”Death Magnetic” was sent to mastering.
  • Metallica went on tour.
  • ”Death Magnetic” was released…overloud, and completely lacking dynamics.
  • Metallica was unhappy, and rightfully so.

What’s missing on the allmusic credits is anyone actually directly called a “Mastering Engineer.”  I wonder if that was on purpose.  The upshot is that a very solid, listenable album went to the mastering engineer and left an overdriven, crispy, clipping, mushy mess.  What do I mean?  Well, take a look at the waveforms for “All Nightmare Long.”

AllNightmareLong_comparison

The top waveform is from the album version.  The bottom waveform is from the mixes sent for inclusion in Guitar Hero:Metallica.  It doesn’t take a genius to see that the top waveform is barely a waveform at all, with no room for dynamics and with boatloads of clipping – which you can actually hear in the song as clicking and crackling.  The biggest thing I noticed listening to the quieter, more sedate version of the song was that the intro vocals to each verse are run through a neat filter like James was singing through a fan.  This effect is completely lost in the album version, which is too bad, because it was a neat effect.

Dear Metallica: Do NOT allow this to happen again.  Please.  Please. PLEASE.

This was the lesson that I brought with me into approaching what is already a mine-field in the self- or tiny-budget-production arena, and that’s mastering your own mixes.  It’s generally seen as a “no no” and something that, under normal circumstances, I would try to avoid.  However, with no budget, it’s kind of hard to justify $50-$500 per song for mastering.  To me, what “Death Magnetic” told me, in no uncertain terms, was that – no matter what – don’t just slide the volume faders all the way up.  It also kept me mindful of the waveform, that precious waveform.  What it didn’t really prepare me for is how hard it is to maintain that waveform, and keep those dynamics alive, when the feedback from the artist seems to revolve around, almost to the exclusion of anything else, “just a touch louder.”  It’s hard, and it’s a delicate balance.  I know I’m not the only producer to encounter an artist who wants the album to be loud and in your face.  I think the biggest difference is that most producers have more experience with not only handling these requests with a polite, “no,” or, more importantly, how to actually give the bumps in volume without the rest of the mix suffering.  That was the biggest challenge for me. 

I think the worst part, for me, is that while working on this project, I was learning constantly.  Now, that, in and of itself, isn’t the bad part.  The bad part comes when you’ve sent all the masters off to the artist and they’ve been submitted for duplication and then you find that better way, that cleaner mix, that perfect sound.  Below is an example of that.  The song is “Tiocfaidh Ár Lá (Our Day Will Come)” and the top waveform is the album version while the bottom waveform is the “Perfexion Mix” that I’ve put together since.

Tiocfaidh_comparison

While it’s still nothing compared to the brutality that occurred with “Death Magnetic” and “All Nightmare Long,” it’s still a drastic difference.  While the bottom version of the song is obviously going to be quieter, meaning you’ll have to turn the volume up a bit if you want it to be the same volume, it’s also got much better definition, clarity and overall production quality and, for my money, sounds almost 100% better.  That said, this particular mix came two weeks too late and will, most likely, be relegated to a “remixed, remastered” version of the album to be released in the future.

So, this open letter I spoke of – here goes:

Dear Metallica,

Your music is enjoyed and treasured by millions. I have been a fan since “Ride the Lightning” back in 1985 – 30 of my 41 years.  I have been your strongest supported and, indeed, your harshest critic.  It’s probably a little strange, but, after all these years, you’re kind of like family and so, you take the good and you take the bad, but the love is still there.  I don’t know if you noticed that this past album, “Death Magnetic,” the criticism was not “wow…this is NOT metal, OR Metallica,” but instead, “wow – there’s so much of this album I’m NOT hearing because of the production and the decision to mash the living crap out of the mixes to win the ‘loudness war.’” 

