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The senior living industry has a voice. You can hear it on Bridge the Gap podcast!

Episode 44: Jay Allen

Season 2 begins with country music singer-songwriter Jay Allen. 

Lucas: Hello and welcome to Bridge the Gap podcast- the senior living podcast with Josh and Lucas. This is our 2019 new year episode to kick off our season two and we could not think of a better way to do that none other country music star Jay Allen. Welcome to the show my friend!

Jay: Thank you. Thanks for having me brother.

Lucas: So, Jay, it has been a wild ride for you this past year and you’re living in Nashville. We’re looking down your Instagram page; you’re rubbing shoulders with guys like Garth Brooks. What is that like?

Jay: That’s a funny story. Yeah, he’s a big dude. We were invited to play an Alzheimer’s Association event in San Jose. It was our first one that we did- I think last May. The lady that was organizing the event was taking us around and just introducing me to everyone. One of the dudes was the VP of Amazon Worldwide- I made friends with him and the head of Twitter, stuff like that. So it was just like, okay, cool. They’re all dressed in suits and ties and I’m like in my skinny jeans and t-shirt and I’m like, what am I doing here?

I’m with my band. We’re all talking and we’re having a drink. All the sudden she comes and taps me on the shoulder and she goes, ‘there’s one last person I want to introduce you to. One guy that wants to meet you.’ I was like, cool. So, I’m a little tired at this point but I turn over and shake his hand. I was like, oh, that’s a big hand and I look up and I’m like oh shoot, hey, you’re Garth Brooks!

Really amazing dude. Super genuine. Two of my guys are from Oklahoma and he’s from Oklahoma so they hit it off. We actually did the show- told the story, performed and it was a really emotional evening. It was the first time I felt truly- because all of these people have experienced Alzheimer’s in some sense- so it was truly emotional. Everyone was crying and standing. I looked down and Garth Brooks is like right in the front row with tears in his eyes and clapping.

I don’t know why but I made a joke out of it- I’m commanding the room so I command Garth Brooks to get on stage and take a picture with me. And he did. He came on stage and he hugged me and he whispered in my ear and said, ‘what’s your mom’s name again?’ I said Sherry Lynn. He goes, ‘well, tell Sherry Lynn that Garth Brooks is praying for her (and) thinking of her.’

It’s crazy. We’ve had experiences like that all year long.

Lucas: And these stories is really, you know, what our show is about- telling the love stories of the business. You’ve been in People magazine, People TV, you’ve been on ABC News, all of these different outlets really over your hit song ‘Blank Stares.’ Can you take us back to just the journey that has been?

Jay: It’s weird to call that a hit song because honestly I wrote it just as therapy. You know, writing songs I quickly figured out is like therapy and I needed to get that off my chest. It took me a long time to want to face that my mom has Alzheimer’s and she’s going to pass away. I’m the oldest and I’m the only son and finally…it hit me. There’s a story behind that and I can tell that story if you’d like.

But it hit me and I was like I need to get this off my chest. I’ve got to write about it. So, I did. Seeing it go from that writer’s room to where it is now and all the healing and connectedness and community that has come from it is just unreal.

Josh: Yeah, so, this story (and) the song has touched a lot of people. That’s what really touched me and Lucas to begin with because you know what we do as our day jobs is take care of older people. So many people have faced this disease. What was really cool- I was talking with Lucas about it- is every family no matter what they do for a living, no matter how popular, how wealthy, what their means are, this is a very equalizing disease, right.

So, these families, they’ll come into our communities and everybody takes that diagnosis a little bit different. Everybody deals with it a little bit different. I would like to know a little bit more. You’re the oldest in your family I think-

Jay: -Yes, oldest and oldest son.

Josh: You’re that adult son that hears that your mom has Alzheimer’s and you’re faced with a lot of different emotions, I’m sure. You chose to write about it here it’s kind of therapeutic. So, take us back to that time and what you were feeling, what you were thinking and was this your first response- I’m gonna write about it- or was it something else?

