Featuring singer-songwriter Logan Lynn | By Kelley O’Death
FQP shines a light on the joys and heartaches that lie at the intersection of the LGBTQIA community and the world of alternative music. While queer representation is often refracted through the prism of normative curiosities and concerns, FQP features queer voices saying whatever they want, however they want. Don’t fear the realness.
Portland singer-songwriter and mental health advocate Logan Lynn has walked through fire to become the person he is today, his path smoldering with embers of religious repression, sexual assault, drug abuse, suicidal ideation, homophobia, homelessness, and self-destruction. But his is not a story about the tragic immolation of an innocent spirit, nor the importance of malingering in the hope that, one day, things will get brighter. Lynn’s story is about action, his life a testament to the power in learning to control the burn, to nourish the earth so that new life may take root.
Amongst the ashes of his traumatic history, Lynn has planted seeds of art, community, and a renewed sense of self, cultivating an impressive career as a musician—his most recent record, ADIEU., was released in 2016—the founder of the advocacy campaign, Keep Oregon Well, and an exemplar for everyone struggling to flourish in harsh conditions. Through his many varied endeavors, Lynn inspires others to recognize that some of the world’s most beautiful flowers can only grow from mud and darkness.
On Becoming Logan Lynn:
I was born into a what I call a Christian cult in rural Nebraska. In 1979, I was born in Texas and moved to York, Nebraska at age 1. My dad was Christian royalty essentially. My parents were figureheads in the church—just as generations before had been—and I came out of the womb gayer than the day is long. I remember, early on, the boys at church calling me girly, and me going home and being like, “Why are they calling me girly? …and can I have this Barbie doll?” [Laughs] Both things were real. You know, whatever that means: “You’re girly.” I was! I now feel proud of that, that I was the way I am now back then. I was really myself as a child—which I don’t think was a choice. I just was me, and there I was in all my sort of flaming glory.
So, I’m in this church system, and I think things were going pretty well even though I imagine my family had some concerns about my interests. When I was 7, we were in this church, my dad was the president of this college, and my parents would open their home to college students to live with us and sort of holistically help them. Like, you’re getting a Christian education and here’s what it’s like to live in a good Christian home.
When I was 7, one of the men who they had invited to stay with us started sexually assaulting me and abusing me. That happened from age 7 to 9. I think, at the time, it was really hard, because I was all wrapped up into this God stuff, and the way that I was groomed and prepared for that was all centered around: “If you tell, you and your family will burn in Hell for all eternity.” So, there was a lot of abuse and then, “Let’s pray about it.”
It really damaged me, not just physically and emotionally, but spiritually. It left a real injury in my life that didn’t really present itself until I hit puberty. When I hit puberty, all of my hormones kicked in. I realized, “I really am gay”—and how complicated is that? Because the violence I had experienced, sexual violence, was very aesthetically similar to what I was now feeling attracted to. And goddamn, that was traumatizing.
So, I started using drugs immediately. [Laughs] I was 10 years old and started using. By the time I was 12, I was a drug addict: using, smoking, drinking. I was self-medicating. I didn’t have language for my trauma, I didn’t know how to be a person, and certainly, when the realization came that I was gay, I did not know how to contend with any of that. So, I started medicating it. I medicated my pain, I medicated my personhood. I medicated the parts of me that didn’t fit into the structure that have been built around my life: the church structure or the family structure or even just the expectations of me as a man in the world. I realized pretty early on that none of that was happening the way it was “supposed to.” I started acting out from there.
I came out and started getting really depressed around age 14. It kind of culminated there, where my early childhood trauma met with the hormones met with the drug addict—all the same person—and I became suicidal. At age 14. My parents were really scared, still very much in the church, still very much centered around “We can pray anything away.” Taking me to a therapist was radical in of itself, but they were at their wits’ end. I was going to die. So, they took me to this therapist who was, of course, part of the church, part of the cult. We get there, and he says some things that were really problematic looking back, especially now that I’m in the mental health field. Looking back at this particular therapy session, it was really weird.
