Killers In Our Backyard: Locally made horror film creeps around New England

As a born and raised Rhode Islander, it’s hard to find films or TV shows that invoke the true atmosphere of New England. Most media that’s set in New England is typically focused on Boston, and many big-box representations of New England’s rural areas are just that – representations. That was a refreshing feature of writer and director Michael A. LoCicero’s film The Killers Next Door. Set in a migration from Lincoln, RI to Danbury, NH, LoCicero manages to capture the most nostalgic elements of New England: viewers can frequently see cans of ‘Gansett cracked open, Market Basket-labeled products, and woodsy scenery that can’t really be mimicked by any Hollywood movie set. This is due, in part, to the fact that LoCicero himself hails from Lincoln, and has a family cabin in Danbury. 

The film centers around two brothers, Ryan (LoCicero) and Bobby (David S. Pridemore), who take a trip up to Danbury to start fresh. Ironically, Bobby’s idea of a fresh start consists of being released from prison and stealing a car to begin their venture, promising his brother Ryan a stint of ‘honest living.’ Though Ryan seems to be hesitant about trusting his estranged brother, he reluctantly tags along – unaware of the true reason that Bobby wants a fresh start in the middle of nowhere. Along the way, the brothers bump into the married pair of Ro (Rosanna Jimenez) and Sean (Sean Carmichael), who are in for the marital bonding of a lifetime in dealing with Ryan and Bobby. As the respective pairs count their days in their cabins, secrets are unveiled and bonds are tested, which leads to a well-built thriller with some intriguing twists and turns.

Overall, LoCicero’s film is an enjoyable watch if you’re a fan of suspense and thrillers. The plot functions as a not-so-slow burn, jumping into the action without hesitation and immediately making the viewers wonder what the characters’ true motives are. Bobby’s criminality is both written and showcased well in this film – Pridemore does well with playing a typical slimy (not so) ex-con who has some skeletons in his closet (Get it?), and LoCicero himself does well with portraying a brother who truly just wants to give his brother the benefit of the doubt… for a little bit. For the sake of transparency, there are moments where characters are shown to be uncomfortably creepy and sexually aggressive towards women (and at one point, a 15 year old girl) – so be prepared for that in your viewing. 

I had the pleasure of being able to ask LoCicero a few questions about his film and its inspiration, including how long it took to bring this film to fruition, his favorite parts of creating the film, and his challenges in the process. Here are his responses: 

Maddie Jarvis (Motif): What inspired you to create this film? 

Michael LoCicero: When it comes to inspiration, it boils down to a location and an episode from a true crime show. My family has a cabin in Danbury, NH that I often visit. Beautiful property: I knew I had to write a script with it as the backdrop. The thriller genre and true crime shows are usually my go-to… so working around a rural cabin in the woods setting wouldn’t be a stretch. The Killers Next Door (formerly titled Respite Road) had influences from the films In Cold Blood and Straw Dogs, but one particular episode of “CBS 48-Hour Mystery” called “3 Days before Christmas” is what really stood out for me. 

It was about these two men who break into a family’s cabin in Utah — they rob the place, open the family’s Xmas presents, wait for them to come home so they can attempt to burn the place down and then force these two teenage girls in the family to help them escape on snow mobiles.(Crazy, right? They were caught, by the way!)

The episode mainly followed these guys and their course of action throughout this little crime spree. It was interesting to imagine what could have been going through their minds as they made these terrible decisions. So I wanted to write a story where the focus was more on the antagonists and what drives them to commit these crimes.

MJ: How long did it take to put this film together? 

ML: From writing the script all the way to us releasing the film in January… a little over seven years. Producing a feature-length film takes a long time. But making it on a micro-budget and when it’s your FIRST film was like an eternity. Even with limited funds and resources, I still vowed to only release this movie when it felt truly ready and complete. Learned so much along the way, which will definitely save us time on the next go-round!

MJ: What was your favorite part of making the film? 

ML: I had a blast shooting it. The cast and crew we assembled for this were an extremely talented and versatile team. And they had to be. This film was quite daunting to make, but we powered through it and I’d like to think we had a lot of fun overall. It was incredibly humbling to have all these people, including my family, friends and business owners from the town of Danbury as well, all coming together to support and help me see this project through. 

MJ: What was the most challenging part of making the film? 

ML: While it was my favorite part — the production itself, especially when we were shooting in NH, was also the biggest challenge. We were working on a very tight schedule, the weather didn’t always cooperate, and our resilience was constantly tested throughout. Trudging equipment up hills and through thick wooded areas is no easy task. But again, the team we had were real pros and by the end of the shoot, I felt confident we had some great footage.

MJ: Do you have any upcoming films, or current works-in-progress?