Jay: I mean the very first response was, you know, you kind of want to deny that it’s happening. You don’t want to face it, you know. But I’ll never forget the day that my pops called me. They live in a little town in Iowa and I live in Nashville, obviously. It was two years ago, I think, very close to this time of year, and he said, ‘Jay, I’d like to bring momma to your home in Nashville for Thanksgiving. I feel like it’s my obligation as your dad as it’s progressing so quickly to make sure you have this time together before it gets any worse.’ And I said yes, of course.

That drive from that little town in Iowa to Nashville is about 10 hours and every 2 hours he would call me. You could hear the nervousness in his voice- prepare your heart. I tell you what, you can’t prepare your heart for your own momma to walk into your house and look right at you- she didn’t have a clue who I was. That was the first time it happened to me and it made me mad, honestly. It crushed me so much it made me mad. I’ve always been a fixer. I’ve always found a way- find a solution if something goes wrong for myself, people around me. In that moment, I knew there was no solution.

I wanted to flee. I said, let’s get out of here. So we ended up going out. My pops got our dog up. We went out to this place called The Sutler, it’s a well-known venue here in Nashville. Something really cool happened right away. We walked in the door and Eric Heatherly- an old country singer- was on stage with his band and they were rocking out. She heard the music and she just like woke up. She was grinning from ear to ear, tapping her foot, smiling- everything about her changed in that moment.

Being a fixer, I took advantage of that moment. So, I grabbed her hand, I pulled her to the front of the venue in front of everyone right in front of the stage and we started slow dancing to a fast song in front of Eric Heatherly.

The next moment inspired this whole song. Two steps in, she takes a deep breath and she leans in and grabs me tight. She whispered, ‘I missed you Jay.’ She was my mom for a second- I love you son, I miss you Jay. Oh my gosh, I’ve missed you. She started crying a little bit and grabbed her face. That look had gone away- that blank stare in her face it had gone away. I about lost it so we had to sit down.

During that trip while they were here in Nashville, I saw that a few times. I just couldn’t shake it. I remember the morning they left to go back to Iowa. I’m just standing in my kitchen and I write songs almost every day for a living. I’ve got to work really hard at it. That morning I could not shake that line out of my head- it was just in there. It was just like, okay, this might be the first time that God has actually really talked to me or the first time I’m actually really listening.

I heard this line: ‘I still see you between the blank stares.’ I couldn’t get it out of my head. ‘I still see you between the blank stares.’ It was like, for me, God saying, ‘I know you feel helpless right now, like you can’t do anything. But I gave you a voice, I gave you the ability to write songs so write a dang song buddy. That’s what we did.

I remember I walked into the writer’s room with my buddy Jason Nix and helped me write the song. I had this voicemail she left me for my birthday. She started talking and she blanked out. I remember it’s like she forgot the phone was in her hand. So, I played that voicemail for him. I didn’t even say a thing. I just said listen to this buddy. He sat down at the piano and he goes, ‘who’s that? What the heck?’ And I said, that’s my mom. She has Alzheimer’s. Today I want to write a song about it. I want to give everything away. Once we write this song, get it out to the world somehow and give it all to charity.

He didn’t even blink and said, ‘I’m all in.’ So, that’s how it started.

Josh: That’s so cool. So, that voicemail you were talking about, is that kind of what’s on the front of the song?

Jay: Yeah, that’s the first thing on the front of the song. I remember we wrote the song; we just wrote it piano- two guys with a piano. What you hear is he tracked it in his bedroom in his apartment. It’s a really rough demo. We never intended for a lot of people to hear that version of it or for it to be on the radio or anything like that, but I kept going back to that voicemail. That inspired the song, you know, so I was like, buddy, is there a way to put that voicemail on the front of the song. He was like, yeah, easy and five minutes later he sent me over a copy. I was like, yeah, that’s how it has to be.

Josh: It’s amazing. So, that song is obviously resonating with so many people and probably helping so many people that don’t have a voice and don’t have an ability to write music to connect. It’s awesome how music is a great vehicle that even opens that window. It opened your mom’s window for a minute, right?

Jay: Yeah, the power of music man. I always heard that. People say there’s power in music but you don’t really get it until you actually experience it.