I had been seeing a boy at school and had a really very healthy relationship developing with him, but I was so traumatized and so unwilling to be gay that it was traumatizing me too. This good thing I had was traumatizing me. So, I told [the therapist] a little bit about that, and at some point in our session, he asked me how old the boy was. I said, “Oh, he just had a birthday. He just turned 18”—which was the key to statutory rape. My parents come back in the room when the session was over, and he just completely outs me to my parents in front of me and says that he’s going to arrest this boy. He’s going to have this boy arrested; he’s a mandatory reporter.
I start freaking out. My parents know that this has backfired, that I’m dead now, that this is the end. So, they make a deal with him that if they remove me from the community and the school that night and I wouldn’t be around the boy anymore, the arrest wouldn’t have to happen. They somehow got that to happen.
That night, my parents called their friends in Tennessee, who had at one point in time said, “Anytime y’all need anything, anytime your family needs anything, anytime your kids need anything, call us.” This was the time they called them. I moved there by myself. I went to live with this other family and got put into a Christian school. It was Jackson, Tennessee, [or] Henderson, Tennessee, just the worst part of Tennessee. I very quickly got in trouble for “acting Black”—for braiding my hair, I got sent home from school for “acting Black.” It was that level of awful. Super pre-“Will and Grace” ‘90s. A year or so in, they found an Out Magazine and some vodka, and I got unceremoniously sent back home.
When I arrived back home, I was a full-blown drug addict. I had started doing coke and was addicted. I lived there for a minute, [but] realized really early on that I couldn’t rejoin that community. I couldn’t actually mush myself back in. At that point in time, my family had moved to Kansas City, I went to Kansas City as well, and when they moved [to Portland], I stayed in Kansas City and lived with friends. I eventually came out here the following year to go to school at PNCA, [Pacific Northwest College of Art], and was in the process of trying to reconnect with my family—perpetually. I was scary, because my mental illness had taken over and I was a drug addict, so that was very complicated, but I still felt like I wanted to have a family. I needed these people to love me and be a part of my life, so that process was ongoing.
During that time, really early on—like, I moved here in ‘96 and almost immediately met Elliott Smith, Dan Reed from Dan Reed Network, Zia McCabe from The Dandy Warhols. I was a teenager, but I was writing these little songs. One of Elliott’s early producers kind of took me under his wing upon Elliott being like, “Look, this guy’s doing something cool.” We made my first record, [This Is Folk Techno / Pull the Plug], that I put out in ‘98—it was like a mixtape.
Nobody understood what I was doing. It was very much folk music meets techno music. It was crazy, but looking back, I was a badass for doing that. I was way too far ahead [of my time]. That mixtape turned into my first record, which was GLEE. It came out in 2000, and I played a bunch of shows all around. People, critically, were like, “This is awesome,” but—in fact, USA Today said that it was one of the top 100 rainy day records of all time.
It was kind of like, “I’m 17. Good things are happening,” but it was super triggering for me, because I was open. I didn’t have anybody guiding my career. Elliott’s songs, while everybody thinks they’re all about him, they never were about him. He was telling stories of people he saw under a bridge or stories of other people in his life, but they felt very personal. I didn’t do that. I did the same kind of personal storytelling around my own struggle, and it was while I lived it. So, it was really hard for me, the pressure of people not understanding what I was doing. I would play these shows around town, and people would literally stand there and scratch their heads and be like, “What is this guy doing?” Which was hard.
I just pulled out. At that point in time, I was like, “No, no. I don’t have this in me. I’m just going to be a drug addict.” [Laughs] People still were pushing me to move forward, and I was really resistant. I just wanted to party and not be looked at—yet still had this compulsion for people to look. I was like, “Look at me! Don’t look at me!” It was so complicated and weird.
Then, Ben Gibbard, in , put out The Postal Service. We had shared a producer, Styrofoam. I know he had heard my record and had a bunch of money and was able to do what I wish I had been doing in a really great commercially accessible way. At which point in time, everybody who had scratched their heads or who had been like, “Weird!”—all the piles of demos at labels on A&R desks, suddenly my record got pushed up to the front of the pile. Because [Postal Service] had been so wildly successful, there was a cultural reference point. People were like, “I totally understand what this Logan Lynn guy is doing.”
