CLAY: An Interview


Clay and his twin sister, Claire, were born in Macon, Georgia in 1947. They were the first of 4 children whose father was a "poor Baptist preacher. At age 11 the family moved to Missouri where Clay attended high school and graduated from college with a B.A. in psgchology. On graduation day he decided to put psychology aside and form a band instead.

For the next several years he scratched out a living doing odd jobs, house painting and playing with his band. He found that he wasn't making it in life the way he wanted, "I kept winding up with a lot of losers - the company I was keeping was indicative of where I was at"; and so in February, 1975 he came to Denver to begin Primal Therapy. He didn't play much for the next 2 1/2 years and then joined "Breakaway", a country-rock band that is very popular in the Denver area and doing well.




CLAY: I'll start with the biggest thing. I used to be so scared on stage, and in front of people, that I wasn't really even aware that it was fear, it was just some real big force that came over me and inhibited what I wanted to do, what I wanted to come out of me. I couldn't relate to the crowd. It seemed like every break I was outside getting high, and I never stayed in the club and talked to people. I couldn't look at the crowd because I was scared.

So I would play with my eyes closed, or look sideways or something, and there always seemed to be some kind of wall between me and the crowd, and that's not there anymore. There's still times, particularly when I'm singing that I get ill at ease or insecure or afraid, but there've been several times in the past few months where I just wasn't afraid. And that has never been there before for me. My body didn't know what it was like to be unafraid. I can feel what's going on in the crowd and I can look out and get eye contact with people going, which I could never do.

That being afraid was my wanting somebody to hear my pain, to hear my sad story, and so I just put it in my music. A lot of it was blues, intensely painful music at times. The first week I was here I realized - I won't be playing the blues so much anymore, because having gotten to those feelings I don't have to put them on people or put them in music so much. And I enjoy playing good time music, which is a real big change.

Another thing that's happened, which is, I think, really intriguing. For some reason, the last couple of years, it seemed like every musician I met was a junkie, into hard drugs, particularly heroin. I had the chance to do it; I turned it down almost daily for a couple of years. I snorted it a couple of times and just didn't like it. It just kept seeming like every person I met was a junkie. And they were great musicians, incredible musicians, and really sensitive people. For some reason I felt like I had a real empathy with them. When they were on the nod I felt like I really knew what it felt like. I kind of discredited it as trying to be hip. I'd say to myself, 'you don't really know, you're just trying to be hip'.

And so I'd been in therapy about a year, and I hit a place where I couldn't wake up. I'd sleep twelve hours, come down here, and then I'd be into feelings for another twelve hours about how I couldn't wake up. It went on for several months; I did nothing but sleep in therapy.

There'd be times when I'd be real nauseated and I would've slept twelve hours and I'd come down here and spend twelve hours on the floor [editor's note: primaling] and then go home and have to sit around another two hours before I could eat, and yet I'd be starving. I knew that to be in the womb was kind of like sleeping, but this was really wild. I came to know that it happened at least six months before I was born.

So, I wrote my mom, and I asked her what happened before I was born. She wrote back that after the first month of pregnancy she was so sick that she couldn't even hold down chipped ice. So, she was in danger of dying, and my sister and me, being twins, were definitely in danger of dying. So, this old country doctor put her on phenobarbitol, and she slept twenty-four hours a day for four or five months. And, I knew that, that I'd been right! I mean, it was such incredible verification because I, my whole life, I never heard one word about this, just nothing. And, something in my body told me that; it was right.

What that did I'd realized, after four or five months of massive doses of phenobarbitol through my system, I had become heavily addicted. Then my parents moved back to Macon and got another doctor. He took her off the phenobarbitol. So then we all went through withdrawal. And so I did know exactly what the junkies were going through. Now I don't know a junkie in Denver. I don't think I've met one since I've been here. But there was something in my body that drew me to junkies before I started therapy. It wasn't just coincidence, because I knew that it was in me. I began to see that. So I knew I had to do something to break that chain, and it happened. When I decided it was time to get back into the music business, and 'Breakaway' hired me, it was another confirmation of what therapy had done for me: the band was very together business-wise, music-wise, and got along well personally.

DENNIS: You mean you weren't going into another set-up this time..

CLAY: What do you mean by 'set-up'?

