Left Out

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.


On the lonely road I travel, I never seem to see, all the fun everybody’s having, never seems to be for me, 

I took a different path, I never knew what normal was, 

On the lonely road I travel, only reason was because

I always felt out, even when invited in,

Never felt the least bit comfortable, 

Right here inside my skin,

I don’t try to make no trouble,

But there’s trouble in my head,

Hope you know I never meant no harm,

No matter what I said

Oh, it’s a long way home,

Good fortune, well I’m due for some,

Left out, that’s the way it seems,

Picked last, to be on the team

On the lonely road I travel, many times I had to swerve,

Don’t expect no special treatment, I only ask what I deserve,

So if you see me out there, won’t you just acknowledge me?

I’m just trying to run out time, before time runs out on me,

I’m just trying to run out time, before time runs out on me....

The Future of Depression

By Paul “P.T.” Thomas

About 25 years ago, I remember a very tense conversation around the dinner table. As my mom, dad, brother (7), sister (2) and I gathered for our family meal, there was a “feeling in the air” that even a 10-year-old boy could recognize. With a calm in her voice yet a nervousness in her words, my mother explained to us that my aunt had recently been to the doctor for some tests … and those tests revealed something very troubling … that my aunt had … cancer.  “Cancer!” I exclaimed in a loud and scared voice that one could tell was the exact way my mom and dad felt but didn’t want to show, so as not to upset us kids. It was almost as if the word itself was evil and that merely speaking the “C-word” caused the room to be filled with fear. Or that perhaps simply uttering the “C-word” would open up the windows, and cancer would magically crawl into the house and affect one of us—right then and there. Cancer was scary … cancer was alarming … cancer was mostly an unknown … and we didn’t even want to talk about it.

Fast forward 25 years. Cancer is still scary. A cancer diagnosis is still alarming, and it is STILL a horrible disease. I would never diminish anyone’s battle with cancer. Lord knows I’ve lost way too many friends and family to the disease. However, ONE thing that has drastically changed during this past quarter century is how we as a culture approach cancer, face it, and come together as a community to support friends and family affected. Heck, nowadays we would probably host a fundraiser at the neighborhood American Legion for my aunt. We’d have t-shirts made supporting her, hashtags would be trending, and we would make damn sure she knew the entire community was going to be with her and her family during the emotional and potentially grueling battle. Again, NONE of this is a bad thing. In fact, just the opposite—these things are all PHENOMENAL displays of support and love during a battle that many times is quite literally a fight for one’s life.

Now take this same story and change the disease to … mental illness. Swap in any mental illness: depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, PTSD. Would we still be hosting a fundraiser for that? Would our community of friends and family print t-shirts? Probably not. The question I have is this: Why is it so different if someone’s battle originates in the MIND rather than the BODY? The National Alliance on Mental Illness estimates that approximately one in five Americans experiences mental illness in a given year. That’s 20 percent of Americans! Yet there is still a stigma attached to it.  There is still misunderstanding and an “unknown” aspect to these diseases that affect the most powerful part of the entire human body—our brains. Unfortunately, the reality is that mental illness unchecked or untreated can result in a difficult and emotional battle for one’s own wellbeing and life. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. And it’s absolutely preventable. But those affected by mental illness often suffer quietly and alone, due to the stigma of acknowledging the need for help, the unwillingness to be vulnerable, and/or the lack of understanding, compassion and empathy from others who don’t know what to say or how to help.

I’m not suggesting we call the local Lions club to help us organize a “Linda fights her demons” fundraiser for my friend battling depression. And we should most definitely continue to hold community events supporting those diagnosed with some form of cancer. However, I AM suggesting we need to be more aware of the fact that there’s a “Linda” in your life RIGHT NOW who is battling a disease you can’t see and might not know about. She may be too embarrassed to say something or not how to broach the topic. Or perhaps it is YOU who is struggling with anxiety? Maybe YOU battle depression but don’t want to “burden” friends or family members with your problems, fearing they “are too busy” to listen. Or maybe you experience post-traumatic stress and are reluctant to seek professional help because of some notion that only “weak” people do that.

As a society, we need to approach mental illness more like we do physical illness. We need to be willing to start the conversation about mental health, thus reducing the stigma associated with it. If we can take these steps, I believe we WILL saves lives. But we can’t wait—this must begin now with our generation so that our kids can sit around the dinner table and be comfortable saying that they aren’t feeling well … in their mind … and that they need some help. 

Paul Thomas is the founder of the LIVIN Foundation for mental health awareness and suicide prevention and the Get Busy LIVIN Music Festival. He is also the board chair for the Midwest Country Music Association and an on-air morning-show personality for 102.9 The Wolf in Minneapolis. Find more information about the LIVIN Foundation’s mission, including how to donate, at www.livinfoundation.org.


Coming Back This Fall

Join the LIVIN Foundation for its 2nd Annual Get Busy LIVIN Music Festival on Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019, at ERX Motor Park in Elk River, Minn. Details on Facebook.

Unhappy Holidays a Welcome Pause Amid End-of-Year Hubbub

By Jen Gilhoi

Dissonance’s third annual Unhappy Holidays event on Dec. 20 seemed to perfectly coincide with the very necessary need to hit the holiday-stress pause button. It came at a time when people were facing lengthy to-do lists and last-minute deadlines before the holiday break. It came at time when anticipation, anxiety and maybe even depressive thoughts were on the rise. It came when a pause was needed.