There are so many dynamics-related things on “Death Magnetic” that a lot of people missed because they didn’t seek out a little-known, but well worth the investigation, group of files called the MIII mixes.  These mixes were the pre-master mixes that all had everything – clarity, dynamics, tone and, yes, power.  Sure, you had to turn it up a little more in the car, but you could also hear the bass line in “End of the Line,” the guitar movement during the chorus of “Broken, Beat and Scarred,” and, as mentioned above, the filtered vocals in “All Nightmare Long.”  While I’m not expert or a producer on the level of Rick Rubin – heck, I’m not comfortable being in the same sentence with Mr. Rubin! – I am someone who’s got enough mixing and producing experience under my belt to know one thing – to hell with the loudness war.  It is, indeed, a war no one wins and when it comes at the expense of the band – you know, you guys…the ones who pour your heart, soul and money into producing the music you love – and, ultimately, the fans who are paying to hear the music you’ve produced, it’s definitely a war not worth fighting.

So, with that, please take that into consideration when you enter and, eventually, leave the studio.  For the love of all that is good in this world, make sure your waveforms are clean, gentle and beautiful – full of dynamics and perhaps, more importantly, clarity.  Please make sure that my ears will hear every note, every high hat, every heavy, palm-muted down-stroke, every harmony.  Please take every step possible to make sure that the producer doesn’t allow the mastering engineer to take your hard work and turn it into an overloud, unlistenable jumble of crap, but instead a polished, pristine album worthy of the name “Metallica.”

Sincerely,

Phil

Now, I’ll preface this with saying, these aren’t tutorials.  There might be some nuggets of "how-to"-ness in there, but these are softer, more philosophical pieces that take you into the challenges I faced and how we got from "sure, I can help!" to "that’s it!  It’s perfect as we’re going to get it!  Let’s do this!"  For the record, we’re not there, yet.  Are we ever there, yet?

So…there’s this song.  It’s got a good hook and a good guitar line.  The vocals are good on the scratch track.  All in all, it sounds like a good track, probably on the back end of the album to help balance it out and make for a solid album start to finish.  Then something happened.  We brought in this fella John who was to play “fiddle.”  Well, John so happens to be brilliant and talented through and through and within one practice take with this song, we were all looking at each other like…”wow!”

At that point, the rest of the track needed to be laid down and with each piece, the monster grew.  Soon, there were re-recorded vocals, guitars, bass, bagpipes, bodhrun, djimbe, drums, and violins.  Some didn’t make the final cut.  Some takes got spliced and reworked enough to make a couple of solid tracks with the best all in one place.  If you were to place all the tracks into the mix and just let ‘em go, it would make you twitch – there’s THAT much going on in this song.

As happens, there were, in total, 48 mixdowns of this song to get it “right,” and, I think I mentioned, I’m not sure we are 100% there, but, we’re really close and part of it came from understanding that compression does when met with four main sources of volume in a track, even when there are 16 total tracks (excluding fx tracks).  We ran into a problem with the monster, once everything was fixed, tonally through EQs and light compression, some reverb here and there, and so on.  What’s the problem, you ask?  The monster gets hungry and has to eat things.

OK, so the metaphor may be getting stretched a little, but here’s the bottom line – when one thing gets loud, something else gets soft, and finding the balance is the true monster.  I tried so many methods to get the vocals to sit nicely while still allowing you to hear each part clearly.  It was almost comical, though, as I’d have what I thought was a good balance, and then after mixdown, the vocals would either be lost or so up front to a point where everything else sounded lost in the background…   So many iterations!  I finally discovered the culprit – the compressor in the Master track.

Full disclosure – I use the Slate Digital FG-X Mastering plugin and I really like it.   That said, it does what compressors/limiters do – when one thing gets louder than the threshold, it makes it quieter and when one frequency range is dominating the mix, bad things happen, overall.  What I found was, each individual track sounded absolutely fine when solo’d.  When I had vocals and “instruments,” it was fine.  The culprit?  The drums.  The train driving to oblivion was, in fact, obliterating the mix.  When I added the drums back in, the overall sound dropped ~3dB and, specifically, the vocals sank closer to 4dB. 

So, how does one tame a monster like this?  I basically figured out that I had to do what I tried a while ago – mix down the instrumentation and vocals separately and bring them together for a mixdown and then send that mixdown to the mastering round.  It wasn’t the most elegant solution, but it was the only solution I found – remember I’m a bit of a rookie with this! – that allowed the full dynamics of the instrumentation (all of it!) and vocals to coexist.  The end result?  An Irish Rebel Rock song that feels a lot like the Motörhead “Orgasmatron” cover train looks.

