Andrew Neil

Liner Notes for "Code Purple - Andrew Neil" by: Jim Abbott

“A Miracle” by: Jim Abbott (Author of Jackson C. Frank, A Clear Hard Light of Genius)

This Album you are holding in your hands is what some might call a miracle.

Several years ago, Andrew Neil Maternick, all-star lacrosse goalie and West Point plebe, was firmly on a course for great things. But it was not to be, as Andrew dropped out of West Point and headed back to northern Virginia, and home, a young man without a plan, with the psychic weight of disappointment on his still strong shoulders.   

Then came the sunny morning in April, 2009, when he went out for a drive. He crested a hilltop, where earlier someone had run over a five-gallon plant bucket. That driver made the ill-advised decision to stop in the middle of the fast lane rather than pull the vehicle off to the shoulder. 

Seeing it too late, Andrew's car struck the improperly parked vehicle, and he flew forward with enough velocity to slam his head against the windshield.  His injuries were severe enough to warrant a neck brace and all that goes with a head and neck injury.  A short note on his medical record indicated that “patient may have suffered soft tissue damage”, indicating a possible traumatic brain injury (TBI).  And yet, he somehow managed to walk out of the hospital later that evening, a little sore but none the worse for the wear. Or so it seemed.  Three weeks later, he suffered his first psychotic episode. His struggles were just beginning.  

It seems that there was a poet locked inside that lacrosse star's brain. And a lot more.  The key to unlocking his mind was a bump on the head.

Andrew: "In the fall of 2009 I started writing songs on the keyboard. I never really had any music training, so I taught myself.  I could hear the melodies in my head…the words just flowed.  In May 2010, I picked up the guitar for the first time.  Again…with no formal musical training…started composing songs with the guitar. I would play what I heard."

The accident had indeed unlocked some creative passageways, and almost overnight music, formerly a pleasant diversion, became a means unto itself.  Unfortunately, though, a Pandora's Box had also been opened, and there was nothing pleasant about it.

Andrew: "I had some complications after the accident, which also landed me in some dark places and changed my plans to join the military.  At first I did not really understand what was going on inside my mind. But I began to hear music in a different way."

He also began hearing other, darker things, as the Black Dog known as Depression and bi-polar disorder, began to set in. He struggled for a couple of years, trying to find a balance.  As time passed he became a recluse and immersed himself in writing and painting.  His music, already melancholy, began to run deeper and darker. And then, the unspeakable happened.

Andrew: "My illness got the better of me in July, 2013, when, during a psychotic episode, I stabbed my younger brother in the arm, thinking he was an imposter wearing an armored suit. I wanted to cut him out.  I was tossed in a cell where people yelled, and wore orange suits.  'Lost in a spell until out I fell.'  It kinda hurt."

Fortunately, his brother's injuries, while serious, were not life-threatening, and he recovered.  The family did not want to press charges but the Commonwealth of Virginia insisted, and went ahead with criminal prosecution, and Andrew was arrested, and thrown in jail.  His family hired an attorney, and fought to get him help and keep him out of prison.  After sitting in solitary confinement for almost eight months, Andrew was found "Not guilty by reason of insanity” and committed to Western State Hospital in Staunton, Virginia, a move that just might have saved his life.  Several treatment plans were tried, and while some were big failures (including one that resulted in the "death " of a vintage Guild dreadnaught), one was finally implemented that worked so well that the light at the end of the dark tunnel was finally in sight. 

Mental illness is a blanket term for many, many conditions; paranoid schizophrenic, bi-polar, formerly known as manic depressive, depressed, suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and many other things, and yet the stigma from being labelled "mentally ill" is so great that suicide is often seen as a good option.  A man named Jackson C. Frank, who was severely burned in a fire in his school in the 50's, later became paranoid schizophrenic, almost certainly because of his injuries, which were horrific.  He went on to record one of the best albums in folk music history, seemingly out of the blue.  And he spent the last half of his life suffering from delusions, depression, and psychoses, unwilling to admit that he was mentally ill.  And quietly, behind the scenes writing some of the most heartrending songs ever.  

