January Blues

Marshall Chapman -  January 2005

Marshall Chapman - January Blues

Last night I was feeling real shaky about my relationship with my husband. We had spent the afternoon looking at our finances, trying to figure out why more money was going out than coming in. I’ve always saved nine cents of every dime I ever made. My husband, on the other hand, has always spent money like there was no tomorrow. We’ve both changed in the thirteen years we’ve been together; I’ve loosened up and he’s become a little more frugal. But sometimes I fear these changes are “too little too late,” and start imagining life lived under a bridge.

To relax after our meeting, I sprawled out on the sofa and turned on the TV. For a minute I couldn’t believe my eyes. JOHNNY CARSON DEAD AT 79 said the news bulletin at the bottom of the screen. No way! I thought. Johnny Carson … dead? I burst into tears. For the next three hours I couldn’t move. I just sat there in a state of shock flipping through the channels, trying to find anything that showed Johnny Carson doing what he did best―hosting The Tonight Show. I couldn’t get enough. I must’ve watched Bette Midler sing “One for the Road” twelve times, dabbing at my eyes each time the camera showed Johnny wiping away a tear. The strange thing is I hadn’t given Johnny Carson a moment’s thought since his retirement in 1992. So why was I feeling like I’d just lost my best friend?

Maybe it had something to do with an article I’d recently read in the London Times which pinpointed January 24 “the most depressing day of the year.” Leave it to the British to come up with a formula to support their claim: [W+(D-d)] xTQ MxNA. I won’t bore you with the details, but contributing factors were weather, debt, time elapsed since Christmas, time elapsed since a failed attempt to stop a bad habit, general motivational levels, and the need to have something to look forward to. Of course, they hadn’t taken into consideration “death of a beloved television personality.” Add that into the equation and global mass suicide looms a distinct possibility.

January has always been tough. Here in Middle Tennessee, we often experience days―sometimes weeks―of overcast, dreary weather, which for some can cause depression. The medical term for this is Seasonal Affective Disorder or S.A.D. I remember one January the sun didn’t shine for twenty-three days. I grew up in South Carolina where pine trees and magnolias add green to the winter landscape. But here in Tennessee, everywhere you look you see gray: the trees, the sky, the streets, the sidewalks, you name it. Even I start to look gray. Sometimes I look in the mirror and see a ghost.

One January years ago, I got so depressed I had to be institutionalized. I went home to South Carolina and my poor parents didn’t know what to do with me, so I was admitted into a psychiatric hospital over in Greenville. It was just like One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, only there was no Jack Nicholson to play basketball with. This was before 12-step programs were all the rage. This was shock treatments and Thorazine. I remember one day looking around and thinking, I gotta get out of here. These people are nuts!

Over the years, I’ve figured out ways to keep the January blues at bay. In the mid-’80s, I started going to Vanderbilt basketball games. Memorial Gym was within walking distance of my condominium. The bright lights and live action provided the perfect antidote to my Seasonal Affective Disorder. I’ve also found that playing music helps. In 1990, I formed a band called The Love Slaves. Our first four gigs were January Monday nights at the Bluebird Café here in Nashville. One thing I’ve learned about the blues: as long as you’re playing them, they can’t get you.