A stage set with blue lighting. One chair and one mic centered on the stage. An acoustic guitar resting on a stand. Chairs arranged in rows for the audience. Families and individuals of all ages in attendance.
This is not how you would typically describe the venue preparing to see the alternative rock band, Blue October. However, tonight is a little different. The band’s founder, front man and songwriter, is the only performer tonight. This is the Open Book Tour: An Evening With Justin Furstenfeld. This tour was originally started in 2009 as a book tour for his self-penned Crazy Making - The Words and Lyrics of Justin Furstenfeld, in which he goes into explicit detail about the inspiration behind each Blue October song to date, along with a few that were written during poignant times in his life, that were previously unreleased.
For those who may not be familiar with Blue October or Furstenfeld, you may not “get it” however, this book is so much more than just a what and why of the songs. The book, now in its 3rd Edition Release with tour dates selling out, is a look at lessons in life, coming back from the very dark edge of mental illness and addiction, perseverance, and most of all how the journey through all the struggles and roadblocks can only keep you from having the best life has to offer, if you give up. Furstenfeld holds no punches, with the words in the book or the topics discussed on stage. To have a beloved musician of a highly successful band, open his heart and throw every item of dirty laundry out on the stage for all to hear, is very rare in a day when it seems to be all about protecting images and covering up the things that may not be packaged perfectly. For Furstenfeld, it appears to be a part of his healing process. Not to mention how his honesty and nothing too raw approach seem to affect the droves of fans who packed these shows.
If you have not been keeping up with the band or Furstenfeld, this concept may be confusing to you and your senses, so let me give you a little background on why this evening, while not the norm, is such a very special night for everyone in attendance.
Furstenfeld, a musician since the age of 13, attended a performing arts school and was a member of a high school rock band called Last Wish. Being the lead singer in a band, especially during those unpredictable high school years, can tend to be ego-boosting, causing a euphoria that is created by the droves of girls who want to be with you and guys who want to be you. This is a time when most teenagers are finding themselves and learning what they think they want for their future. It was a time when Furstenfeld was definitely taking advantage of all that life has to offer when you are the “star of the show”
It was discovered at the age of 16, with the help of his parents and doctors, that he was suffering from depression, admitting openly, he has been on Paxil every day since. Discussing that this taboo topic of “mental illness” is something that, unless you have suffered with yourself or someone close to you has, you cannot understand how the mind plays with your sense of self. Your taking your meds as they tell you to do and all of a sudden, you feel great. So, if you feel great, you do not need the meds any longer, right? You then stop taking them. That is what makes sense. Why would someone who has a cold continue to take cold medicine after the symptoms are gone? Maybe a better example here is why would a diabetic continue to monitor blood sugar and watch the things that they eat, even after that have maintained and plateaued with their goals? The answer is, if they do not continue the path of maintaining and working with the program of monitoring and healthy eating, the disease will kill them. The same is true for any mental illness and particularly mixing that with alcohol and illegal substances, as Furstenfeld did, often.
The Songs from an Open Book album was released in 2014, which explains, much like the book, each of the songs along with their meaning, purpose and reasoning at the time each one was written. Why would you write a song titled “Hate Me” and have it become one of the top selling songs of your career? What was going on when you wrote that and more importantly, who was the song written for? If you can do that and people love it, it is only normal to a diseased mind, riddled with anti-depressants and substance abuse, to rationalize there is not a problem. Once again, in walks that ego boost, a high which continues to fuel everything that is slowly taking your life away from you. Furstenfeld also discusses, with no off the record requirements, that while he was a father during this time, he was fighting a fierce battle with his daughter’s mother and could not have visitation or even talk to his child. Therein come the demons again, which makes for great songwriting, but does nothing to repair the relationship or even allow someone to see that they could be what is delaying that process.
An addict, someone who suffers from a mental illness, or someone not willing to look at themselves to see there is a problem that they, themselves are the center cause of, will always continue to suffer. Furstenfeld’s, wife Sara, looked at him, several months pregnant and clearly explained that he had two choices; get help or he would never see this child either. She organized an intervention which included family and friends, which Furstenfeld says must have led to him getting help because the next thing he knew he was in Nashville at the door of a treatment center. There was some light, at the end of this long dark tunnel, and even though the road would not be easy, it would be worth it. As explained, through song and raw emotional discussion, he had to be ready to see it, he had to be ready to accept the help, and he had to be willing to put down the ego and facade, handing it all over to a power higher than himself. He had to “do the work” and not just for then, but for each day from that point forward.
Furstenfeld says he is the happiest he has been in his life now, and that once he could face those demons, those misconceived thoughts that the mental illness, as well as the substance abuse gives you, things become very clear. He now understands he was not capable of being a good father to his first child, or any future children for that matter at the time. He was not able to be a good son, supportive husband, and reliable band mate. He was not able to even be a person anyone would want to be around.
The audience was filled with fans of Blue October, fans of Furstenfeld himself, along with recovering addicts and their families. There were moments that you would see people hold onto each other during a song, there were tears, a lot of laughter, truckloads of raw uncensored truth, and in the end, hope.
Make sure you catch the tour, Open Book Tour: An Evening With Justin Furstenfeld, when in a city near you and pick up a copy of the book, Crazy Making, along with the album, Songs from an Open Book.