Robb Nash’s mission and why he inked 120 names of suicidal kids on his arm

Daily Brew

[Musician Robb Nash got tattoos of the names of 120 suicidal kids on his arm last week. FACEBOOK]

Robb Nash gets a lot of suicide notes from young people — they are often a little ripped and crumpled.

“Police tell me it’s because they’ve carried it for two to three months,” the rock musician told Yahoo Canada News. “Kids are walking around with that note in their pockets and they are waiting for someone or something to push them over the edge or for someone to reach out to them. I find that amazing.”

Nash, who has been touring schools, facilities and centres for seven years talking about his own story and others who struggled with suicidal thoughts, recently inked the names of the first 120 kids who handed over their notes in the first year of the Robb Nash Project.

The musician, from Kleefeld, Man., southeast of Winnipeg,  has collected more than 600 suicide notes now.

“I want them to see these names on my arm, so they know they aren’t alone .. and they think, ‘Holy Crap! There are people who feel like me and survived. I can walk the darkness.’”

He’s done 158 shows in the past eight months and will take a summer hiatus to recuperate before he heads out again — many of his concerts take place in First Nations communities.

“You know, what’s said in these notes? They are the same everywhere I go: I feel alone, I need to feel like I belong, I need a purpose,” Nash explained on a meal break at a Tim Horton’s somewhere in northern Manitoba where he was at another indigenous community over the weekend.

“Our world is so messed up. People don’t feel significant. They go to school, drink coffee, work and go home,” he said. “And they wonder, ‘Is this it?’”

As far as Nash is concerned, the pain in the eyes of any mother who has lost a child to suicide is the same whatever the background or culture.

“These aboriginal kids don’t feel connected to the rest of us. They don’t feel Canadian, like they are part of the family.”

‘What if you had purpose?’

He wishes this wasn’t his job but he knows the “why” of what he does: he’s a treasure hunter.

“Parents tell me about their kids who died and they say, ‘He or she was so gifted’ and for some reason, they didn’t know that,” he said. “I’m not here to provide answers but I’m here to ask questions [of people] — what if you had a purpose?”

He goes into a story about performing at a youth detention in Calgary, playing for a handful of girls.

“We go in, play some songs, teach them how to create songs. One of the girls was found face down on the [train tracks], hoping the train would kill her,” he said.

“She told us her story, so she made a song [about it] and we recorded it with her in the facility. I said to her, 'You know you have something to give.’”

Nash says when the girl was due for release, she asked to stay at the facility so she could help mentor the other girls.

“We got her to sing with us — the song is called Shadows — in front of 22,000 at the Saddledome. She is talented!”

Nash’s own major “moment” came at 17 when he was suddenly sidelined by a semi-truck while driving.

“I hate that phrase: things happen for a reason. You mean when someone gets cancer? It’s because they were bad?” he points out.  “I thought I was being taught a lesson.”

Pronounced dead at the scene, he arrived alive at the hospital — thus, the name of his band: Live on Arrival (LOA). Waking up, with his skull composed of metal, Nash was angry, wondering why this happened to him.

“I was a six-foot-five guy playing all sorts of sports and now I was a six-foot-five guy having his mother bathe him,” he recalled.  “I had voices in my head too. I didn’t want to be alive.”

And then, he turned it around.

“Things don’t happen for a reason, they happen with potential. I could have been bitter the rest of my life but then …. I made that decision [not to].”

Nash wrote songs that spoke to his challenges and made music with his band. They had a recording contract and were doing well — opening for well-known acts. Then, he walked away from it.

He had already started playing his songs at schools and telling his story. Other schools were clamouring for his shows.

“I ripped up my contract which means, I owe the record company a lot of money,” he laughs. “We don’t get paid for this. We give out our CDs at the end of our shows. In fact, we are now $180,000 in debt.”

‘Tears are breakthroughs’

Payment isn’t something Nash is fuelled by. He has his “mission.”

“Dealing with all the notes and the kids crying — it was draining at first actually, but we have realized now that those tears are breakthroughs, not breakdowns.”

His project has had outpourings of help such as the couple who bought his band Adele’s former tour bus or the airline that provides free trips to remote communities and someone “with three Oscar nominations” who films videos of their concerts.

And surrounding Nash is a supportive community of people — he has a board of directors that help out, his bandmates are men who are also “super emotional.”

“We hold each other up. When one of us is down, we rally.”

While Nash is glad to open up the conversation, about the epidemic of depression and suicide among young people and addicts, he is reticent to be doing what may seem like PR.

“We do this because we care and you know, kids can smell bull—- a mile away,” he emphasized. “We don’t just perform and high-five each other and leave. We work months in advance with every school we perform in. So we provide documentation in advance, explain what happens [i.e. music, stories, video] and we make sure there are counsellors around where we stand after the shows to give out CDs.”

It’s the after-show that has the most potency — that’s when the kids will hand over the suicide notes, their pill bottles or their razors, which they use to self-harm.

“Those counsellors note down the students’ names and make sure they get help.”

The national, 24-hour toll-free Kids Help Phone number (800) 668-6868 is also provided in all the materials given out and during the shows.

“It’s a rush. I’m trying to tell my story so people don’t have to die before they live.”