Sunday, June 23, 2013

No. 347 – Girlfriend

Performer: Matthew Sweet
Songwriter: Matthew Sweet
Original Release: Girlfriend
Year: 1991
Definitive Version: None

I’ve seen Matthew Sweet twice. The first time was at the Park West in September 2008. It was a pretty good show for the most part, although it was evident that Matthew Sweet was on the backside of fame. It was even more evident when we saw him play all of his Girlfriend album in 2011 at the Bottom Lounge, which is basically just a bar. He had a different band—the first band was his original band—and I felt sorry for him that night.

Laurie had been excited to see him the first time, but that excitement failed to manifest itself at the show. I wasn’t fully aware of it at the time, but Laurie was on the express bus to the pit of despair—and I was along for the ride.

Part of it, as I mentioned, was despair at the time and opportunities lost from her long hospital ordeal. Another part was the feeling that Laurie was being a burden to me. The largest part was Laurie had heard enough about her ordeal and was gravely afraid that it would happen again. Of course, there are no guarantees, but I kept assuring her that if she backslid, we would know just what to do. There was no way it would turn into what it became.

Laurie was inconsolable. Laurie’s depression got worse, and, as I mentioned, the Fall of 2008 was a big black hole. She was healthy enough to go back to work and have the appearance of a resumption of her normal life, but she didn’t feel normal.

Fortunately, by the grace of God or mere happenstance, depending on what you believe, Laurie’s unstable psychiatrist vanished. Laurie had to find a new psychiatrist, and when she did, things changed for the better.

In December 2008, Laurie went to see her new psychiatrist, who was in a less ghoulish building downtown, and she instantly cut back Laurie’s meds from four to two, with a third one just in case. It didn’t happen overnight, but the difference quickly became apparent: Laurie stopped crying all the time and stopped staying in bed when she wasn’t at work. It was obvious that the previous psychiatrist had Laurie so weighed down with meds that she was being smothered.

But more important than the pharmaceuticals, the new psychiatrist said something to Laurie that I believe made a huge difference. She told Laurie at their first meeting, as Laurie recounted later, that the depression Laurie had been feeling was related to her previous illness—that is, it wasn’t the manifestation of something new—and it was typical after such an event.

In other words, what she had been experiencing for the past five months was perfectly normal. Needless to say—but I’ll say it anyway—the previous psychiatrist never told Laurie that. That statement was just the right tonic for Laurie’s confidence, and it didn’t hurt me to learn that either.

But something else happened right around the same time, and its effect can’t be diminished in my opinion. In 2007, Laurie landed an acting gig in a pilot TV show that was taped in Chicago. It was a tiny role, but more important, she got a chance to work with one of her idols, Timothy Hutton. It was an incredible experience, Laurie had said.

Well, the show finally was going to see the light of day on cable in December 2008. We didn’t have cable (still don’t, as I mentioned), so we had a viewing party with a few friends at Cliff and Janet’s place.

The show itself was pretty good—do you know Leverage?—but I’ll never forget watching the clock on the DVR. We knew based on what Laurie had said about her scene was that it would be shown near the end of the episode. But time was running out fast.

This was no good, because Laurie had been on an unfortunate run of ending on the cutting-room floor. She was an extra in Stranger Than Fiction—met Emma Thompson—but the scene she was in was shortened, which excised Laurie from the movie. Laurie then had a speaking role in The Express that also didn’t make it to the big screen, although her name at least appeared in the credits, which was kind of cool.

So if this TV show were strike three, well, I don’t know what I would have done. The clock was ticking, and it looked like the show was wrapping up.

But then, there was Laurie, bigger than life on the small screen! No one said a word—even Laurie—but her eyes widened in recognition as she silently watched herself work. When the scene ended, everyone cheered and Laurie smiled sweetly.

Sure, Laurie’s rehabilitation was the result of getting her medications right, but I have no doubt that when she saw herself on TV, she received a different type of motivation that no doctor or prescription had been unable to give her. She saw herself. She could say, that’s me. That’s who I am and will be again.

Her rebirth was under way.

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