ML: As we were prepping for the release of TKND with our distribution team, we made a short film called “Time, Space, Motion, and Kissing.” A beautifully written script by my friend and former college professor, Craig Handel. It was a one-night shoot, and we challenged ourselves by getting it all in a single shot. Another wonderful, collaborative experience thanks to the cast and crew, Gregory Rourke and the folks at the Parlour in Providence who were gracious enough to let us have the perfect location for this story. That’s now completed and being submitted to film festivals, so be on the lookout for that. We also have a script lined up as the next feature in our slate. Still in early stages, but follow our JL Pictures pages on Facebook and Instagram for updates. And to see the trailer and find direct links to The Killers Next Door, please visit our website www.killersnextdoor.com

Learn more about The Killers Next Door and its cast at its IMDb page: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt6850670/

Birds In Trouble: Audubon Report warns New England’s birds are in decline

Eastern Bluebird photo by Pamela Lowell

Climate change and habitat loss are making things difficult for our local feathered friends, as revealed in a 2023 report from the Audubon Society of Rhode Island.  

On January 28, 2023, the first Audubon State of Our Birds Report was presented to a sold-out “Birds Across New England: The Audubon Regional Conservation Symposium” at the Audubon Nature Center and Aquarium in Bristol, Rhode Island, and revealed some shocking statistics: 

  • Over one-third of the birds on Audubon Refuges are experiencing long-term population declines.
  • Only a quarter of all species are showing signs of long-term increases in population.
  • Overwintering species are faring only slightly better, with just under one-third exhibiting declining population trends.

These findings are the results of the Audubon Avian Research Initiative, developed in September 2021 to document the bird populations utilizing the nearly 9,500 acres of land managed by the Society. 

This phenomenon isn’t inclusive to the Ocean State. According to a study published in the journal Science, the avian has declined by some 29 percent, and since 1970, North America has lost more than 2.9 billion birds. 

And the biggest toll is being seen in common birds; backyard companions like sparrows and blackbirds are taking the biggest hit. According to Science, the greatest declines are being seen in aerial insectivores, such as barn swallows, bank swallows, chimney swifts, and species associated with grassland habitats. Science also explains that even invasive or introduced species are faring poorly, which suggests that the declining species aren’t being replaced by species that do better in human-altered landscapes.

While it might be easy to dismiss these findings as just another news scare, in truth, the health of our bird populations is inextricably linked to the human population. Famed 20th century ornithologist Roger Tory Peterson once referred to birds as an ”ecological litmus paper,” utterly crucial to the health of numerous ecosystems. You might not know that a fifth of all birds on the Earth pollinate wildflowers and fruiting trees. Birds also disperse seeds, which contributes to habitat health. They scavenge dead and decaying organic matter, and they serve as natural control agents for agricultural and household pests.

Dr. Charles Clarkson, Audubon’s Director of Avian Research, puts it bluntly: “We need birds more than they need us.”

“And we are slowly losing them from the fabric of our existence,” he continues. “Because of human population growth, the loss of natural habitat, the climate crisis and more, birds are becoming increasingly scarce.”

But there still is hope! “Conservation is a lengthy process,” Clarkson continues. “Stopping the decline is not going to happen overnight. But we need to get the message out now. It’s important to engage the public, not just the conservation community. The hope is that the more people that become aware of the loss of our birds, the more we can act together. Our collective actions and choices can make a real difference.”

In response to these findings, Audubon is starting a monitoring and management scheme to reverse the declining trends in Rhode Island’s birds. A total of nine species have been selected as “Responsibility Birds,” and receive additional monitoring to determine the steps Audubon can take to mitigate current population declines and promote local and regional population growth.

What can the people of Rhode Island do to help? In Smithsonian Magazine, Jordan Rutter of the American Bird Conservancy points out that lawns account for more than 40 million acres of land in the United States, making grass the biggest crop in the country. “Converting some of that to natural spaces, by growing native plants and planting trees in yards can make an impact,” the article explains. “Individuals can also contribute to bird conservation by reducing the use of pesticides in gardens and keeping cats indoors.”

And of course, Rhode Islanders can directly support the Audubon Society of Rhode Island. Donating to the Avian Research initiative will care for birds found in their refuges, and volunteer bird-lovers are always needed for data collection.

Visit asri.org to read the full State of the Birds report, and learn more about Audubon’s plan of action at asri.org/avianresearchinitiative

Lunar Notes: March 2023

Aries: The Full Moon brings the urge to organize and rearrange your work and home space, as well as making adjustments in some relationships. This prepares you for a new season and a new you. The New Moon at the Spring Equinox plants the seeds of change within you. You’re ready for that change and take advantage of the energy swirling around you.

Taurus: This is a month full of contrasts for you with lots of fun and socializing with friends, old and new. You’re creative and use that creativity to solve any problems that arise. As the month progresses, you slow down and prefer the quiet times. An old friend returns, sparking an interest in the spiritual side of life. Some interesting conversations develop.

Gemini: Take advantage of the energy you feel now; by month’s end, you will not feel so energetic. Family, friends, and colleagues move in and out of your life. You have fun with some of them, take care of business with others, and have great conversations with most folks. You think about shifting direction, and make plans for the future.