We live in a world that’s largely driven by the notion of style over substance and, to me, that’s pretty sad.  That said, that’s not really what this is about.  This is about what substance your style brings to the table, especially when you’re working with something that isn’t necessarily your style.

A little more opaque, this morning, with this entry, it would seem, allow me to clarify.  The artist in question can be described as an acoustic, Irish, rebel rock musician.  I can be described as a heavy metal, sometimes acoustic musician.  While an unlikely pairing, there are more similarities than I really thought, at first.  His musicianship and delivery bridge the gap, quite nicely, and I can appreciate the “slower stuff,” too.  It’s what we bring to the table and it’s what colors our views.  Learning to understand when it was just my “metal sensibilities” taking over and when it was something that would benefit the song was an slow process, mainly because there had to be an understanding that it was happening.  You also learn how much you appreciate listening to other styles of music when you can switch gears between them.

The most prominent example of this comes from a song that might get put into a “building a monster” entry, sometime later.  It’s been the most technically challenging track to nail down of any that I’ve dealt with.  Now, as a rookie, that doesn’t leave many – just all the other tracks on the album and then all the previous ones that I’ve practiced on in the past.  So, with that, the song grew from a jangly attitude song to a freaking beast over the course of recording.  Naturally, the metalhead in me screamed for a serious thickening underneath it all with double bass drums, pounding bass, vocal doubling ( or more!) and some effects on the violin to make it scream.  This, my friends, would make an even more gigantic mess than what have 26 tracks already makes, especially when 3 instruments are all fighting for the same frequencies – bagpipes, guitar and violin.

So, I had to step back and listen to some songs that brought those instruments together and get more in that mindset.  What it helped with, more than anything, was placement.  More on that in a later entry, but needless to say, when it comes to “wall of sound,” metal has a pretty good bead on it – though, not a corner on the market, as this song proves.  Still, letting the song be an Irish Rebel Rock song and not a slightly acoustic metal song was a challenge for me because of my “style,” but I couldn’t let my “style” run over the obvious, power substance of this track.

We all bring our own style to everything we do.  I’ve learned that the wisdom is when to let the style take a backseat to the substance at hand and let it have the spotlight.

Not just a fun reference to one of my favorite bands, growing up (BÖC), but also a nod towards my DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) of choice, Cockos’ Repear.  Now, going into this album’s production, I had *just*, and I mean within the previous week and a half or so, switched over from ProTools.  So, with that, it’s probably wise to go into why I switched and then how it influenced the production process.

Why I Switched

It boiled down to CPU bludgeoning, plain and simple.  Basically, I learned how to do everything I could do in ProTools with Reaper and with maybe 1/4 of the CPU cost which became very important as I started mixing a goodly number of tracks that, in Reaper, caused stuttering.  In ProTools, it just choked and died.  If there’s one thing that REALLY kills a workflow, it’s making a tweak, rendering the output, listening to it, going back in, making a tweak, rendering it out, and so on.  So, it was really simple for me to switch when one was able to give me everything I needed and not die a horrible death when asked to do just a little more.

The Impact

The impact was immediately discernable.  Full disclosure – behind closed doors, I created the projects for the first song in both ProTools and Reaper.  I still wasn’t willing to give up the familiar, comfortable, “industry standard” without a side-by-side comparison doing the exact same thing.  So, again, the impact was obvious and definite.  I added all the drum stems (kick, snare, tom 1 – 4, hi hat, crash), bass stems (di & mic’d), guitar stems (R & L), violin stems (takes 1 & 2) and vocal stems (primary, double).  So, it total, I added 16 tracks to each DAW.  Then I pressed “play.”  

Background: my system, at the time, was an AMD Athlon II Duo-core 3GHz system with 8GB RAM.

So, I pressed play, first in ProTools then, later in Reaper.  The result?  ProTools chopped, stuttered, stopped.  Reaper, played, though with choppiness, at first, which smoothed out after about 30 seconds.  Now, I know there are settings in each to optimize playback so that it’s not quite so bad, but, to me, if you can’t handle the first song I throw at you with your default settings, I’m sorry but…it’s not me, it’s you.