Josh: So, Lucas and I were talking as well but that song- I think it has the potential. I think we’re already heard some stories and I think even in Lucas’s own personal life. We all have a story, we all have something that you feel like that song connects you with even outside of Alzheimer’s. Are you getting any feedback like?

Jay: Yeah, I get messages all the time man. Like when everything blew up and went viral, I had to put my band and management on my Facebook because I wanted to respond to everyone, but I can’t. I get messages from all around the world and the main thing that gets me every time is that people say thank you for putting into words what I can never express.

Josh: That’s awesome.

Lucas: So take us back to the viral video. Tell us that story.

Jay: Sure. Man it’s so crazy how that happened. You cannot plan or predict for anything like this to ever happen. So, I told my guys, I’ve been touring this last year and I have a five-piece band. We’re all tatted up funny looking dudes (and) best friends. We put on like a rock show. It’s like Matchbox 20 meets country type thing. We’re flying around stage and getting everyone dancing but then there’s this song. I always told them, I said, whether we play for 15,000 people at a festival or 5 people at a dive bar in the middle of nowhere in Canada or somewhere, I’m always going to tell this story. I’m always going to perform this song. They’re like, okay. They knew what they were signing up for.

We came through Iowa, my home state, and we’re opening up for Chris Lane. It was a club setting and there was like 1,500 people there, maybe 2,000. My pops brought my mom. She was side stage. I ended up deciding to bring her on stage because she was having a good night. She was smiling and the music was touching her. I grabbed her, brought her on stage and she wrapped her arms around me and I wrapped my arms around her.

I did my spiel, sang the song and some dude- a fan, I still have not met him- was in the crowd like halfway out. (He) had his iPhone out filming the whole time. He put it on his personal Facebook, just a personal Facebook page and not a lot of followers. Before I knew it, it exploded. I remember two days later I was in Oklahoma City and a friend said get on your Facebook, buddy. So, I did. That video was up and it had like a half million views and then the next day it had a million, the next day it had two million. It just kept growing and growing and growing. Now, we have eight viral videos and 125 million views the last time I checked or I had someone check for me. It’s just crazy.

Josh: So, take off your songwriter, country music star hat for just a minute. There’s families out there, there’s adults, sons just like you every single day that get that same word, don’t know how to process it. They’re going through all these ups and downs. Maybe they’re just getting that news today. You’ve been dealing with this now for how long with your mom?

Jay: She was officially diagnosed when she was 51. She’s 54.

Josh: So very early and it’s been several years now. So, what kind of lessons have you learned through this process that for some in our audience that are out there listening and trying to get a little bit of hope or cope- what’s some advice that you struggled through that you’d give to them?

Jay: Well, first thing is they call it the long goodbye for a reason. It’s not like, you know, it’s hard to compare because they’re both horrible, but like if you lost someone in a car accident. They died right now and you immediately have to mourn them. With Alzheimer’s you’re slowly losing them. I describe it as like sand drifting through an hourglass. You watch them just fading away. It’s almost like a daily weekly thing.

So, first of all, you have to accept it, that it’s happening. As much as I never wanted to accept it (and) pretend it was just not happening or it was just going to go away, the moment I just accepted this is real that’s the moment that God started using me to make a change.

First, accept it. It’s real. Secondly, realize that you are absolutely not alone. Everyone associates Alzheimer’s with elderly. I’d never heard of a 50-year-old woman having Alzheimer’s, you know. My mom is 54 and she’s in the final stage. She can’t even talk now. My uncle tried to put me on the phone with her the other day and she couldn’t even hold the phone up to her ear or whisper into the phone. She can’t really walk. She’s in wheelchair most of the time.

Realize you’re not alone. When I realized, I mean, how many people are out there that have this, you know. Just be willing to talk about it. Once I put this song out there, that was the first time- the first time I really talked about it was in the writer’s room.

Once we put this song out there and I started getting messages, that was when I realized this is how social media is cool. (It’s) not just to project yourself out there and make yourself look cool. There’s a purpose behind social media. I’ve connected with people all around the world.

