When Anders Osborne started his Send Me a Friend foundation last year, he had a simple goal: He wanted musicians in recovery from substance addiction to continue working as musicians. Calling on his own experiences of returning to music clubs when he was newly sober, he began assembling a network where “friends” in different cities could look out for players who were returning to their old haunts or going back on the road.
When Osborne went through that experience, he felt he was being forced to choose between his sobriety and his art, not to mention his source of income. “What they tell you is that you should take a year off as you get deeper into recovery,” he told OffBeat last year. “And I remember thinking, What does that mean? Do you tell doctors this? You’re telling someone to just change their job. There is still a little bit of a preconceived idea that this is almost like a hobby that you’re doing this because you’re playing around and having fun. To me it meant that I could go to a seven-dollar-an-hour dishwashing gig, or I could continue to make decent money and take care of my family. And to do [the latter] I have to go back to music, which I’ve dedicated 30 years of my life to.”
Over the past year, thousands of “friends” have registered nationwide—the main ground rule is that they’ve logged at least a year of sobriety—and Osborne says that a few dozen musicians have used the service. So the goal for the coming year is to take it further. At the moment, people in recovery (not just musicians but others in the music world) can call a number (303-710-4556) or text an address (email@example.com) to get a referral. With Bill Taylor of the Trombone Shorty Foundation, he’s now working on a downloadable app to make the service more accessible. “We want to make it as painless as possible for people in need to reach out,” Osborne said. “The idea is to integrate it into management companies, promotion companies and festivals, so it’s part of the event’s initial setup. If you’re going on tour, we want you to have this outreach available to you.”
The ultimate goal is that music clubs won’t feel like danger zones for those avoiding alcohol. “What we’d really like to see is a natural merging of people that drink and basically use when they’re out having a good time and listening to music, and people that choose not to. They don’t even have to be in recovery, I’d just like to see a different environment for people to just go out and relax. As a professional musician for 30 years, it just dawned on me how strange it is that it should still be so difficult for someone to go out and do this. I’d like to see clubs with great coffee stations, great juice bars—alternative things that you can partake in so that you can feel you can go out and forget your troubles without having to get intoxicated. A lot of people feel excluded because they can’t partake—and that’s been a big part of this, my battle to feel included. I’d love to be able to say ‘Sure, I’ll go with you to see your friends down the street play after midnight’—that would be the long-term vision.”
Osborne’s worked a blue streak since his recovery, with the 2010 album American Patchwork ushering in some of his best work. After releasing two albums in 2016 he told OffBeat that he planned to record the next two albums in the space of two days. This proved a little too ambitious to carry off, but the album he has finished—titled Deep Impression and set for late winter release—continues his tradition of soul-baring.
“The idea was to make a whole record album about depression,” he says. “It gets pretty heavy but you know, sometimes the songs on a record will just choose themselves. It’s a moody record; I won’t say it’s all slow but it’s pretty introverted. There are some old soul stylings and some extended ambient improv stuff. I personally never felt that I was good enough to be a guitar hero, but I love expressing myself on guitar. And this time around I just wasn’t feeling any of those guitar-ridden, teenage angst songs; those all came out right after recovery. Lately it comes more from the feeling of being middle-aged. You have to follow the lifeline of where you’re going, and if it leads you to writing something more quiet and peaceful, that’s where you have to be.”
Writing about depression, he said, made for one of his more cathartic albums. “Some of it is painful, some more matter-of-fact. Some of it helps and some of it brings on more questions. I think by writing about it I got a chance to look at it, to talk about it with myself.” No doubt anyone who’s also been through those experiences will come away feeling like they’ve been sent a friend.