Cancer: Lots of action going on as you connect with new friends, old friends, and exciting friends. Your focus shifts to the more public side of your life. Career and public standing take on new importance. The pace of life is hectic, so try and maintain a balance. Take a break when things become too much for you. An unusual friend pops in for a chat.

Leo: With big ideas for the future, you are reevaluating what is important to you. A friend becomes argumentative. Don’t take it to heart, it is their “stuff,” not yours. There is some friendly action going on and you derive intellectual stimulation from the conversations you are having with those around you. A surprise on the work front rocks the boat.

Virgo: A shift in your attitude about certain relationships in your life has you questioning their value. Things you tolerated in the past seem intolerable now. Think about things and have those much-needed conversations. This is a slow process you are going through. You need to allow time for your thoughts and feelings to gel.

Libra: After clearing out the emotional garbage you’ve been carrying around, you set the stage for a new beginning. As always, conversations with various folks in your life help you to clarify your thoughts. Relationships are important to you. You examine those relationships and how you relate, looking at the give and take of it all. You get some good advice along the way.

Scorpio: Your networking has paid off. You have new friends, professional contacts, and for some Scorpios, lovers. March brings a lot of socializing and fun stuff your way. You maintain pleasant relationships with colleagues. As the month draws to a close, you initiate new routines in your workplace and at home. This makes things easier for you.

Sagittarius: Balancing your public and private life becomes a juggling act. On the home front, some issues arise that you have been neglecting. If you have been doing regular maintenance, you may be able to skate through without too much cash flowing out. In the midst of all this you manage to enjoy the activities that you truly love. A creative spark is lit.

Capricorn: You always deal with practical matters. Mid-month brings a shift from worries about money to interesting conversations with many people who intrigue you. You relax a bit, because your financial situation is okay and the unusual people you encounter spark your creativity. Yes Capricorn, you are a creative being. Use that creativity to enhance your life.

Aquarius: You engage with those who share your interests and values. Your social life gets local and close-to-home during mid-March. With your wide variety of interests, group activities could include hiking, museums, board games and of course, political discussions. Intellectual stimulation is part of the equation when romance comes calling.

Pisces: In a relationship, the question becomes, “Who is in control?” Control is not your thing, nor do you want to be controlled. You have to consider what is important to you and what you can tolerate from another person. Stand up for yourself, but remember a healthy relationship involves a lot of give and take. One person should not be doing all the taking.

Rhode Island is for Hope: Martha Tsegaye, Ethiopian eats

In 2010, Martha Tsegaye and her family immigrated from Ethiopia to Virginia; it was her first experience with snow.

“I had only seen snow in the movies or on television and then I got to touch it.”

Ethiopia is mountainous with high plateaus and dry lowlands, with a climate that ranges from arid in its northeastern and southeastern deserts, to wet and humid in equatorial rainforests running along the south and southwest; yet Tsegaye says of Rhode Island, “It seems like my country, I love it. I love the fall. In Virginia, it was so hot or so cold, here there are the seasons.”

She grew up in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, a place she describes as diplomatic, full of diversity and culture, “It is so big, everything is there”; as a place with heavy rains in winter but not the cold. 

“When I was a child it was suitable weather, but globally, everything has changed. Even my family has told me, ‘It’s so cold and so wet now.’ After the rain you can feel the coldness, but before, when I was a child, we went out and played in the rain… we enjoyed the rains.”

When she lived in Ethiopia, she and her older sister ran a restaurant. Tsegaye did a little of everything, from front of house to back of house, but she was always the one people wanted to cook. 

“I mostly handled the kitchen, I was the one cooking. They begged me to cook, holiday food, everything… They loved when I cooked.”

In 2015, her husband’s work brought her and her family to Rhode Island. During the move, one of their movers warned her of “big Rhode Island snows,” but living in Virginia had prepared her. 

Once in Rhode Island, her sons encouraged her to turn her passion for cooking into an opportunity. The only Ethiopian restaurant in Rhode Island had just closed, and her sons wanted her to do what she loved – to cook. And to sell what she made best: vegetarian Ethiopian cuisine — soft, spongy injera, stuffed jalapenos, seasoned beetroot, spicy misir wot, aromatic atakilt; unique stews and salads of creamy brown lentils, onions, cabbages, carrots and potatoes to scoop up with strips of tangy injera and share communally with family and friends and savor with the piquant warmth of comfort food.

“We have a culture of feeding others, it’s called gursha, so you can express your love by feeding… We share, we talk, we laugh, it is so amazing, you can connect with each other. That’s the way we eat.”

Like many Ethiopian Orthodox Church members, Tsegaye fasts nearly 200 days a year — every Wednesday and Friday, and at various dates throughout the year in observance of religious occasions. As fasting requires abstaining from meat, dairy, and eggs, many Ethiopian dishes are packed with nutritious plant proteins.

