Retiring Twenty-Three

Retiring Twenty-Three

I have written about my friend Pat a lot of over the years. I wrote a song about him in 2006 (“Twenty-Three”), made a music video, and worked to raise awareness about depression and mental health alongside the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. While continuing my mission to educate people about mental health and depression in other ways, I finally decided to retire the song earlier this month.

My friend Jaret Reddick from Bowling for Soup had always been supportive of this song, released in 2009 through his label Crappy Records.  In performing it around the world, I connected with people who have lost friends and family to suicide, or considered it themselves.  I received dozens and dozens of emails from people who said the song was particularly impactful on them, reminding them not to hurt themselves when they were feeling low, imagining the effect it would have on their friends and families.

The reach of this song was surprising, but sometimes exhausting.  After a high energy show, strangers would come to merch to tell me about a friend who took their life, crying. I emphasized with their pain, but at a certain point, I knew the message and purpose had gone beyond my own healing that the music had served.

This spring, I retired the song in Boston, opening for Big D & the Kids Table at the Brighton Music Hall.  Backed by my original band mates, we played “Twenty-Three” mid-set, and as it always happens, it changed the mood of the night.  I always got emotional when I played this tribute to my late friend.  We lived across the hall from each other freshman year in college in Junipero (a house at Stanford) and we were roommates sophomore year. 

MC Lars and Pat

MC Lars and Pat

Pat had a wry sense of humor, he was a loyal and kind friend, and was one of the smartest people I had ever met. Getting the call in early 2006 that he had taken his life was devastating and still feels surreal. I remember sitting in my Brooklyn sublet, and my mom telling me something had happened to Pat, and they were still trying to figure it all out.  No one wanted to admit that it had been a suicide, or accept it, but knowing about Pat’s past struggles with depression, the awful truth slowly came into focus. He had been living in Berlin, he had been off of his medication, and he had recently had some difficult struggles.

I had seen Pat at Stanford in his last summer, and he was his seemingly cheerful self. He told me he had been in the hospital, and I later learned that it was because he had a serious depressive episode. I often thought about that day, and wish I had told him to call me if he ever felt like that again…but I didn’t know the whole story.

In the aftermath of the tragedy, I got to know Pat’s family.  I had breakfast with his older brother in Seattle, and he came to my show that night.  I met his twin sister, who looks so much like her brother it is uncanny. Pat’s parents came to see me when I opened for Nas in Connecticut a few years ago, and I’ve been in touch with his mother over the years, who is currently writing a book about her son.

Recently, I visited Pat’s family when I was in Connecticut for another family event. I sat down with Pat’s mother Lisette to interview her for my podcast, and it was a poignant, meaningful conversation. She made lunch for me and said, “If you’re anything like Pat, I knew you’d be hungry.” Pat’s posters were still up in his room. We talked about memories of her son and my college friend, the stages of grief, and a dream I had where Pat had told me everything was going to be okay, and to keep laughing, as he always did.

The chorus of “Twenty-Three” had started to feel more sad these days. As we get older, I find that it’s easier to become more nostalgic about high school and college. Those years are over so fast, yet they define so much of who we become. I had kept in touch with a very small group of my college friends, and Pat was one of them, until he took his life, which made it even harder. As the rest of us grew up, got married and figured out our careers, Pat will always be twenty-three, about to go back for his master’s degree, and trying to make sense of life through his unique perspective.

A resonant message from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is that “suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem,” something that makes so much sense in retrospect. While those of us lucky to not suffer from depression can not completely emphasize with people who do, it is important to try to remind people who are suffering that there is always help.

At the Boston show with Big D, Pat’s family showed up to show their support. They watched from the side of the stage and I gave them a shout out before playing Pat’s song. Afterwards, his brother, his sister, his niece and his mother all watched Big D in the back, as his niece danced and twirled to the ska songs.  It was her first concert.

// Photo: Nicole Mago

// Photo: Nicole Mago

These days, I try to be more in touch with my emotions. As someone used to being on stage, I have found that being funny and happy can become a defense mechanism to not allowing people to know how I really feel. If I could control a room with humor, on and off stage, I would never have to be vulnerable with friends or strangers. But, through therapy this year, I have come to learn that acknowledging my feelings is important, and that expressing these feelings to people close to you is important, almost as important as them consenting to allowing you to feel and express these things. As an overachieving student, music was always my Tony-Stark-Iron-Man suit - meaning, if I could create music that strangers liked, then it didn’t matter how I truly felt. Their approval and energy meant I was doing okay. It was a dangerous hole, and that’s why I think “Twenty-Three” surprised so many people. The song had had its impact, and I chose to remember the happy memories with Pat, not the loss and sadness of discovering his death. 

For this reason, I was retiring the song.

Music has so much power, still in how it heals people, in how it brings us together and gives us community, and how it reminds us that there were happier days, and there will be more.
"As we listened to Big D that night, it dawned on me that these important people in my life (Pat’s family, my band, even the Big D guys) I had connected with through music. Music has so much power, still in how it heals people, in how it brings us together and gives us community, and how it reminds us that there were happier days, and there will be more." Tweet: “Music has so much power, still in how it heals people, in how it brings us together and gives us community, and how it reminds us that there were happier days, and there will be more.” - MC Lars

If one can truly feel the sadness of losing a friend and not try to run from it, that is the first step towards healing. I had cried a lot for Pat over the years, but I also treasure our college memories together and the time I’ve spent with his family. 

As I said goodbye to Pat’s family that night, I was thankful that they had been so kind to me over the years, and that they’d shown up. Everything felt on its way to normal in that moment, even though the pain will always be there. 

I miss my friend, but Pat will always live on in the music and our memories and stories of the quirky, brilliant kid from Connecticut who lived across the hall from me in Junipero. Only in confronting the difficult and sad moments in life, can we appreciate the happy ones. I was lucky to meet Pat and be his friend, and I will never forget the impact he made on me and my life.

MC Lars

If you or someone you know may be struggling with suicidal thoughts, you can call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) any time day or night, or chat online.

For the Record - MC Lars.png

About MC Lars

MC Lars is the creator of post-punk laptop rap and lit-hop, which he has extended and powered into a fusion of rap, punk, rock, ska, pop and other genres. He is post-modern -- combining his music with powerful and present lyrics, and packing concert venues with raps about everything from the iGeneration to Guitar Hero to Edgar Allen Poe to Game of Thrones, The Simpsons and cyber-bullying. He speaks to and for people of all ages, lifestyles, and perspectives, and is a story-teller, covering love, life, loss, confusion, and hope. He does so with energy and wit, joined with a strong sense of humor and perspective. He tours in the US, the UK and the rest of Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan.