“Put Your Records On” is a campaign about the healing power of music. Musicians take care of us, so let's take care of musicians. May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and all month long, we are sharing community features on musicians and music lovers about their go-to tracks for their mental health and more. It is also Give Big, a statewide fundraising campaign where individuals and organizations unite across Washington to invest in our communities. Give Big in support of musicians' mental health today!
Meet Lance Mercer, iconic Music Photographer, who, besides playing in a few short-lived punk bands in his teen years, has been photographing local live music since the early ’80s.
What motivated you to join SMASH when you did?
So many reasons; I photographed the first benefit concert and really inspired by what I was hearing, but also I ended up with a serious tooth issue, and in the past I've had to go to the community clinics, which unfortunately are not the best so I was asking around looking for options, I reached out to SMASH and they got me into Lyons Creek Dental the very next day, was taken care of immediately and also felt like a normal patient for the first time in a long time.
Not only do I feel comforted knowing there's a place I can contact for any health-related issues, including mental health, but being a part of a community of like-minded folks that have dealt with similar issues, it's all very inclusive and such a needed service for our music community. I am thankful SMASH is here and hopefully growing to be a model for others nationwide.
Tell us a little bit about your own experience with your mental health.
I've suffered from depression most of my life, which has manifested in various ways over the years; I self-medicated by abusing drugs and alcohol, and I've spent many hours with different therapists, but what's worked best for me and helped keep my depression in check is being clean and sober in a 12-step program which in turn has given me a daily meditation practice. I do my best to stay connected to a community with others that live with similar mental health issues.
Why do you think musicians and artists struggle with mental health issues at a higher rate?
Hard to say I can only offer my own experience. It's never been easy to get professional help while being self-employed. At times when I really needed it, I wasn't able to since most are so expensive and most of us artists/musicians don't have health care, so it becomes a vicious cycle leading to more stress, depression, etc.
What are your go-to things to do when you are struggling with your mental health?
It's varied over the years; like I mentioned, it was drugs and alcohol which just made it worse, right now and over some years now, its been meditation, sometimes just a good long pause w deep breathes, depending on the severity of the situation, other times I call someone who has similar issues, feels good to know I'm not alone when I really get down.
What is a song that, when you put it on it, helps you feel better during times of struggle?
That has varied over the years as well; back in my younger days, it was a good loud punk rock song, anything from the Clash's first album, Black Flag, etc., but these days I do enjoy some Tom Waits or more upbeat I always feel good with any songs by Bowie, Prince..it changes. Still, it always helps. Not sure my neighbors would agree!
MORE ABOUT LANCE MERCER: Within the past two decades, it has become increasingly difficult to flip through major musical publications or albums at a store and not come across a jaw-dropping, iconic image by the inspiring Lance Mercer.
Born and raised in Seattle, Mercer began documenting the punk scene in his early teens, as well as life with his friends and their bands: unique individuals who eventually became the voices behind one of the PNW’s most important musical movements. At the visual vanguard of chronicling its magnificent, down-to-earth, and egalitarian zeitgeist, Mercer employed his instinctive intuition for capturing vulnerable souls, a keen eye for brilliant composition, and compassionate humanity for earning the trust of wary hearts, forever immortalizing groundbreaking visionaries—a number of whom are tragically no longer with us—in his devastatingly glorious, unpretentious, and ofttimes warmly-candid shots.
Fully aware of his calling early on, he entered photography school at the age of 17. After graduating with a degree in commercial photography, he became a full-time freelance photographer in 1991. Captivated by the musician’s life and the symbiotic relationship between artist and fans, Mercer captured the energy of individuals who changed music history forever. His dynamic subjects ranged from passionate basement punks to charismatic characters who eventually formed bands like Malfunkshun, Mother Love Bone, Screaming Trees, Soundgarden, Mudhoney, Alice in Chains, and Pearl Jam. Mercer was invited to tour with Pearl Jam from 1992 to 1995 as their official photographer. With this unparalleled access caught some of the most intimate and intoxicating moments of one of the world’s most private bands.
He has since released two books related to this period: a retrospective with fellow Seattle photographer Charles Peterson called Place/Date (1997), and 5X1: Pearl Jam Through the Eye of Lance Mercer (2007). Today, Mercer remains in demand as a visual storyteller, applying his talents in the music, editorial, and commercial worlds and in the production, direction, and filming of documentary projects. His work continues to be published and exhibited locally and internationally.
Bio by Charina Pitzel