“Ethiopian food is fairly unique, aromatic, and spicy… It starts with our flatbread, injera, which is made from teff flour. Teff is an ancient grain we’ve been eating for thousands of years… Berbere is a blend of different spices and creates an exotic flavor. Beetroot is cooked with onions, tomatoes and turmeric. It has a spicy flavor but the seasoning of different types of garlic and ginger give it a full taste. Brown lentil salad combines cooked lentils with raw vegetables… There’s a lot of jalapenos, garlic, ginger, and olive oil. We put it on top of the injera, roll it up, and eat it with our fingers. Our bread is our utensil and it is also our meal, so the taste when combined is very different.”

With the encouragement of her family, Tsegaye enrolled in business classes at CCRI. There she found a supportive community of professors. “They made me feel comfortable, they encouraged me, it was so amazing.” 

When she graduated from CCRI, COVID hit. It was too risky to open a restaurant, so she took to the internet to find another way to start her business. Through a process she calls “digging,” her term for searching the world around her until she hits upon what she wants (“I’m not a quitter, I dig.”), she discovered the culinary incubator Hope & Main.

“I didn’t waste any time, I jumped into my car and drove. I didn’t even call. I went there and spoke to them and they gave me an appointment… I started there and the response was amazing, everybody was so excited.”

At Hope & Main she found the support and resources she needed to turn her passion into a business, and just over a year ago she did it — Tsegaye founded Ethiopian Eats, the only place in RI serving Ethiopian food. 

If Virginia is for lovers, then Rhode Island is for hope.

Tsegaye currently sells her cuisine every Saturday from 9am–1pm at the Farm Fresh Providence Farmers Market. Late last year, she was one of six finalists in the Sam Adams’ Brewing the American Dream Pitch Contest, a contest that helps local food and beverage entrepreneurs gain access to capital, networks, and business coaching. She hopes to expand her presence at farmers markets and, when the moment’s right, open her restaurant.

To connect with Martha follow @ethiopian_eats or visit ethiopian-eats.com.

Lunar Notes: February 2023

Aries: You begin the month aggressively, pushing ahead and cutting the line. You have a lot of pent-up energy to expend. You do that then settle down for a bit of quiet contemplation. You assess what has been happening to you and digest all the little tidbits of information that have come your way. Jupiter brings a big boost in faith and opportunity.

Taurus: Your life bounces between the very public and the very private. You balance and juggle these energies using creative methods. You make some interesting and helpful connections along the way. Someone in authority notices your creativity, which could lead to a promotion. It will surely enhance your standing in the community. 

Gemini: You move and shake things up as the month opens. There’s a lot of communication going on from both near and far. You handle these messages well, even the ones that are a bit shocking. A friend or acquaintance provides you with some interesting connections that will prove beneficial to you. You settle down and take care of business.

Cancer: You’re ready to move on to something to do with finances. This could be something as simple as tightening up your budget. Unusual friends bring some excitement to your life and a possible romance is in the offing. It will be fun but may not be all that stable. You like excitement but you like security more. A new opportunity comes your way.

Leo: The Full Moon in Leo shines and so do you. You’re center stage and you like the attention. Some change is headed your way. Not to worry. It is not a bad change, just disruptive and may have you shifting gears. The upshot will be finding yourself in a better place. In the meantime, some interesting conversations keep you up to date. 

Virgo: You get down to business, sticking to your routine and keeping your life organized. You do take the time for some fun stuff, socializing with friends and coworkers. Someone interesting shows up, bringing a bit of romance into your life. Be sure you are seeing the situation clearly. Don’t jump the gun. An unexpected windfall keeps the budget balanced.

Libra: Interaction and socializing with the young, the old, and every age in between keeps you busy. It is not all business, a lot of it consists of pleasurable pursuits. You may need to consult a professional about some financial or legal issues. Conversations are lively, interesting, and filled with surprising revelations. You know how to keep a secret.

Scorpio: While the spotlight may be on you, you prefer to be behind the scenes and stick close to home. A lot of chatter with family, friends, and neighbors is going on. A connection with someone may feel like a soulful connection but your natural born suspicion keeps you from a commitment. Nothing wrong with waiting until you are sure about this person.

Sagittarius: Serious conversations about work, money, and home life keep you grounded. Your ruler, Jupiter, in the house of fun and romance lightens things up for you. There’s plenty of activity going on around you as you find out that you can take care of business and have fun while doing so. Someone wants to talk your ear off.

Capricorn: A variety of energies circulate around you. Some of them are gentle and spiritual, while some are a concrete reality. The real stuff you have to deal with is business, money, and conversations with those around you. You’ll take time to mull over more ethereal concepts.  You’re practical and creative, so all these energies work for you.

Aquarius: You face opposition to your ideas and actions. Sometimes people are the opposing forces, and other times it is simply events that get in your way and prevent you from doing what you want to do. Money seems to disappear and crazy stuff keeps happening around the home front. By month’s end, you get a handle on your finances, and obstacles will fall away.