There’s a family out there. There’s people out there that we can walk each other through this every day. I’m having a really bad day today, let’s talk about it. It’s that easy. It’s amazing how much healing you find through that. Don’t be afraid to show people where you’re bleeding.

Lucas: You haven’t hidden this under a rock. You’ve written an authentic song-

Jay: -It’s the opposite of under a rock.

Lucas: Right, yes, it’s so raw and it’s so real. It’s incredibly emotional. But, you’ve been able to use that platform now. How many millions of dollars have you been able to raise for this disease?

Jay: The first thing that happened is I wrote the song and then I handed it off to my publishing company Sony ATV. The president of that company- his name is Tory Tomlinson- he heard the song and he called me. He said, ‘buddy, you just sucker punched me.’ I was like what are you talking about? What did I do wrong? He said, ‘no, no, no. I’m listening to your song Blank Stares. I’m sitting in my office with a bunch of hit songwriters and we’re sitting here crying over the thing.’ He said, ‘You didn’t know this but my dad passed away from Alzheimer’s.’

He said, ‘I sit on the board of what’s called Abe’s Garden and Glenn Campbell, Kim Campbell, sits on that board with me. Would you mind if I shared the song with her? I have a big idea for this song; let’s get it out to the world if you’re okay with giving all of the proceeds back to charity.’ I said heck yes.

What was your original question…? Oh, the millions of dollars.

The first thing that happened was Sirius XM The Highway heard the song. I’d already had a relationship with the head programmer J.R. Schumann. He reached out, heard about the song, and said, ‘I would love to get behind this song and we would love to play it on our weekend show Horizon.’ And I think they spun it about 123 times in a very short period of time.

I remember I was on there doing an interview and I was about to do that song. Actually, we were about ready to call the interview and I was with Storme Warren the head DJ and I was like man, I’ve got to tell this story and sing this song. He goes, ‘tell me a little about what it’s about before I put you on the air.’

So, I told him. He goes, ‘Dude. My mom passed away from Alzheimer’s two years ago.’ He said, ‘you have the might for as long as you want.’ Because of that, when they started airing that on Sirius XM The Highway, one of the event coordinators in San Jose for the Alzheimer’s Association reached out. She heard it and was touched. She lost both of her parents to Alzheimer’s. Before I know it, we’re performing at our first event for the Alzheimer’s Association in San Jose.

Garth Brooks was there and all these really cool people. That was the first of many of those events that we’ve done. Just this last year alone we’ve raise over $26 million.

Lucas: Incredible.

Josh: That’s awesome.

Lucas: Incredible. Incredible. One of the best treats for our listeners is that Jay has offered to play his song Blank Stares live on the show.

Josh: Yeah! You’re not going to back out on us now?

Jay: I’ve got a little bit of a cold but I’ll do it.

Lucas: It’s incredible and it’s a huge treat. So, that’s what we’re going to transition to next, into the song.

Jay: Awesome.

—————————————————–

Blank Stares by Jay Allen

There’s a voicemail that I keep
I listen to just to hear you speak
‘Hey son..’ turns to silence just like that
You know I love you walking by
Like you saw the phone in your hand and you didn’t
Know why
It’s crazy how you come and go so fast

Oh how do I get you back
If I could only seal the cracks you’re slipping through
Wish I didn’t feel so helpless when it comes to helping you
Hold on
So I keep holding on
To every little memory made of you and me
Every little glimpse of who you used to be
I know you’re still in there
Deep down somewhere I swear I still see you
Between the blank stares

It’s the first thing that I think about
When I wake up and when I lay down
It’s the last thing I feel crawling through my mind
I’m still trying to understand it
Sitting next to you holding your hand
And hoping you won’t fade away this time

Just stay a little while
Please stay a little while
If I can only seal the cracks you’re slipping through
Wish I didn’t feel so helpless when it comes to helping you
Hold on
So I keep holding on
To every little memory made of you and me
Every little glimpse of who you used to be
I know you’re still in there
Deep down somewhere I swear I still see you
Between the blank stares

It’s getting harder and harder
To watch you disappear
Oh if only farther and farther leaving me in tears

