One Spring I was hired on as first receptionist for the new Shoreline Amphitheatre at Mountain View. My Pink Laminate Pass allowed me backstage to eat my meals, but didn’t grant me access to the magical world I knew must exist beyond the opening guarded by Security that led to the Performer Dressing Rooms and the stage itself. I’d eat my eggplant parmesan watching the staff come and go through that opening bearing their Gold All-Access Passes and vow: one day.
That Fall came my day with news Neil Young and his wife Pegi were going to hold a big fundraiser, the now annual Bridge School Benefit Concert. Our Production Manager needed someone to work in the Band Production office for the show and tapped me for duty. I entered down that ramp, took my seat in the Production chair and began answering phones, taking messages and watching over the felt pelons hung up in a row, one for each performer. I sat still and the stars came to me. Tom Petty. Crosby, Stills and Nash. Nils Lofgren. They’d go around the room signing each pelon, taking extra care with “theirs.”
Later on the door opened and Robin Williams entered. We exchanged smiles, and he took the black sharpie pen in hand and quietly started signing his name. A few minutes later Don Henley and his band busted in. They greeted Robin enthusiastically, the energy in the room spiking. Robin seemed to do a quick calculation and realized Don and Co. were expecting “that” Robin. He flipped a switch and suddenly became zany Robin cutting up the room. After the throng cleared out he immediately downshifted back to quiet and shy.
I was always struck by that moment, wondering at the internal balancing act needed to sustain these two sides, the energy expended. When news broke of his suicide I wondered anew, and raged at what a bitch this disease is.
Clinical Depression runs in my family. Thankfully I’ve tended mostly to the blues, moments where my life kinda slows way down for while, but nothing long-term or life-altering. My mother unfortunately suffered from major depression, and the story of how her doctors’ fucked up her treatment is a whole other post. But as people in wake of Robin’s death naturally exhort those in pain to reach out for help, I despair at what help is currently available to those in desperate need.
Our cost-cutting, micro-managed profit-sucking health care system is especially cruel to mental health services, where the first and often only remedy offered is an anti-depressant drug prescription renewed at regular intervals. The side effects of these drugs, their interactions with others, are difficult to diagnose and treat in the 15 minute appointment increments the Health Care Conglomerates allot. Critical, necessary talk therapy is being replaced by a non-existent “quick fix,” the almighty Rx.
Our battled scarred soldiers. Our mentally ill prisoners. Our over-managed, over-stressed kids. All being fed pills first, maybe ask questions later, but prolly not cause: 15 minutes! Drug ‘em, send ‘em home and put the burden on the families to navigate the moods and gather up the tell-tales in an attempt to divine the current source of pain. And those without families, on the street, in the prisons…
Later that night at the Bridge show Bruce Springsteen took the stage and everyone cleared out of backstage to watch his set. I was alone in the Production Office watching the show on a small monitor. Robin entered carrying his fruit plate and sat down in the folding chair next to me. He offered me some fruit and together we watched Springsteen in action. Then Bruce began “Fire,” and Robin began doing his Elmer Fudd singing Springsteen impression for me. I cracked up, amazed that Robin Freakin’ Williams was performing just for me. The song finished. Robin ate a few more pieces of fruit, offered me a last bite, then quietly slipped out the door.
Thank you Robin for one of the best memories of my life. Before the shockwaves of your death quietly fade away, may we begin a sustained conversation on what real mental health help must be.
video credit: moneyinc1985 via Youtube