I WAS ON OPRAH AFTER MUSIC SAVED MY LIFE
Oprah didn't believe me at first.
She thought I was still cheating.
Who could blame her?
Fox News had called me "The World's Greatest Cheater" just a year earlier.
No, not that kind of cheating. I cheated in school because I partied too much, then wrote a humor book about it, which landed me in the hot seat on Fox, Bill Maher and everything in between.
Now I was on Oprah's show trying to explain my spiritual transformation over the past year, but she was like "Are really supposed to believe this?" and "But I'm trying to figure HOW you changed."
But I stammered... I couldn't tell her the truth...
The truth was that learning to rock my sad soul into a better mood every night after work by jamming on instruments changed my life in profound ways that I'll explain below.
So why couldn't I tell Oprah?
Because backstage before the show, her producers said "Do NOT talk about music out there." I couldn't believe it, and I resented it. The interview was awkward and disappointing.
Now, though, many years later, I totally understand their music ban: I sounded like an IDIOT back then, like a giddy schoolboy who'd just fallen in love for the first time. "But you don't understand! Music saved my soul!"
It did. But I couldn't explain it yet. Now I can, and I hope this helps you or someone you know, because if music could change me, it can change anyone.
I was a terrible person from age 12 to 25.
At 9, my parent's brutal divorce reached a low point when my dad --- a mean drunk Iron Worker --- tried to have my mom murdered by a hitman. The phrase "I love you" was never uttered in our house, but the phrase "your mother is a cunt" often was. Actually, my mom is as nice as Betty White, but she couldn't live with an abusive alcoholic anymore, so she left.
When I was 12, my father died of a heart attack after telling me I was a loser. My heart pretty much shut off the "love valve" after that. It hardened behind a shell of anger and fear. Fear of ever getting that hurt again.
I became a cynical skateboarder kid, then grew into a 6'4" athlete and hard-partying comedic dick who ripped on everything to boost my empty self-esteem. The only way I knew how to feel better inside was by generating laughs at anyone's expense, or by getting compliments on my appearance. I was the worst guy in school.
I got good at scamming party situations to impress my friends. When I was 16 in New Haven, I could trick Yale freshmen into giving us free beer by pretending I was a Yale sophomore who'd get them into cool parties later on. At the Volvo International Tennis tournament nearby, I got us into the IBM party tent by pretending my dad was VP of Finance. We got hammered on the free Molsen Golden and then blitzed the buffet like Vince Vaughn in "Wedding Crashers." Granted, those early scams were pretty harmless, but they began a really bad pattern in which I wound up hurting a lot of people later on. I was like an evil Ferris Bueller.
In Dallas at SMU -- aka "Southern Millionaire's University" where George W. Bush built his Presidential Library -- I took over the most elite fraternity in the South despite being a broke kid from the North. By senior year I was like one of those big blonde douchebag villains in 80's college movies like "Revenge of the Nerds" and "Back to School." Ugh. I was such a fucking DICK ... but it made people laugh, which made me feel better inside, so I kept at it.
After college I went to UCLA Film School, sold a movie pitch to Paramount, sold another script to an indie film company, and sold the ol' cheating book to the second biggest publisher on Earth. I was living at the beach in LA, writing for Playboy, and partying like my former writing idols Hunter Thompson, Hemingway and Bret Easton Ellis. I thought I was sooo cool, but I would soon discover that I was, in fact, a TOOL.
I had conquered my external dreams, but inside I began crumbling with disillusion and shame.
My first national TV appearance began with Fox & Friends' Steve Doocey introducing me as "The World's Greatest Cheater." I cringed inside. "Oh my God, this is really happening. That book was funny back in college, but now I'm 25 and it's embarrassing. What the hell am I doing with my life..."
Selling something you don't believe in is selling your soul.
I hated seeing myself on TV half-heartedly promoting a book that I only wrote to get on TV in the first place ... a book that another Fox anchor, Shepard Smith, told parents to "throw in the trash" while I was on live TV with him. My soul felt like trash that whole book tour, especially as the hangovers kept getting darker. But Hollywood loved my shtick as the "party scammer" guy, and kept wanting more. So I kept at it.
But when MTV gave me a deal to create an edgy show about my adolescence, it forced me to finally look back at all the mean, hurtful things I'd done since my dad died, and I started going through a secret meltdown at the peak of my young success.
All those sugary adrenalines of ambition I'd been fueling on for 13 years suddenly wore off like the worst sugar crash ever, and I realized they'd been numbing my sad empty heart all along, like the hard caramel shell around a candy apple that was rotting inside.