If I can only seal the cracks you’re slipping through

Wish I didn’t feel so helpless when it comes to helping you
Hold on
So I keep holding on
Every little memory made of you and me
Every little glimpse of who you used to be
I know you’re still in there
Deep down somewhere I swear I still see you
I still see you
Between the blank stares
Between the blank stares

Between the blank stares

—————————————————————————-

Lucas: Jay, that song was really surreal to be able to sit here and listen to you play that live. What a treat. It’s emotional and it touches so many people. To your point earlier, there’s people that have loved one that are ailing. It could be dementia. It could be any other neurological effect. Even in my own life, my son is battling autism. There’s a-whole-nother community of that. It’s a neurological effect very similar to dementia. It’s just happening in very young people.

You’ve heard many many times people say, you’ve put into words what my heart is saying. So, my wife and I really thank you for that.

Jay: Oh man.

Lucas: Going back to a deeper connection- one of our close friends Duane Cummings- that was a big touchback for us and for you. He was a keynote speaker at a conference where all these caregivers and executive directors and the people that are the boots on the ground, the hands and the feet that are loving our grandparents, our aging adults and he got you on the phone. How did that all come together?

Jay: That’s unreal. Through a friend- someone I was working with that was friends with Duane. The day that I happened to be in town, he was in town and as I walked into the building, they’re about to go to lunch and they invited me to lunch. We end up having like a three-hour long lunch with him and his wife. I just told the story and I just really connected. I feel like cream rises, it really does, in good people end up working together somehow. He told me he was speaking at this event and said, ‘if you’re available, I’d love to put you on the phone.’ He didn’t tell me anything about it. He just put me on the phone. He was like, ‘you’re talking to all of these people right now.’ I was like, oh, hey what’s up.

He told me it was caregivers and for me my father is a caregiver. My uncle is a caregiver. We have a nurse that comes to the house. Those people are very important to me. What I do doesn’t- I mean it matters. But for me, what they do- the hands on everyday- that’s what matters most. They’re angels.

Josh: It was a really touching event. It was touching that you took time out of your busy schedule to connect. That’s actually how we were able to get connected with you. We had Duane on our show in Nashville-

Jay: -It’s crazy.

Josh: -that same day. And you were gracious enough when we reached out to you to spend some time with us. So, what an awesome time to have you on the show.

Jay: Thanks for having me. What an honor.

Lucas: Well, and just as you touched so many people that day at that LeadingAge Tennessee event, for our audience today, what could you leave them with other than what we’ve already heard in your song?

Jay: For caregivers, I’d say thank you. You’re honest, true life angels. I do not know. God must have created you to have the heart and the ability and the passion and the patience to do what you do, you know.

I consider my father a caregiver. I remember he came and visited Nashville last time. He sat down at my kitchen table, put momma to bed and he just sat there and looked tired. He’s with her every day. He sees all the ugly stuff that no one else sees, you know, the really hard things. That’s the love of his life and he’s having to take care of her everyday. He just looked tired. I said, ‘pops, how you doing?’ And he just started weeping, ‘I miss your momma.’

The people who are taking care of our loved ones like that everyday, thank you. I just can’t tell you from the bottom of my heart how much that means. I don’t think they get thanked enough. The people who are dealing with it- the family members- realize that you are not alone. There’s so many of us going through this and we have to lift each other up. We have to be strong. You don’t have to smile through it because it’s not a happy thing but you can lean on your brother next to you. Your sister next to you.

Lucas: There’s so many stories and we’re just honored, Jay, for you to take time out to tell your story to our audience. We’ll make sure that we find ways for our audience to connect to you and your audience is growing by the millions everyday. You’ve touched the world with your story and we’re just grateful. We’re grateful for you coming on and sharing that with us.

If anybody wants to reach out to Jay, you can follow him. We’ll put him in the show notes. Download his album and also his hit single Blank Stares. We’ll make sure we put a connection there. Thank you for listening to another great episode of Bridge the Gap.

Thank you to supporting partners NHI, RCare, NRC Health, TSOLife, Erdman and Sherpa.

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Episode 44: Jay Allen