Pisces: You organize and get rid of the dead wood you’ve been carrying. Whatever does not serve you has to go. You are preparing for a new beginning in the spring. You have been very creative and innovative as you prepare for a future that holds a lot of promise. Know that you will be working methodically, going step by step to achieve your goals.

My Darling, Clementine: A night out at Providence’s new cocktail bar

Clementine's Fugo Bianco cocktail
Fumo Bianco

Only days before bidding adieu to 2022, this former Motif writer sought out a new cocktail bar in the heart of Providence, secretly joining with friends in her beloved city for one more night on the town. One could say it was a clandestine affair at Clementine Cocktail Bar: elegant, intimate, memorable – just like the drinks themselves.

It’s been a year since I left Rhode Island, but as soon as I looked at the address for Clementine, I did the most Rhode Island thing possible and said, “Oh, it’s where birch used to be.” I still remember when birch opened my inaugural year of moving into the city, a hallowed empty space that closed during the pandemic and now reopened almost exactly two years later. Although the space looks strikingly similar – a horseshoe-shaped bar extending through the middle of the room with barstools around it – the red brick wall has since been painted white and is now adorned with vibrant art pieces. A golden dandelion chandelier, like a bursting firework, hangs from the ceiling, and at the time of our visit, Christmas wreaths and small sparkling trees added splashes of holiday cheer.

Morning Dew

My husband and I arrived at 4:30pm on a Thursday, trying to beat the crowds, and we were told that by this time the day before, the bar had been completely full. Given its proximity to Trinity Rep, it’s the perfect place for pre-show cocktails and snacks. Thankfully, on this night, we still had our choice of seats.

Two of our friends had already arrived and were waiting for us at the corner end of the bar, having just made their acquaintance with Christian Cantaragiu, the general manager who would be serving us that evening. Originally from Moldova, Christian has an internationally acclaimed bartending background, having worked from London to Los Angeles, and the menu he’s curated is unique and sophisticated. My favorite aspect of the menu, however, is the selection of alcohol-free options. As it turns out, the owner of Clementine and former mayor of Providence, Congressman David Cicilline, has something in common with my husband – both do not drink. It’s nice to visit a cocktail bar where my husband does not feel out of place.

For the first round, our two friends ordered the Sunset Limited, described on the menu as “citrusy/tropical/bittersweet,” and containing the bar’s homonymous ingredient, clementine juice. (The bar is actually named for Cicilline’s great-grandmother, Clementine.) This non-alcoholic option, made with cherry and tomato syrup, offers a well-balanced sweetness and a beautiful orange-zest garnish. However, if you follow the lead of my friend Morgan, who asked for this mocktail to be made with vodka, this turns into a high class version of jungle juice and is dangerously drinkable. “This tastes like straight juice,” she said, “which is how I like my alcohol.”

My husband, Rob, started with the Morning Dew, a nonalcoholic option made with homemade honeydew and bay leaf marmalade. Although entirely green in color, its presentation reminded me of a Bird of Paradise flower, with fresh bay leaves as its crest and a slice of honeydew for its beak. It was refreshing with a distinct taste of melon, like a honeydew-infused lemonade. I decided to rock the tropical boat with the Fumo Bianco, described by Christian as a “White Negroni,” with a white peppercorn infused vermouth and “roasted red pepper washed mezcal.” I wasn’t sure what the latter meant until I saw the garnish – a dehydrated roasted red pepper that had been sliced into a thin sheet. The red pepper had first been soaked in mezcal, the same red peppers that had infused the alcohol, so that the drink – albeit smoky – also had a hint of sweetness. As one who likes both negronis and mezcal, I was delightfully impressed.

We debated ordering a second round – it was hard to leave the warm and intimate atmosphere, so we stayed for another. Rob opted for the Pear Bellini this time, a flamingo-red mixture of prickly pear cordial and nonalcoholic prosecco, served in a tulip-shaped flute glass with a dehydrated pear garnish. Elegant and bright, this was certainly fruitier and sweeter than the first.

Again, I went the hard opposite and ordered the Sea Gibson. “You know this is basically a gin martini?” Christian asked, perhaps as a warning because I’d ordered two very boozy drinks in a row. “Sure!” I said, having not known that, but choosing to go with it anyway. I found this drink incredibly intriguing. Described on the menu as “salty and vegetal,” it was, indeed, both. I like my martinis dirty, and that’s what this was—except instead of olive brine, they used a sea asparagus concentrate. If the state of Rhode Island had a martini, I think it would be this one. The sea asparagus garnish was a delicious bonus.

By the time we checked our watches, the evening had caught up to us and we couldn’t stay for tapas, but they had a little something for everyone – from charcuterie and cheese to house-cut fries with harissa mayo. There’s always next time.

As soon as I’m back in the little big city of Providence for another clandestine meeting, I will be sure to call on Clementine’s.