Daniel Johnston has had an entire career while suffering from schizophrenia. James Taylor has no problems talking about his time in a mental hospital, or the electroshock therapy that he underwent.  Brian Wilson, whose bouts with mental illness are legendary, is still mentioned in the same breath as the Beatles whenever great songwriters are discussed.  Woody Guthrie, suffering from Huntington's Chorea, a neurological disorder, was not only one our most prolific songwriters but is considered a National Treasure. Syd Barrett, founder of Pink Floyd, famously went off the deep end, releasing an album called, "THE MADCAP LAUGHS".  Elliot Smith, Nick Drake, Eric Taylor and may others suffer, or suffered from clinical depression, and either took their own lives, as Elliott Smith did, accidently overdosed on drugs, as the tragic Nick Drake did, or have gotten by on sheer brute strength of will, as Eric Taylor has.  Taylor is not afraid to talk about his depression, and perhaps that is why he is still around.  Townes Van Zandt, James Taylor, Eric Taylor, Jackson C. Frank....Andrew Neil is in good company.

And about those songs.  It all started in the fall of 2009, on the keyboard, putting his poetry to melody by ear.  Then, in April 2010, Andrew Neil first picked up a guitar and wrote his first guitar song the day after, called, perhaps presciently, "Fire is Born”.  Since late 2009, Andrew has written over 300 songs, 70 of which were written and recorded while in the confines of Western State Hospital in Staunton, Virginia.  This album contains a selection of eleven of those songs as he recorded them on a cheap battery powered recorder in the lonely and bleak confines of his hospital room.  The songs speak of sorrow, loneliness, humor, despair and hope and are reflective of his experience. 

Just fill my damn prescription

so I can kill my damn fiction

That’s how it use to be

But now I’m free

 

Sounds too…

Good to be true

Should I blame you?

For how I came into this zoo...

(From “Animals In Zoos” Andrew Neil Maternick)

 

Others are just hysterically funny:

It ain’t over till’ the fat lady sings

I hear her choking on chicken wings.

Same song, though, the tone is much different:

Salt on this slug a bit too much

Enjoying death by a thousand cuts

When I think of death I’m no longer afraid

Breath by breath the truth is made

The truth is made

The truth is made

Judas gets paid.

(From “Super Hero” By: Andrew Neil Maternick)

And does songwriting get much darker than this?

I’m leaving the floor body’s six feet under

Can’t afford to be another number

so I soar above the graveyard slumber

I’ve Been here before

Facing the same Thunder

I can no longer take it for another day

Eve is naked I like it that way

Bullet with my name for this I pray

God damn the devil’s game

I don’t want to play

From: “I Don’t want to Play” by: Andrew Neil Maternick 

Or this:

From “Tears of A Soldier” by: Andrew Neil Maternick

I remember the day when Johnny did say

“Dad and mom I’m going to Vietnam”

He returned badly burned

Lost his legs now he begs

Tears of a soldier he had a woman he wanted to hold her

Tears of a soldier turn to ice as the world gets colder...

This is not easy music.  Tough topics, ugly situations, told with an almost child-like wonder at times.  This album is just the beginning.  And unlike most of the songs by bi-polar musicians, or depressed songwriters, which lean towards being almost morose (Townes VanZandt once left a sheet of paper next to the bed, that ultimately became "A Song For".  His wife saw the handwritten words and commented that it looked like a very sad song, to which VanZandt replied, "That's not a song. It's a suicide note."  He died just months later, at age 52, a victim of his own excesses) a similar fate seems to have escaped Andrew Neil.  Much of his success in "escaping" the confines of the mental hospital can be credited to his amazingly upbeat acceptance of both his condition and the fact that he has options, one of which has been to make the conscious decision to help others, to help them to see their own glory, and to understand that to be mentally ill is not the scarlet letter that it once was.  Most importantly, he knows that there need not be any stigma attached to having a so-called "mental illness".  Mental Illness does not “define” him as a person.  And as a result of this realization, many of his songs have taken on a positive glow and hope.

When you’re feeling lost and all alone

Just take a pause and let it be known

That you’re too beautiful to cast a stone

Just letting the blossom unfold on its’ own

Stop and smell the roses

They give hope to the hopeless

Today your tragedy’s curtain closes

Cuz you stopped to smell the roses

From “Roses” By: Andrew Neil Maternick. November 2014

The collected, and still growing library of music by this miracle of a young man and accidental musician will make you laugh, cry, and marvel at its complexity and simplicity, simultaneously.  Stay tuned for much much more.

As for Andrew the Human Being, let's let him have the final word:

Andrew: " I now truly appreciate the help and treatment I am receiving.  I...accept the responsibility for learning how to better manage my chronic illness.  As of this writing, I am still hospitalized but hoping to be conditionally released in May of 2017.  [Andrew was indeed released into a group home on 5/   /17. --Ed.]  I will live in a group home and continue my recovery.  I will also continue my music.  I realize it is not going to be easy…. but I now have hope and dreams of a future, hopefully to make music that will impact people’s lives in a positive way."  And thus, this Album is born a miracle.