So, the impact on production was that, at least on my desktop system, I was able to track and edit every song including one that’s a 22-track romping wall of sound.  My laptop, on the other, was less forgiving than even the desktop and Reaper was the clear choice, there, though even it couldn’t play the two monster tracks…poor laptop. 

What sealed it?  Actually adding effect inserts on the tracks.  Reaper kept chugging while ProTools seized and just refused.  So…yeah, from a workflow standpoint, being able to do things with the tracks was a major plus, as I’m sure you’re aware.

Update to the above number – because of the necessity to layer the vocals even more and add some “oomph” to the drums in places, it’s become a 28-track monster, but that also includes side-chained bussing for effects sends and better overall track organization.  That said, it still choked ProTools dead.

Next installment – Part III – Style’s substance

This is going to be a multi-part retrospective and exposition on what it has been like being tapped to produce an album with, literally, no previous experience.  In a case of “we all have to start somewhere” mixed with “I know a lot of theory” with a sprinkle of “well, here were go, then!” I charged forth with dark gusto into a land heretofore unknown and full of peril, reward, but most of all, potential.

First and foremost, you might ask how this came about.  Basically, I know an artist who’s busted his hump for the last few decades and hasn’t hit a break, and was coming up on another roadblock and it all seemed to revolve around money.  It was at that point that I took what little knowledge I had and, yes Ms. Mosby, “a little learnin’ is a dangerous thing,” and threw my hat into the ring, offering whatever assistance and expertise I could to help him get this record not only recorded, but produced and into the hands of fans, new and old.  For the record, I had NO idea what I was getting into.  This is, of course, to be expected.

I had just made the full defection from ProTools to Reaper and, as such, was currently learning the ropes with it and had no established workflow to speak of, no real concept of what I needed to do, template-wise, and no understanding of how much it was going to take to get from “artist arriving” to “handing off a CD.”  For the record, we’re still not to that last point, but we’re getting there.  It’s a process – that’s something you need to understand from the outset – and it’s a living, breathing thing.

1. Step one – Recording

The discussions are over and it’s time to get the musician in there.  Now, there are some things to be done!  I had looked over all the checklists.  I had looked at all the preparatory documentation we should need and printed off individual track worksheets.  I had read so many blogs, forum threads, eBooks and articles that my head was swimming.  It was at this point I was eternally grateful that my partner in this venture had quite a number of years’ experience with the recording side of things.  He took over the reigns for recording, but that, also, set up an interesting dynamic later on.  He’s Mac based and we ended up doing all of the recording and preliminary editing in LogicPro X. 

Honestly, as the mixer/producer, my role in this situation was mainly as cheerleader. I kept notes to the best of my ability and tried to keep my burgeoning cold at bay so as not to ruin many takes with a rogue cough or sneeze.  Two and a half minutes never felt so long as when you’ve got a tickle in the back of the throat and a sneeze on-deck and you pretty much have to hold your breath the entire time.  Since this was late December, a lot of us were sniffly, including our brilliant violinist who despite coming in and just blowing us away, had a little “snurf!” at the end of just about every run.  I felt bad, but with a little editing, those were mostly editable and those that weren’t, I quickly figured out how to bury in the mix.

All in all, with all the musicians, from scratch tracks to “final takes,” it took around 7 days, spread over a couple of weekends.  There was travel involved for a few, and some broken up sessions, tackling a few songs at a time, as one would expect, and it was amazing to watch, learn, and hear everything start to come together.  We were hearing it go from mere ideas and hopes to an actual album with a metric tonne, as it were, of potential. 

The vocals were – and still are – a significant challenge in this because the artist is not some pop diva or emo mewler, but rather an Irish folk-rocker (rebel rocker!) who had not only a fairly wide dynamic range, overall, but a strong set of pipes that took a lot of finessing to tame.  It was also a voice that, as the mixing process progressed, seemed to defy all of the common “standards” and I found myself confused and searching in a lot of ways as to how to make the voice sound big without sounding thin or “crispy” which is something that you know when you hear it.