Clementine Cocktail Bar
200 Washington St, PVD

Help for the Asking: Mental health challenging the music community

musician playing guitar

Rhode Island has a tight-knit artist community, specifically when it comes to the music scene. A lot of musicians know each other by name, band or personally, regardless of genre. There are supportive venues throughout the state helping to build musical camaraderie and friendship. A scene like this is not unique, but there is something special about the support and love RI musicians have for each other.

The past year of 2022, like years previously, has been full of sadness and loss in the musical community. While some were due to medical issues, the majority could be attributed to personal mental health. Social media was flooded with tributes and people begging others to reach out if needed. It is unclear how many people took advantage of offers for support, as taking that first step can feel impossible.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 50% of people will be diagnosed with a mental health disorder at some point in their life. 20% experience a mental health illness in a given year. The CDC states that when “the demands placed on a person exceed their resources and coping abilities, their mental health could be impacted. Mental health is individually based and can change for a person over time due to many factors, including a major life change (death, new job, move, etc), working long hours or experiencing economic hardship. Yet, there is still a stigma around mental health and admitting help is needed.”

“We want people to take a look in the mirror and be honest with themselves about how they’re feeling,” says Don Culp, drummer for John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band, founding member of the RI Music Hall of Fame advisory board and advocate for musicians’ mental health. Culp helps run Tune In & Tune Up, which aims to keep RI’s “music community informed about preventative health care options and other information necessary to make informed health and wellness decisions.” The organization assisted some musicians but had difficulty getting the majority to pay attention.

Culp, who openly struggles with depression, explained that he noticed an issue while the advisory board discussed musicians that passed away in the past year. He said that he started researching and it dawned on him that there is a direct connection between physical/mental health and their passing. He learned that 80% of medical ailments are due to stress in some way (according to a Tufts study). This causes poor habits that wear your system out.

“Musicians need to know that it will be okay and that they’ll get through this,” Culp says. They need to be aware of what their body is telling them and be reminded that others are feeling this way.”

While some may watch a musician playing on stage or the crew setting up before and after the show, thinking that it’s the greatest job in the world, living like a rock star became a popular cliché for a reason: Wild nights of fun have been glamorized and glorified. There is a lot more work and stress involved than some may realize. Another issue is what Culp dubs “Post Gig Syndrome.”

Culp theorizes that musicians are riding the endorphins from the gig just completed. A lot of musicians are depressed before the gig and euphoric during the gig. This euphoria carries over after the gig, with people wanting to continue that high with partying. Culp says that the party room is full of people feeling great after the show, whether it be from the crowd reaction or strong performance. “Nobody has a care in the world.” Culp says, which can lead to a false sense of security and joy as well as a sense of invincibility.

“It can rule your life,” Culp says of Post Gig Syndrome. “Depression starts all over again as people become tired and lose focus.” He adds that musicians spend long hours on the road, which leads to fatigue that some combat with substances.

“We came to the conclusion that musicians feel that they’re bulletproof,” Culp says. “It’s a tough life with a lot of travel. A lot are walking around with health issues and don’t realize it because they push themselves.”

Living healthy physically is another lifestyle that many musicians often put too far to the back burner. Culp, owner of the martial arts school Whole Arts Training Center in North Kingstown, explains that life is about balance, self-awareness and knowing your body. Culp suggests that people should take action almost immediately upon feeling sick to prevent longterm health issues, but he understands that not everyone has insurance, especially musicians.

“Health and balance are hugely important, but it’s difficult to buy into them,” Culp says. “People are turning to their vices to feel good, to cover for mental health issues. You realize that a lot of people don’t care because they’re too tired. Or it’s too late once they start to care. A lot of people end their lives because they can’t go on like this anymore. It’s a silent killer.”

Culp knows that the RI music scene is tight and supportive, but feels that more can be done to support each other’s mental health. Culp said that Tune In Tune Up didn’t get the attention that they hoped for, but still managed to give away $13,000 to musicians and guide them to services. He said that investors, doctors and HealthSource RI backed away from the project because they had trouble identifying with musicians, but the organization still has money to continue and hopes to find new partners.

“The state of musicians, and trying to help them come to grips with needing to reach out and not be embarrassed to reach out. A lot of musicians just won’t admit that there’s a problem. We need to get our community together. We don’t get a lot of respect from the corporate world.”

Inspired by community need and more interviews than could fit in this article, we are launching a series on the intersection of mental health issues and our music community. Bobby Forand will be looking at various aspects and related issues over the coming months. If you have thoughts to contribute, you can reach him through our editors at admin@motifri.com

Train for Medical Emergencies: You don’t have to be the NFL

The spectacle of professional player Damar Hamlin going into cardiac arrest Jan 2 on the field during a live national broadcast of an NFL Monday Night Football game between his Buffalo Bills and the Cincinnati Bengals was a shock to many viewers. He is reported to be recovering well with no apparent permanent impairment, likely thanks to his receiving prompt treatment from a team of doctors including cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and automated external defibrillation (AED), followed by rapid transport to a major hospital.

