Using My Anxiety To Create Beautiful Pop Tunes!

My first grade photo

So, there I was, at 3:00 in the morning, unable to sleep. Lying wide awake in bed. I couldn’t stop worrying! I kept seeing my cat Harpo in DANGER! There were birds of prey and he was being snatched up and carried away. I had to make sure he was all right!! I had to check on him and make sure he was safe. But none of it was real!! I know that now but back then, there was nothing I could do to stop the obsessing! I couldn’t stop the loss of sleep and ultimately the loss of all that precious time!

But let’s go back to the beginning.

If there are 2 things that have been a constant in my life, they are my love of music and my struggle to overcome anxiety. I was born into a very loving Portuguese immigrant home in New York City and I am the youngest of four kids. And, my parents were very excited to have a son after 3 daughters. It’s not that they didn’t want girls, but my father was thrilled to have someone to carry on the family name.

I did really well in elementary school, reading at a 3rd grade level in the 1st grade and I was a friendly and popular kid. But, I was always “on edge”. I don’t know how else to explain it. It felt as if I was going to be “found out”. About what, I didn’t know. There was no trauma. No abuse. Just happy times with a huge extended family. And, still, I felt stalked by an undefinable fear of something. Maybe fear isn’t the right word. Maybe unease is better. Yeah, unease. But, for what?!

Me at 14 (Look at ALL that hair!)

This sense of unease continued in Jr. High, High School and College. It was only when I realized and accepted that I was gay that it became clear what I was afraid of. What I was going to be “found out” about. But even after coming out to my family and friends and luckily being accepted and loved, there was still a sense of dread. It was a huge weight off my chest! But even after that weight was lifted, I still felt this way. I thought feeling like this was just a normal part of living. 

Everything was cause for worry. The constant “what ifs” and hyper-vigilance were weighing me down, emotionally. When I did write songs, the anxiety would bleed into my lyrics, like my song “Feel This Way”. Even with Happy melodies, there would be themes of despair and concern like in my song “Losing Yesterday”. 

Here comes the transformation!

What finally opened my eyes and woke me up was, ironically, that lack of sleep. I was in my mid-thirties, lying in that bed, worrying about my sweet, long haired black cat Harpo with those damned birds of prey. He loved to sit on the balcony wall of our Los Angeles condo. My fear of him being grabbed up and carried away was all encompassing. I obsessed about it. I kept checking on him and tried to keep him inside. He was too clever with our doggie door. He would always find his way out and on to that ledge. But, here’s the thing…Here’s the obvious part I missed.

There are no birds of prey in the San Fernando Valley, capable of carrying away a 15 pound cat!!!

I suddenly realized I was worrying over NOTHING! I don’t know why the clarity hit me at that moment. I suddenly realized that I had wasted so much energy as a child, as a teen and as an adult. All the sleepless nights consumed by any random issue that invaded my peace of mind.

I finally said “ENOUGH! I need help!”

I got that help, first in the form of therapy and medication. Then, as I improved my outlook, I added meditation, regular exercise and healthy eating. Slowly but surely, I began to see myself rising above my struggles. I felt renewed, with a new perspective of gratitude for my life and everything and everyone I encountered.

It was hard work at first. But the more I practiced the easier it became. It was like an atrophied muscle finally getting a workout. I actually started taking the advice of some of my own songs like “Anything You Need” and “Right Behind The Rain” This enabled me to spread my wings and reach for a higher purpose, without dreading every move and every moment.

Life…became…easier!

My concern for a cat led to a transformation and helped me to rise up from the ashes and soar like a Phoenix. I felt reborn in my purpose of writing and performing! I also felt responsible for helping others overcome their struggles by sharing my story. Letting people know that it doesn’t have to be like it was for me. You too can change your perspective and rise above your own issues. I want to be an example of a Spirit being lifted because it chose to. I chose to.

Me at 19.

So, back to creating beautiful music!!

Music was and is also a huge part of my life! My Mother had a beautiful voice! She was always singing as she worked around the house. My Dad played guitar and violin and sang as well. I loved listening to him play and sing Portuguese songs. We would listen to Fado (Portuguese folk) records. They oozed melancholy and had beautiful, sad melodies. I didn’t understand the lyrics but I knew each singer was heartbroken or, in some way, in despair. I guess that’s why I found them so relatable, even without knowing the lyrics. I was also constantly listening to AM pop music on 77 WABC radio in New York City. It was an eclectic playlist of pop, rock, soul and even some country. I soaked in those sounds and words and they became a part of my soul!

When I began singing and then writing my own songs, all these influences seeped into my creativity. So did my anxiety and the struggle to overcome it. I couldn’t help but write about it because it was, and still is, my truth. And, if I truly want to be an artist, that truth must be expressed. 

Here’s what struggling with and overcoming anxiety sounds like!!

There are 3 songs, in particular, that are perfect examples of these life influences becoming part of my songwriting.

Let’s start with the oldest song “Losing Yesterday”. It’s probably the most direct lyric of dealing with general anxieties and thinking that ignoring or denying them is the best (and by best, I mean worst) way to deal with them. The singer is desperate to let go of all these triggers that shake him to his core. The problem is they MUST be dealt with to overcome them. I also contrasted the troubled lyrics with a bright cheery sounding melody. Some of my favorite songs do this.

The smell of roses makes me wild 

The sound of bees alone can make me cry just like a child

I can’t explain it. But, all my fears are more than mild 

Goodbye yesterday. I’ve got to throw my past away

The ghosts lead me astray. So, I’m losing yesterday”

The next song is “She Walks Away”. A song about being trapped in a desperate situation without seeing any way out. In this case it is a poor guy who has been dumped by his girlfriend. All he has left is a video of their time together. In the video, she gets up and walks away. He is forever replaying this “movie” and trying to imagine her returning but it never happens. This one makes me quite happy because it won a National songwriting contest.

“I am alone. Sitting on the couch. I keep on playing this worn out video

And she’s the star! With eyes that melt your soul. 

They keep on saying “I know who you are” 

Her face is sunshine for the day 

But in the final scene, the blue sky fades to gray 

She walks away and breaks my heart 

Every time I press rewind and play this movie from the start

I’m pretending there’s an ending where she decides to stay

But, she walks away!”

The final song is about being inspired by young people to overcome crippling doubts in your life and renewing your commitment to climbing that metaphorical “Mountain” we all face. It’s called “Fine Young People (Living Life)”. This is the song that got me out of a difficult time and got me back in the studio to complete and release my first CD “See The World”!

Now I look at the fine young people. They blow my mind!

Here I go. My mountain will be climbed 

I’m on my way. I’m doing fine.

I’m living life again. I’m living life!

No more delay. No killing time.

I’m living life again. I’m living life!”

I hope you enjoyed this deeper dive behind the lyrics and music and what inspired them! I hope it inspires you, in some small way to overcome anxiety and doubts and to live your best life!

If you like what you’ve heard so far, you can get my most recent EP “Right Behind The Rain” by clicking here!

2 Comments

  • Pamela Lawless "Pam" says:

    I loved all three of your songs. I love to hear more.I responded to you and I never got a response until now.I know you are busy .I am so glad that you have reached out to me. You live your life to the fullest.I ‘m glad you told me where you are from.I’m from Kentucky. I live in the country I have been a country girl all of my life.

    • Phil Dutra says:

      Thanks so much, Pam!! I think we have spoken via email in the past. Always great to hear from you!! I hope you’re enjoying my music! Wishing you all the best!!

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