Dissonance’s alternative holiday gathering once again brought people together without alcohol, other substances or any of the season’s typical expectations. The evening kicked off with “Christmas Wish,” a song created and performed by Katy Vernon, Dissonance board member and ukulele songbird, a singer of sad songs on a happy instrument. The song is about missing loved ones during the holidays and was inspired by Katy’s work with Dissonance and reflections on the first Christmas her 12 year-old self spent without her mom, who had passed. The lilt of the ukulele hinted at happy, with grief and loss woven between, capturing the Dissonance vibe to a T.

Dissonance co-founder Sarah Souder Johnson welcomed everyone and walked through a breathing exercise to bring us into the present. Carl Atiya-Swanson, outgoing Dissonance board member, then took the stage as emcee to start the conversation with panelists about their art, the dissonance they experience in their lives and how they stay well (#howdoyoustaywell).

Comedian Brandi Brown—co-host of the podcast, “Bill Corbett’s Funhouse;” frequent blogger; and much more—covered topics from blackness, therapy and the St. Paul-Minneapolis rivalry to being Minnesotan on the East Coast. With her no-nonsense wit, Brandi shared one of her strategies for managing time, stress and her attention-deficit disorder: “Say no; saying no saves a lot of lives.” She also highly recommended therapy, and not just because it’s “a free workshop for jokes.”

Award-winning writer, community leader and activist Saymoukda Duangphouxay Vongsay grew up in St. Paul as a refugee from Laos. Her story is certainly no joke. But she has a wit of her own, and there is a childlike lightness in her beautifully illustrated book, When Everything Was Everything. The audience listened intently as Saymoukda and her publisher read from the book on stage and shared vivid imagery of everything from bowl haircuts to hand-me-down jeans, worn while working in cucumber fields. The book represents a poetic slice of her life, hinting at the residual optimism she may have inherited from her mother.

Throughout the evening, artists shared their views and experiences with self-care and wellbeing, discussing not-so-easy-to-accept truths about their health and the actionable practices that help them. Musician Chris Tait, founder of Passenger Recovery, a Detroit-based nonprofit that helps touring musicians and travelers find support away from home, shared a story of a Saskatoon gig that shed clear light on the need for support, safe spaces and community while on the road.

Wellbeing for Chris, keyboardist for indie rock vets Electric Six, starts with self-awareness about the nature of his life as an artist and the reality of his life in recovery from addiction. For example, while it’s easy to inwardly focus in a creative songwriting zone, Chris says he’s acutely aware of the need to balance that with plenty of time spent outside of his own headspace, focused on others. Chris shared two songs—Oh Severed Head and Jonathan Turtle—that provided humorous food-for-thought, punctuated by surprising kazoo and whistling solos.

Lydia Liza shared her journey from a 16-year-old prodigy thrust early into an adult career to the 24-year-old woman today that is excelling musically and personally, after giving up alcohol and working on co-dependency issues. With her song I Just Want To Know You More, she sang about being in a relationship or space because you think it’s safe, rather than because it’s fulfilling or benefiting anyone. Heck yeah, she’s in recovery now and living her daily “citizen-life” while being creative. Of the challenges balancing health and work in the music business, she said: if you love your creative being enough, you will find the balance.

Will she find that balance on Twitter? Maybe not. Lydia touched on her 2016 remake of the holiday standard, Baby It’s Cold Outside, with Josiah Lemanski—a recording that went viral, gaining national attention for its message about the importance of consent in relationships. Proceeds from the song all go to The Sexual Violence Center of Minnesota; the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence; and the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, meaning the “trolls” on Twitter who blast the song as political-correctness-run-amok only support her cause by continuing to bring attention to it with their personal attacks. With that in mind,, Lydia said she has had some fun taking on the Twitter trolls but acknowledged that it all wears on her a bit. Brandi used her phone to pull up @lydializamusic on Twitter and handed the phone to Lydia so she could share some of the comments and her responses. Lydia said she enjoys the opportunity to be sassy, put the trolls in their place, and bring more attention to her cause but added that, for her own health and wellbeing, it’s best to put limits on her engagement.

We ended on a high note of acceptance. Group consensus built around the idea that it’s not a lot of fun to take our own advice or to look objectively and honestly at ourselves, but it’s necessary. Restore, compassion, honesty , authenticity—words and themes shared by our artists to close out the evening—wrapped up Unhappy Holidays in a bright red bow for all to take into the final days of the year. Happy Holidays!

Dissonance provides resources and actionable tools to stay healthy over the holidays and always. Shout-out to our amazing partners for the evening! They included our resource providers—MPR’s Art of Counseling (@ArtOfCounseling), Call to Mind (@CallToMindNow), The Emily Program Foundation (@EmilyProgram), the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation (@hazldnbettyford), Lyn-Lake Psychotherapy and Wellness, and Recovree (@recovree)—and our alcohol-free beverage partners, Hobby Farmer Switchel (on Instagram at @hobbyfarmercanning_co) and Hairless Dog (on Instagram at @hairless_dog_brewing).

Jen Gilhoi is a Dissonance board member.