The Story Behind "The PTSD Songbook"

The Story Behind "The PTSD Songbook"

The writing of the "PTSD Songbook" was an attempt to contribute to the work carried out by groups like Guitars For Vets in addressing issues of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in veterans. Since 2005, I had met and talked to a large number of Gulf War and Iraq War veterans, and had seen and heard stories that at the time had not yet begun to make news headlines. I’d heard veterans talk about the need to to exist at high adrenaline levels, about their difficulty in talking to friends and family after their tours of duty, and of compensating for feeling empty and disconnected from the lives they had left behind.

In 2009, I chanced to meet Patrick Nettesheim of G4V, and was impressed by the organization’s work and dedication and the very human approach of putting a guitar in a sufferer’s hands to help the healing process. All of us associated with the Mambo Surfers were sympathetic to the cause, and donated several guitars to G4V, but I felt there was more we could do. Having neither the money nor the time to give further, I decided on trying to do something unique, tapping into the musical talents, vision and energy of the Mambo Surfers to create a unique and memorable songscape to shine a light on the plight of our soldiers.

This live recording is the premier performance of the "PTSD Songbook", and also marks the end of a six year hiatus for the Mambo Surfers. Ron’s "Face To The Wind" belongs to 2003, when Andy Connor’s world was changed by a stroke, but felt like a natural fit to the rest of the "Songbook". Likewise, "Procession" & "The Bad" had been written in 2007 & 2008 but with slight modifications, grew much more powerful when put into the context of the "Songbook". The rest of the songs were culled from about twenty or so others written in a creative frenzy between November & December 2009.

The process of writing the "Songbook" was somewhat like stoking a quiescent furnace. In September 2009, I had been reading Joseph Campbell’s writings on myths and how those myths function in our day-to-day living. That coincided with a chance meeting with Deb Farris, executive director of Milwaukee’s Danceworks, Inc., and a conversation about dance and theater. I realized there was no better contribution the Mambo Surfers could make to the PTSD effort than writing a piece of musical theater that explored the journey of a soldier through enlistment and trauma and into the process of healing from PTSD. The "Songbook" is that contribution.

The first week of November was spent in a constant buzz, writing ideas down in little notebooks, sometimes with damp gloves in icy bus shelters. I found myself rolling out of bed in the empty hours of the night to work out melodies on the guitar, or going on eight and ten mile runs in order to force my brain to focus on writing the songs, rejecting ideas and building on others. For example, I wrote most of "Body Heat" on Thanksgiving Day, on the Oak Leak Trail in St. Francis, WI, while forty mph gusts whipped horizontally off Lake Michigan and drove sleet and ice through my clothes with blistering numbness.

"The PTSD Songbook" was written to be the soundtrack to a larger dance and theatrical performance. Because the story cannot be told in just words or music, movement and art are the other facets of the "Songbook" yet to be developed. As you listen to this CD or watch the DVD, play it loud and imagine dancers in night vision gear, pale faced soldiers beneath a bursting incandescent flare, charcoal drawings, graffiti scored into cell walls, and the smell of blood and diesel mixing with roadside dust. Music and words are not enough.

Lastly, the "Songbook" is also our way of telling you to tell your own story, especially if you are experiencing PTSD from sexual or physical abuse, addiction, violence or simply from finding out that the masks and roles thrown at you from birth do not fit right, no matter how much you whittle away, squash down or reinvent.

That’s it. The "Songbook" does not offer any medical advice, judgements or magic cures. We just urge you to tell your story, however you can.

Saji Villoth
November 2010

All graphics by Man vs. George from the CD/DVD Edition of "The PTSD Songbook"