The cause of the cardiac arrest has not been publicly reported, but the most likely candidate is commotio cordis, a condition usually seen in projectile sports or industrial accidents where an object traveling at a high velocity, such as a baseball or hockey puck, collides with the upper chest and compresses the heart at the precise instant of the cardiac cycle necessary to apply force against the natural motion of the muscle, causing the heartbeat to stop. While rare because the impact must occur within a time window of about 40 thousandths of a second, commotio cordis does occur a few dozen times each year in the US. (False rumors circulating on social media blamed the cardiac arrest on COVID-19 vaccines.) Younger athletes are at greater risk because their chest is not yet fully matured, but Hamlin is 24 and the chest impact was from another player he tackled rather than a projectile, so other causes are being investigated, particularly a previously undetected heart problem.

While there has been a move to mandate improved chest protection, only in 2019 did the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment publish standards for chest protectors. A Tufts University study in 2017 (and therefore earlier than the adoption of the standard) experimented with various designs using a lacrosse ball propelled at 40MPH, finding limited effectiveness.

The single most important way to address the problem would be to encourage training in CPR and first aid as well as provide for widespread equipping of AED machines at all sporting and other public events. In RI, the local chapter of the American Red Cross offers training — https://www.redcross.org/take-a-class/ — with an on-line-only course in “Adult, Child and Baby First Aid/CPR/AED” offered for $37: “To receive a valid 2-year Red Cross digital certificate that is OSHA compliant and meets other workplace and regulatory requirements, you must enroll in an instructor-led skill session within 90 days of completing the online course which is an additional cost. We recommend verifying the location of the skills session before registering. If immediate certification is needed, we recommend enrolling in either an instructor-led Training or Blended Learning course.” Depending on which components are selected, classes in Providence range from $42 to $82 for the supplements once the on-line classes are passed and from $77 to $117 for the fully in-person classes without any on-line prerequisite.

Not everyone can have the resources of the NFL, but even small schools and other groups can afford basic emergency medical training and equipment. Consumer-grade AED machines cost from $1,200 to $1,900; the Red Cross has a program to facilitate their purchase.

COVID-19 Three Years In: Still here, still deadly

The COVID-19 pandemic in RI is not over, is not going away anytime soon, and is surging for the worse.

For the week ended Dec 31, 2022, RI reported 154 new hospitalizations, of which COVID-19 was the primary cause in 31.9%, a secondary cause in 30.0%, and not involved in 38.1%: in other words, three years into the pandemic, despite vaccines and anti-viral treatments, nearly two-thirds of hospital admissions are still caused by the coronavirus. That week, seven patients in RI died from COVID-19. The 7-day moving average of hospitalizations in RI is the most reliable indicator of severity, now that most testing uses rapid antigen tests (RAT), usually done in private. That average increased to 154 on Dec 31, from 148 on Dec 24, 136 on Dec 17, 112 on Dec 10, and 109 on Dec 3.

RI recorded 675 deaths from COVID-19 in 2022. Cumulative deaths increased from 3,114 as of Dec 31, 2021, to 3,789 as of Dec 31, 2022, an average of about 13 COVID-19 deaths per week. RI remains a national leader in vaccination – 87.58% of the population completed at least the primary vaccine series.According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a more transmissible subvariant of Omicron, XBB.1.5, has become prevalent in New England as of the week ending Jan 7, 2023, accounting for an estimated 71.6% of cases (although nationally it’s responsible for only 27.6% of cases). XBB is a recombination of two earlier Omicron sublineages, BA.2.10.1 and BA.2.75.

A study published Dec 13, 2022, in the journal Cell reported that the emerging Omicron subvariants in the BQ and XBB series are able to resist all approved monoclonal antibody (MAB) treatments and are more resistant to approved vaccines. (The study said nothing about non-MAB anti-viral treatments such as Paxlovid.) 

The researchers note, “It is alarming that these newly emerged subvariants could further compromise the efficacy of current COVID-19 vaccines and result in a surge of breakthrough infections as well as re-infections. However, it is important to emphasize that although infections may now be more likely, COVID-19 vaccines have been shown to remain effective at preventing hospitalization and severe disease even against Omicron as well as possibly reducing the risk of post-acute sequelae of COVID-19 (PASC or long COVID).”

As recently as last week, the World Health Organization (WHO) reaffirmed the finding of its Technical Advisory Group on Virus Evolution (TAG-VE) that there is no evidence XBB subvariants are more virulent or produce illness more severe than the earlier Delta and Omicron variants, despite increased transmissibility. The main added risk from XBB.1.5 is that it has a greater chance of re-infecting people who recovered from COVID-19 in the pre-Omicron period.

