By Dan Israel
Allow me to introduce myself—my name is Dan Israel, and I'm a singer-songwriter in Minnesota’s Twin Cities. I've released 14 studio albums of my own songs and am currently recording my 15th. I quit my day job at the Minnesota Legislature in 2017, after 21 years working for the Office of the Revisor of Statutes, in order to pursue music full time.
I recorded the song Left Out in the basement of my former house in 2005. The production was kind of raw. So too were the emotions. It’s sort of a painful song.
The drums are played by me, thus they are … well, drums by me. I half-sang two different words simultaneously at one point, and just left in the flub. You can hear it, maybe. There is no bass.
So, that is what it is. A song about feeling left out, hurt and lonely. And I guess I recorded it that way too, leaving it pretty basic and maybe not even quite smoothed out.
I thought when I recorded it, and still mostly do now, that it's a pretty good song. I put it on my Danthology "best of" compilation so I must have thought it was among my 25 best songs. Maybe it is. Maybe it isn't. Either way, it still resonates with me—sometimes too much.
I was not a deprived or neglected child, but I am quite sensitive—not a shock to those who know me. Too sensitive, really, and I hate it sometimes. I was a middle child with some of the middle-child complex, needing more attention than I could ever get.
I also just am who I am, and that is a person who often feels on the outside of everything. I like being alone, sort of, but don't necessarily like FEELING alone. Unfortunately, that is how I have felt much of this past year.
Too often, when I am with others, I get hurt and offended by the smallest things. I can be insanely envious sometimes. When I see someone else having success and feel like I "should have" been included, it makes me crazy. I don't like myself when I get like that, but also know such feelings are never too far away. As it is, I am not much of a "group" person or a "joiner.”
My challenge is that defiant loner-ism is not necessarily the best recipe for continued mental health and good feelings, particularly when you are a divorced 48-year-old father of two who is a singer-songwriter and recently quit his day job to work full time in the so-called "music business." (While most businesses are based on a model whereby the product is actually valued economically, the world seems unwilling to PAY much of anything for creative works these days. But I digress.)
It’s a bit of a predicament — being a person who always wants to be alone but then feels way too lonely. A person who doesn't feel like he fits in anywhere, never blends, and always is against the grain of what everyone else seems to be doing, wanting, thinking, feeling or whatever.
So, here is today's "real talk" — I hurt. We all hurt. I put up a good front sometimes, or maybe I don't. But I often feel left out and isolated, like I am looking through a window at everyone else having fun while I stand outside. This mental image does NOT necessarily correspond with reality, but it is vivid and affects me nonetheless.
I have played music professionally (more or less) for 30 years now. I have not had that one "big break" where I suddenly get a song in a movie or TV show, get signed to a big record label, or get asked to appear on a late-night talk show. I have had lots of “little breaks,” and many people view me as successful, but frankly, in my own mind, I'm nowhere near where I'd like to be. I still want the big break and everything that might go with it. Some might say it’s a shallow aspiration, but I can't help what I want and am not ashamed of pursuing greater success. That said, I've won awards, toured Europe, been played on the radio a lot, and gotten lots of gigs that many people would be thrilled to get. I can't complain, but sometimes I still do (that's someone else's song lyric, but it feels appropriate here).
I'm also realistic. I’ve been playing music since I was a teenager, and at this age, it’s entirely possible the big break will never come. Yet, I can't let go of the dream, and that puts me in a weird place sometimes. I would love to say that I accept where I am and am happy with what I have, because I know that's what I SHOULD say, but it just simply isn't true. I'm still hungry for recognition. I don't know why I care. So many people seem so much more enlightened than me — able to simply be happy with whatever they have right now. Me, I'm quite grateful for what I have, but honestly, I still want more.
This is not a plea for pity. No one should feel sorry for me. I have so much — two beautiful children and a very good life, overall. And yet, I'm not satisfied and don't think I will be anytime soon. Sometimes, all I can do is write about it.
It isn't only about frustrated ambition, either. I suffer from depression. Quite a bit. I also have struggled with addiction. I was addicted to opiates and got on the medication Suboxone several years ago. I'm still on Suboxone and go to therapy every week. Sometimes, the anxiety I suffer from seems like a worse problem than the depression, sometimes vice-versa, and sometimes I can't tell the two things apart and am not even sure they ARE two different things. Overall, I look pretty functional to the outside world, and yet, inside, I often don't feel good, even when good things happen (though, I will say, good things do sometimes temporarily lift my depression a bit, so it is somewhat situational). I am not sober, and I don't consider myself "in recovery" — yet, I did let go of the opiates and I shudder to think what would have happened if I had continued down that path. I don't think it would have ended well.
Social media exacerbates all of my issues — especially the feeling of being "left out" of everyone else's seemingly neverending ride of fun-fun-fun, which is how other people's lives often appear (falsely) to me. So I am trying to minimize my exposure to social media, especially Facebook, because of how it impacts me in this regard.
Right now, I feel like I might not have much more time to do music full time. It's just not economically sustainable — and before you ask, let me reassure you that I knew this going in but thought maybe I could buck the odds and make something really big happen that would enable me to keep doing music full time, indefinitely. Now, I'm not so sure. But I haven't gone and gotten another job yet. I am going to see where my new music takes me and try to avoid getting another "desk job" for as long as I can.
With that in mind, I will leave you with the lyrics to my song Left Out and the link to the music. I am going to get back to making demos of my newest songs for an upcoming studio session. Maybe I won't be "left out" forever. Maybe I never was "left out" and it was all just in my head. Maybe everyone really loves me a lot, and they just forget to remind me of it as often as I would prefer. Anyway, wish me luck, and thanks for reading this.
Dan Israel’s music and shows are available at www.danisraelmusic.com.