Singled Out: Ruby Dee and the Snakehandlers

Ruby Dee and the Snakehandlers

Ruby Dee and the Snakehandlers recently released their new album "Little Black Heart" and to celebrate we asked Ruby to tell us about the song "Who You Think I Am". Here is the story:

Eight years ago, I was in a pretty bad accident that left me with a moderately severe TBI. In the first months after the accident, I couldn't really speak clearly, let alone write or read. I had vertigo and couldn't remember a damned thing from one moment to the next. I've always prided myself on brains rather than looks, so this accident was completely devastating.

Another side effect of the head injury was that I couldn't even remember friends' names or faces, and often walked right past folks I knew, especially if I saw them out of context- at the grocery store rather than the club, for instance. I was also easily confused and distracted, so if you can imagine being at a show with all the noise and lights and people moving around- I was a wreck after even just a few minutes in a venue. I started isolating- even at shows- because it was all too much for me to handle. My brain would just shut down and it was all I could do to get up on stage and perform.

People who knew me from before started getting angry with me- as though I was ignoring them on purpose and just being nasty. Someone would ask me a question and I would get overwhelmed and walk away. Not on purpose- something in my brain would just short circuit and that would be my reaction, though I wouldn't remember it if you asked me later. I tried to explain what it's like with a head injury, but honestly, no-one seemed to want to hear it. I looked fine- the scars are for the most part all on the inside of my brain- so folks just thought I was being a bitch. I lost a handful of friends and who knows how many fans as people just assumed I was being rude.

I became severely depressed and suicidal. My family didn't even know how bad the head injury was, as I'd always been the type to crow about successes but not complain about hurts. And because there had been no actual impact between the other vehicle and my scooter- they'd run me off the road- I got no help from insurance. They paid for ONE cognitive therapy appointment and then said it wasn't working. However, that one appointment gave me so much to work with. The doctor had given me a booklet of word exercises and word games, and once I saw how that type of work seemed to help, I threw myself into it with everything I had.

Four years after the accident, I was able to write and read more easily- but not songs- just words, stories, even recipes. I wrote a cookbook, and then had a cooking radio show that I had to write episodes for on a weekly basis for a few years. And suddenly one day, I heard the old familiar feeling of tune and lyrics coming together in my head, and started working on songs again.

It takes so much more out of me now. I have to work so much harder to write a song than I used to. But I think the songs are better for it- like I put more of myself into them now.

So! WHO YOU THINK I AM is about having this head injury- how it's hidden and because you don't see it, you don't realize how it can affect me. There's pretty much a hole in my head, and I still suffer from it every day, though I would never let you see that. But I still get overwhelmed and easily confused and distracted. When I am tired, I forget words and names and even friends' faces. I'm about as good as I'm ever going to be, and I'm grateful for what I've been able to retrain my brain to be able to do- reading, and writing and speaking clearly again. But I'm never going to be 100%, and I'm always going to have these glitches where I walk past folks, or am so overwhelmed that my brain sort of shuts down.

The lyrics of WHO YOU THINK I AM are telling you what it's like living with this every day. I didn't do the thing you think I did on purpose. I try so hard, and do what I can to show up and get things done. But there's a dead zone inside of me, and I can't help how it shows up nor how it affects folks around me. When all is said and done, if you don't look beyond the outer shell to the injury inside, then you won't see what's going on. I'm not who you think I am. That's the song.

You know, after writing this, I actually have a plea- if you know anyone with a head injury or aneurism or anything that affects the brain, be kind to them. Reach out a little to them, because it's hard being trapped inside with this sort of injury. No one can really see it from the outside, and we are treated accordingly. A broken arm? Oh let me carry that for you. Blind? Let me help you across the street. But a head injury? Out of sight, really and truly out of mind.

And when all is said and done, all you can do is to keep on rolling- so that's what I do! Hopefully this made sense, thanks :-)

Hearing is believing. Now that you know the story behind the song, listen for yourself and learn more about the album right here!


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