Community transmission levels are “high” in Providence, Kent, and Newport counties, and “medium” in Washington and Bristol counties. Where transmission levels are high, the CDC recommends, “Wear a high-quality mask or respirator. If you are at high risk of getting very sick, consider avoiding non-essential indoor activities in public where you could be exposed. If you have household or social contact with someone at high risk for getting very sick, consider self-testing to detect infection before contact … Stay up to date with COVID-19 vaccines, including recommended booster doses. Maintain ventilation improvements. Avoid contact with people who have suspected or confirmed COVID-19. Follow recommendations for isolation if you have suspected or confirmed COVID-19.”

Some schools in RI have gone back to universal mask-wearing, but this is unlikely to be widely adopted due to political controversy. The RI Department of Health (RIDOH) states, “Whether or not you’re vaccinated, you’re still required to wear a mask: If a healthcare setting, business, private school, camp, or other entity requires it [or] In public K-12 schools or institutes of higher education as required by the town, city, or school administration. RIDOH recommends wearing a mask indoors near anyone you don’t live with if Rhode Island becomes a high-risk area.”

The respected Johns Hopkins University data tracker reported that the US exceeded 100 million COVID-19 cases on Dec 21, 2022, and their live tracker as of Jan 8, 2023, reports 664,175,097 confirmed cases and 6,706,716 deaths globally, of which 101,241,740 cumulative confirmed cases and 1,096,503 cumulative deaths were in the US.

Worldwide, COVID-19 remains grave and is worsening. The WHO states in its most recent weekly situation report, “Globally, more than 3 million new cases and 10 000 deaths have been reported in the week [ending] 1 January 2023… In the last 28 days (5 December 2022 to 1 January 2023), over 14.5 million cases and over 46 000 new fatalities were reported globally – an increase of 25% and 21%, respectively, compared to the previous 28 days.”

Lunar Notes: January 2023

Aries: You concentrate on networking and positioning yourself, with an eye to the future. Who do you want to be and where do you want to go? Jupiter in your sign until May brings good fortune and puts you in the right place at the right time. Take advantage of this time. Be wary of becoming overconfident and promising more than you can deliver.

Taurus: You contemplate a career move and change in direction. Wait until mid-month before making any big changes. During the New Moon on the 21st, certain developments emerge that have a bearing on your future plans. Assess these changes before making any decisions. Money is important but you are searching for satisfaction.

Gemini: You will be shifting gears when Mars goes direct on the 12th and Mercury, your ruler, on the 18th. Certain issues become clear and you are energized as you begin to plan your next steps. You factor in budget issues before making changes. You adjust your thinking and actions to suit the situation you find yourself in. Your asset is your adaptability.

Cancer: As the New Year begins, you scrutinize some of your relationships. Do these folks have the same values as you? While you are analyzing all of this, some new and exciting people enter your life. They are different and fun but may not be stable or long-term. Only you can decide who is in your life and who is not.

Leo: You keep a healthy balance between work and play. The folks in your life are a mixed bag of colleagues, friends, and family. Some friendships become problematic and you wonder why they want to argue. Some serious conversations take place. Along with the difficult ones, there are those you really enjoy. You’re good at balancing both types.

Virgo: You move easily from the holiday festivities to the everyday routine. You have serious but pleasant relationships with colleagues as well as friends and acquaintances during this period. A financial windfall resulting in some legal issues comes to fruition. While you are attentive to work, you make time for some socializing with a romantic twist.

Libra: You transition from stay-at-home to out-and-about, taking care of business, and socializing in a big way. You’re exposed to people who broaden your horizons and help you see the big picture. There may be some legal issues or upsets in the cash flow. These issues don’t slow you down as you continue on your way.

Scorpio: As the month begins, you’re busy with appointments, conversations, and generally running around town. By the New Moon on the 21st, you’re ready to settle in and remain on the home front for a while. Around this period someone acts in a surprising and upsetting manner. You don’t mind the unusual but when things get too crazy you prefer to distance yourself.

Sagittarius: You think about the things and people you value and how to get more of those in your life. You don’t have much time for contemplation as the pace of your life picks up and you have to juggle tasks, phone calls, and social engagements. Jupiter in your love sector brings a wealth of possibilities your way. Enjoy, but think it over before you commit.

Capricorn: You assert yourself and move into position for the New Year ahead. Your planning includes budget and how to use your time to the best of advantage to you. This does not preclude some wild and crazy social events. Some unusual, creative people enter your circle of friends. They liven things up, something you are ready for.

Aquarius: Venus in your sign at the start of the New Year extends the festivities for you. Don’t make the mistake of neglecting your everyday business. You can handle both work and play at this time. The January New Moon signals a time for change. Expect some craziness around the 22nd. You have no problems with the unexpected as it brings some excitement.

Pisces: You happily connect with all your friends and acquaintances. Your network expands, introducing you to some interesting people. A financial windfall helps to pay off the holiday bills that come due in January. Your daily routine is anything but routine as surprises and upsets force you to adjust your schedule. You roll with it all easily.