Posted on June 4, 2011 · Posted in TBI Voices
This entry is part 16 of 20 in the series Jeremiah

Making Music After TBI: Jeremiah Part Seventeen

I talked to Jeremiah’s wife off camera and we discussed how making music after TBI has helped in Jeremiahs recovery from severe TBI.

One of the goals in doing TBI Voices was to not only document the stories of the survivor of brain injury, but also the views about the injury by those who knew the survivor.  In neuropsychological assessment, such third party is called a collateral source, in legal circles, they are called a lay witness.  The best collaterals/lay witnesses are usually family members and work witnesses.  While Jeremiah’s wife say through my interview with him and talked to me off camera, she declined to be interviewed for this story.  In off the record communications, she confirmed the accuracy of most of what Jeremiah had told me about his injury and recovery and about his making music after TBI.


Sarah Pray performs with Jeremiah making music after TBI.

Sarah Pray performs with Jeremiah making music after TBI.

In this case, our collateral witness has a very unusual connection to Jeremiah – she is now a co-performer, making music after TBI  with him.  A bit about our source:

I grew up here in Madison where we are doing this interview, but I live in Minneapolis now.  I went to school at St. Olaf and was a art and Spanish major and decided to move to the cities up there to pursue music and art.  So I basically, up there, I’d, I’d play, like, I’m a singer/songwriter, and played music up there, and played piano and guitar.  My dad taught me piano when I was little.

So you’re a professional musician?

Well, I have a, a, day job too. I walk dogs.

How do you know Jeremiah?

Jeremiah and I met at the, a show, I believe in Madison when I was playing last year, and he just approached me.  And he started talking about music and he gave me a CD of his music and just told me about his  brain injury and a little bit about, his difficulties.  And that music had really helped him, really helped him try to get through some of the physical like, just moving your fingers with the guitar and just understanding things, and, and probably a release of your emotions and you know, lyrically, like, to just try to speak what you’re trying to say in a song, is a good way to do that.

So I listened to his songs and we went back and forth a little bit about playing, music together and, and I just thought it would be an interesting thing to do and a good cause.  I think just the awareness of the (brain injury) because I don’t know anything about, I didn’t know anything about brain injury before, and so it’s interesting to hear firsthand about it.


What have you learned about brain injury from making music after TBI with Jeremiah?

Well, I guess it’s hard to tell because to me he seems pretty normal which is the remarkable thing about it is that, through his experience like everything seems, like I can’t really tell so much.   But musically I can in some, I don’t know if it’s related to brain injury or not but like when his songs are much, are different than I think a lot of people’s songs which is interesting.

He, he writes like in a different way like it flows differently.  There’s not, like there’s not verse, chorus, verse, chorus, it’s very much sort of like what comes to his mind as he goes and it’s very lyrical, lyrically based.  Like his words are the most important thing and he’s telling a story and it’s wherever that story goes that’s where the song will go.  Whereas when I write and a lot of people I know when they write songs it, it’s much more structured than that.

So I think that’s kind of a, it’s kind of a beautiful thing about maybe I don’t know if it’s a consequence of the brain injury or not but certain like standards of writing music that most people say that are like this is how you write a song like maybe that that goes away or something or maybe have, he didn’t really have prior experience writing music before the brain injury.

How do you think that making music after TBI is helping him?

It’s a great way to communicate any feelings you have or things that you can’t normally say in conversation you can say in music and for him like that must be a, a, a release that he’s able to have that other people might now, you know, if they don’t play.

Now music is, is something you do in your mind.  It’s something you do with your voice.  It’s something you do with your fingers, your feet.  How do you see the total involvement of your body in performing making music after TBI?

Yeah, well for me personally it, it is very like subconscious and you find yourself moving in ways that you didn’t really expect but you kind of notice and it’s fun, you know, it’s fun to be, to allow your body to be one with like what you’re doing, like and what you’re saying and I find that, yeah, I don’t know, I’m just tapping like to the rhythm or like moving side to side or even –

Jeremiah has some physical manifestations of his injury.  Do you see that hampering him or him improving those things through making music after TBI?

I think so. I think that’s how he learned to move his fingers again with, with the guitar work and I’ve noticed that like his rhythm is, is not right on but I think that that’s improved. I’m sure that  when he first started just strumming a guitar, that’s a really hard thing to do for a lot of people and singing to it, like at the same time is difficult.  He told me that he couldn’t do that at first and it’s become a little easier,  as you go.

What’s the process in making music after TBI with Jeremiah like?

Well he writes his own songs.  He just asks me to back him up and sing his songs have that relationship with music.  So I haven’t written songs with him, you know, like from start to finish.  We play and we should play some after this but I would just, I was going to play a little piano here and he’s going to sing and guitar, he was going to play the electric guitar and I would play some acoustic guitar and some harmonies so.

Do you, do you see any issues with memory in making music after TBI with him?

You know, not so much just forgetting words, forgetting certain words or forgetting certain lines of a song.

What about getting distracted while making music after TBI?

Yeah, I mean distracted sometimes like just playing sort of getting, getting like sort of in the moment of playing a song and, or wanting to play a song, to share a song and continue on and, and but not really stay on task with like trying to learn this other song or something but.

Is he able to learn new music?

Yeah I think, yeah like if we, we sort of reworked some of them a little bit and changed chords and he seemed to follow along pretty well.

Shifting from the making music after TBI issues to the more traditional collateral interview questions, I asked her: Do you see any impulsivity or, or issues with the way he approaches the interpersonal relationships that, involved in what you’re doing?

I don’t think so, no, I think he’s, I think he’s a great guy. Polite, funny.  I don’t have any issues.

Next in Part Eighteen – Writing Songs

By Attorney Gordon Johnson

About the Author

Attorney Gordon S. Johnson, Jr.
Past Chair Traumatic Brain Injury Litigation Group, American Association of Justice :: 800-992-9447