DENNIS: Where you're compelled by your pain to go into a situation that's fucked-up, that will trigger the feelings that are still unresolved.

CLAY: Yeah. It just kept hqppening in Kansas City. It seemed like I never could quite meet the right musicians; things seemed to be slightly out of my grasp. Things that should have been happening, because I knew how good I was, just weren't quite happening. So . . . the things that seemed to be slightly out of my grasp in Kansas City are right there now.

DENNIS: What brought that together in you? What made it possible for you to go out and play?

CLAY: I don't know a lot of the specifics. When I came out here I figured that the therapy was something that I'd wanted to do for a long time and I'd worked real hard to get here, so I was going to give it all my energy for a while. When I first started therapy, I probably played two times in the first six months and it was for five or ten minutes. A lot of musicians that I know that have been through therapy have had that happen when they first started. The music kind of takes the back seat for a while. There were a couple of times where I wanted to get something going, but I knew I wasn't ready, and it just didn't happen. After the first year in therapy, in the second year, for the longest time, I really didn't know if I ever wanted to play professionally again - because of the pressures, getting in front of a crowd, having to be together, having to hit the right notes, and putting up with asshole club owners and booking agents.

I didn't know if I wanted to do it, and then, well actually, what happened was I sat down and got stoned once when I'd moved into a new house. I thought, here I've got a talent that I'm not sharing with anybody when a lot of people have told me they really love and want to hear me play. The only reason I'm not is because of the feelings inside me. It just all kind of came together, that I felt like, almost like it was my calling, to be a musician.

That was one of the things that helped me get back into it. Another was, I knew that to be successful there were times when you had to leave town, where you had to travel. My experiences had been so bad on the road with other bands that for a long time I said I'd never play on the road again. After a couple years of therapy, after I'd decided that I really didn't want to get back into it, I said, 'Well, maybe I can stand it if we go out of town just for a week at a time, and if it's in Colorado, and not too far away . . . '.

Then by Fall, when I decided to start looking for a band, I felt like, all of a sudden, that I was in a place where I could take road travel which meant for the first time in my life, I had enough defenses to keep myself off the floor and to keep myself together enough to play, to get along with people for three weeks at a time, and to live in a motel.

DENNIS: It sounds like at some point your body had experienced enough of the feelings to where you were freed up enough to want to live your life, to do what you wanted, and you got it together behind that.

CLAY: Exactly. I'd spent a lot of time on the floor. Sometimes eight, ten, or twelve hours a day for long periods of time. I decided I wanted to live. Sometimes it's real hard. The hardest thing is going on the road, cause there's no . . . sometimes I'll go out in the van and cry, but I can't go deep enough because there isn't a real safe place. But, the first couple of years I was here, just leaving for three or four days was almost more than I could take, and I couldn't conceive of being off the floor for any length of time..

DENNIS: When you were in pain, you needed to be on the floor for the period of time that you went through. That's something you had to do.

CLAY: Yeah, I had to. And I still have to. But I can put it off, which is something I could never do.

DENNIS: In your day to day living, like when you're working, have you found ways of dealing with feelings to keep your consciousness clear? Like, here I am, this is what's happening, and this is the feeling.

CLAY: Yeah. Sometimes, and it's only started to happen, so I'm not real sure about it. I seem to be more able to separate old feelings from current feelings. Like if I'm scared or something. I can see it for what it is.

There are times where I'm on stage and the feelings are there so much, it's almost like meditating. I'm really in tune with the feeling, and at the same time, playing. There was one night I could feel this body right there in front of me the whole night I was playing, and . . . sometimes it's hard to separate my twin sister from my mother just because they're so close . . . .

DENNIS: That's the way it was.

CLAY: For sure. I just hit a new place in therapy. This person that I'm always talking to, telling them how good I'm doing or how bad I'm doing, what's going on, there's always this person that I'm talking to and it's the mother that was never there to hear me. And when I really connected to that feeling I could feel the body around me that I was trying to talk to, that I wasn't getting through to. The whole night on stage I could feel that; I was playing to it, and it was like what I used to try to do with meditation, but never could quite do, which was to be really in tune with my body, and still be in tune with what was going on at the same time.