My soul felt like a high-flying jet whose doors suddenly blew off as the shrieking wind sucked everything out like a vacuum.
On the outside, I kept grinning my way through high-level Hollywood meetings and parties, but on the inside, I felt like Munch's painting "The Scream."
Incessant thoughts of self-loathing began consuming me. My panicking heart started literally hurting so much that I thought I was developing heart problems like my dad had. Partying to escape myself no longer worked. The regret-filled hangovers made me feel so gross and depressed that I couldn't take it anymore. But I didn't know what else to do. And then...
The Columbine massacre happened. The darkest day for my generation before 9/11. My self-hatred and guilt as the former "worst guy in school" finally exploded in tears as I cried for the first time in years. Later that night, sitting on my couch, my trembling soul made my hands start literally trembling. As they trembled more and more, I felt like I wanted to jump out of my skin and die.
But instead of running to the nearest bar, I grabbed an old acoustic guitar that I'd only ever fiddled around with before ... but now I started venting all my stress onto the strings like never before -- violently thrashing my tension out of my soul by just grooving hard on a couple simple chords ... over and over and over...
It felt like an exorcism in E minor. First, my mind became more clear. Playing an instrument forces you to think in sounds instead of words, which washes away the clutter of negative thoughts, anxieties, emails, spreadsheets, personal dramas, or whatever else.
Playing music purely for your own pleasure --- rather than trying to impress others with pressurized performances --- is like musical meditation. A sonic massage for the soul.
But then ... deep into this life-changing session ... it happened...
My soul filled with the most blissful feeling of Natural Ecstasy-- dopamine, endorphins, serotonin, oxytocin -- and it was better than any of the toxic man-made drugs I'd ever tried. It was so clean and pure and uplifting ... like a holy force lifting you up to the mountaintop within your soul.
I felt like a sad little sailboat that suddenly caught a huge warm breeze that made it sail mightily across the sea. "Oh my God... OH MY GOD THIS IS AWESOME!!! YEAHHHHHHHH!!! WOOOOO!!!"
So I kept jamming.
Every night after work.
No booze. Just groove.
Just light some candles and rock your soul until the Natural Ecstasy flows.
It worked every single time, no matter how depressed I'd been that day. After years of chasing happiness externally by trying to impress other people, I could now make my soul feel awesome from within. It changed everything.
Taking control of your own happiness from within is one of the most empowering life-changes you will ever make. Instead of feeling like an empty fireplace that's chasing flickers of warmth from other people's approval, you feel like a roaring fireplace emanating good vibes out to the other people. You feel like a fountain that's cascading from the inside-out, rather than a drain that's craving from outside-in.
Look, I know everyone has their own way of feeling better every day --- for some it's yoga or fitness or golf or gardening or whatever. But for millions of musically repressed people, that soul-boosting passion in life could become making music.
According to Gallup and the U.S. Census, 93 percent of Americans wish they played an instrument, 7 percent don't care, and only 8 percent actually play. So what about the 85 percent who wished they played but don't?
They are blocked by modern myths that playing instruments requires "talent" and tedious forms of training. No. It doesn't.
Here's the truth: Just as everyone can exercise their body into better shape --- no athletic talent required --- EVERYONE can rock their soul into a better mood, no musical talent required. Just have fun. Just groove.
If you can learn to play video games for fun, you can learn to play instruments for fun. If you can learn to type on a computer keyboard, you can learn to jam on a musical keyboard.
If you always wished you'd played an instrument, go get one. Learn the basics from a teacher or friend or YouTube lessons. And don't worry about being good at it --- just groove to feel good inside your soul. It's the best.
The reason why music is the only universal trait of every spirituality ever discovered anywhere on Earth is because music is in our DNA as a universal way to uplift the spirit every day.
Over the past 15 years since I started strumming out my stress, I've had thousands of soul-cleansing sessions, and it makes all the difference in the world to know that no matter how stressful your day may be going, you can always make your soul feel amazing after work or after school --- in such a healthy way.
God, man ... I wish my dad knew that. I remember he once said, "You know... I always wished I played the trombone ... I would've loved that ... but ... oh well." I wish I had known to tell him "You can, dad! Let's go get one right now! It's never too late to start! It'll make you so much happier!"
Instead of pouring toxic Scotch into himself every night to numb his stress, he could've rocked the stress out of himself like I do every night --- by just groovin' for fun. Everyone can do it, so everyone should. I never got to tell him that, but now I'm telling you: JUST GROOVE.
Originally published in The Huffington Post