We used quality mics for the recording and thought we had it all finished.  We were wrong.  I was finding that I had to really work with and mess with and tweak the vocals in order to give them “life.”  This went on for a couple of iterations back and forth and tweaking and grumbling.  Finally, the artist re-recorded the vocals with a different mic, sent the files, and they sounded good: warm, up front, and not really needing much by way of an EQ treatment.

This brings us to a logical stopping point and leads us to part 2 – Don’t fear the Reaper…

Sometimes Our Masks Break

January 9, 2015

[Somehow, this never published.  Remedying that, now.]

If you’ve never suffered with depression and you’re spouting your opinion on how a person feels, I want you to stop.  Just…stop.  You have no idea.  You may think you do, but you don’t.  The only way you can even come close is if you’ve watched someone, closely, someone you love, perhaps, suffer with depression.  Even then, it’s kind of like watching someone with a cast, be it on an arm or leg.  You can sympathize with the person wearing the cast, but unless you’ve broken a bone, you have no idea what all is entailed in having your arm or leg immobilized for a month, with aching, itching, and that weird feeling of huge amounts of pent up energy that sits and almost tingles in futility, or with the doctor visits and pain killers and months of physical therapy, thereafter. Nor can you understand depression.  Not fully.

I don’t talk about my depression, really.  This is mostly because I feel it’s not anyone’s business but, also, because with the stereotypes and stigmas that are still pervasive in our society, most people are ill-equipped to know how to deal with someone who’s depressed.  It’s hard enough interacting and dealing with people, as it is, and this may just be from the depressive perspective since I only have one perspective and that’s it, let alone with people who are armed only with what mass media have told them about depression.  One of the biggest things is understanding and there’s so little of that in the world, today, that it’s naïve to think there would be much in this regard.  People tend to have a limited amount of understanding for something they can’t comprehend, fully.  That’s OK – I understand that.  I’m not criticizing someone who doesn’t understand depression, I’m just asking you keep your opinions to yourself when you tell me, or the rest of the world, how someone who is depressed must be feeling.  There’s no “must be” with no frame of reference.

Most recently, what Robin Williams’ death has brought to the fore is something that I’ve dealt with for most of my life, and it’s not just dealing depression. It’s dealing with someone you love feeling so emotionally injured, so depressed, so alone, so incapable of seeing any other solution in a great, wide world of solutions, as to kill themselves.  There aren’t a lot of people in this world equipped to deal with this, especially when it’s someone close to them, someone beloved.  I’m not an expert, by any stretch.  I’m just a guy, already someone who suffers with depression, who has the added burden of having two people in his life take theirs.

There have been people attacking Robin for his choice.  It’s almost as if they feel this was an easy choice made with no forethought or attention paid to consequence.  It’s almost as if they have no idea what they’re speaking of, at all, when it comes to depression and the suicidal thoughts that haunt individuals every waking moment of every day making it seem almost like a release from a chrysalis of confusion, silent suffering and emotional and physical pain.  Yes, it’s like those ads that have run in the last few years – depression hurts.  Physically.

Part of this, for me, is that this man, Shepard Smith, just suffered a loss, as did the rest of us, of someone he loved growing up and as an adult.  He’s angry that Robin has left him in this way.  That’s OK — I get it.  We all feel that way.  The difference is that when you’re surrounded by ignorant name calling and vitriol all day, as is the environment I glean from watching 30 seconds of Fox "News," you react not as a reasonable adult, but as a schoolyard bully whose favorite teacher just announced she was leaving.  She’s now the worst person ever to walk this earth.   Likewise, Robin suddenly became a "coward."  I’m not apologizing for this Smith person.  I don’t know him. I just know people like him.  Schoolyard bullies don’t react with compassion towards the person or situation.  They react by lashing out. 

It’s easy to fall back to the pervasive thoughts from a less enlightened age (prior to the 1990s, really) where suicide WAS seen as cowardice by so many.  What’s hard is to FEEL and understand what a person so completely devoid of hope as to *kill* themselves is feeling, even a sliver.  One thing FoxNews has never been about is sympathizing with "other" and understanding someone else’s perspective.  I truly hope that this person never has to face this so-called cowardice in any aspect of his life other than vicariously and detached.  It’s not something I would wish on anyone.

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