DENNIS: I was wondering about that because your life has involved such heavy trauma, right around the beginning. And my concern is how much separation you have from it now. You went through a period where you could hardly wake up. Now, that was your body's way of moving in the direction of healing that massive inequity. We both know that that kind of developmental pain may be with you for the rest of your life. And what's important in going through experiences like that is that it provides enough of a reclaiming of yourself that you can live your life in the way that you choose.

CLAY: It's still real hard. But there have been times in the past couple of months where I felt clear like I never even thought possible. There's no way of really conceiving it before you're there. Just real clarity.

There've been times when I spent a lot of time on the floor, and was starting to come up because I had resolved a lot of feelings for the time being. But there are still times where I can't wake up, and I feel tired. It's more from the neck up, now, where I'm tired, in my brain and central nervous system. There are still times, where, because of all the withdrawal feelings, I get high, particularly when I'm on the road, and I'll drink some.

The feelings are just so strong, that what seems to be happening lately is, when I go down, [editor's note: primal] it's so deep and complete, that it doesn't happen every day like it used to. There are periods in between where I can't . . . I'd rather stay out of them than drop to the floor. That's something I could never do before. It's part of getting a lot of stuff out of my system.

The fact that I'm traveling off and on, and having to play at nights makes it hard to coordinate my schedule with the [Denver Primal] Center's schedule and the people at the Center, most of whom are 9-to-5. Sometimes it*s real hard to get therapy, because of the time schedule. So, there'll be periods where I don't do therapy for two weeks, then ther'll be periods for two weeks where I do a lot of therapy.

DENNIS: Yes, but it sounds like you've got it where it needs to be. There's a difference between living the feeling and having it as a feeling . . . .

CLAY: Yeah. Yeah. I never get crazy enough that I lose touch with myself. That never happened before. I didn't even know what that meant in my body before. Even those times where I haven't been on the floor for a couple of weeks, and I've been out of town or I'm getting strung out, even then, I'm really in touch with where it*s coming from, inside.

There's something else. Remember in post-group a while back when I was saying, 'I'm not at the Center enough anymore to really feel like I'm part of it. I feel like I'm fucking off the therapy. But I'm different from the people I play to in bars. So, I felt really separated from both things, both groups of people that I'm around. And you left me that note, which, was saying kind of the things that came to me later, but, I was so into the feeling at the time I couldn't see it.

One of the goals of my therapy was to get through enough of the shit in my body so that I could have some defenses, for a change, and so that I could stay out of the feelings for a change, which I've never been able to do. Like we were saying before, there was a time when I decided, 'Hey! I've spent enough time,on the floor for a while, I want to live.'

I figured I'd give the band three years just like I gave therapy three years of everything I had. I'll give the band three years, and then I'd like to give therapy another three years. But for the time being, sometimes it feels like I'm fucking off, but this is really what I came here to get.

DENNIS: That's right. And it's great that you haven't lost sight of that, because, a lot of times, what can happen when people come into therapy is that it becomes kind of and end in and of itself rather than as a tool for growth . . .

CLAY: Well, it hooked into the old Protestant work ethic that I had drummed into me. You know, you always have to be working at something. Some people who can't just be, have to be out doing something to keep from going nuts. And so, coming from a religious family where . . . well, it just really fits in.

DENNIS: From experience, if you get something of yourself back, if you fill in where you just weren't before, and if you don't translate that into something in your life, it can be just as detrimental to your growth as denying feelings. What it's all about is that 'you' we're pointing toward needs to be experienced, and there's no other way than by being in the world. What you're saying validates this again for me - by your following that impulse and going out to live your life, things within and without are lining up even more than before.

CLAY: Yeah . . . You were just saying how good it felt to you, and it feels real good to me . . . Most of my life, anything that felt real good to me took away from somebody else, particulary the nine months before I was born. It seemed like any food or any space that I got, Claire didn't get.

I can remember times when I would move my body in a way to get more room in the womb, but I would hold any joy about it inside. I couldn't let my body let Claire know about it because if I got more space, it meant she got less space. So, this is a unique thing for me to say, 'Hey, I got something that's really neat for myself', and for somebody else to say, 'That's really neat' too. It's still something that's hard to get used to. Feels real good . . .




Return to The Denver Primal Journal Index