I got signed to EMI and Caroline, and The Dandy Warhols started managing my career, rereleased my entire catalog up to that point. At that point, I had put out [a self-titled] follow-up. So, in 2006, I rereleased GLEE—minus a couple of the really embarrassing songs—and added eight new songs. I probably should have released that as an EP with just the new songs, but you know, I’m 18 or 21 or however old at the time, so I’m making bad decisions still. That record got picked up. I played Folsom Street Fair [in San Francisco], my first show since these weird house shows, and it was in front of 400,000 people.
MTV Artist Development was there in the front row and happened to just randomly catch that performance. They signed me the following week to MTV Artist Development to start a new channel called Logo. I was one of the first bands on Logo. I hosted “NewNowNext.” My first record with The Dandys came out in 2009, and I had three or four videos on the channel by that point. When I was hosting “NewNowNext,” I was speaking to 26 million people every time. It was wild—from nothing to this really big thing.
What was cool about that was they were coming to me because I was gay. This thing that had really hurt me in all other areas of my life up to that point—I don’t think it really had, but at that time, I really felt like it was a detriment to my career and to my person, my personal life—suddenly became the selling point. Everybody was booking me because I’m a fag. It was so awesome. It was super healing. I was like, “Oh my God!” It took me a minute to realize what was happening and trust it. For whatever reason, probably “Will and Grace,” probably Ellen [DeGeneres], probably whatever it was—it wasn’t me singlehandedly, but I do think I played a part in it, at least here in Portland and in the Northwest music scene, just because I was, like, the only out gay dude who was doing what I was doing. It’s like if Elliott Smith had a drum machine and was gay.
I’m still a drug addict, though. So, the success starts happening, and I am totally ill-equipped to handle it, because at that point, I had escalated to crack. I’m smoking crack and drinking and acting normal—relatively normal, because the only time crackheads act wild is when they’re out of drugs. When you’re actually high on crack, you act normal. I was maintaining that sort of thing, but it was super expensive, it was awful, and that led me to have a partial stroke.
On Turning Things Around:
In 2008, I had a TIA, [a transient ischemic attack], which is what happens to you right before you have a major stoke. I was able to get to the hospital, [but] my legs and arms didn’t function properly for weeks. It was super scary. I had been in and out of rehab over and over, but I had just gotten that signing bonus. I took that signing bonus and, instead of making the record, I put myself in rehab with a team of doctors.
I was in there for a year, and they really put me back together. I met a doctor who said to me finally, “What has happened to you? Did you just grow up thinking, ‘I’m going to be a drug addict’? ‘I want to be homeless and ruin every relationship I’ve ever had and burn my life down’?” I remember, at the time, feeling like, “No!” I was angry with him for suggesting that I had chosen this. He, in that moment, connected me to this trauma response, that my entire life up to that point—from the time I had been hurt at age 7 to the time I was hurting myself at age 27—I had really truly strapped all of that on and was just carrying it around. “Of course I need to smoke crack. It’s pain!” I’d built a whole castle of pain around myself.
In the process of getting well there, it was not about treating my symptoms anymore. All these other rehab people had been like, “If you just stop using, you’ll be fine. Just go to 90 meetings in 90 days.” Like, OK, that doesn’t actually work [for me]. First of all, AA and church don’t work on me, because I have religious trauma, so we’re already dead in the water with the entire system. If I hadn’t met this man who was trauma-informed, who was willing to work with me in an individualized way around the stuff that would have been barriers for the system to attack, I would be dead. I just really would.
So, I started putting my life back together. The label’s calling the whole time I’m in the hospital. I don’t have my computer, I don’t have my phone. Even my producer at the time did not know where I was. I think people thought I had killed myself probably, yet my social media was still active every now and then. I came out of there trying to put things back together with the label. I threw out that record I had made as a junkie and had an idea of a new record I wanted to make and started doing that.
That record was From Pillar to Post. It came out in 2009 and, again, was relatively critically successful—commercially, not so much. Which has been my life path often. Like, “Oh, I got 100 great reviews from all the major magazines—and just as many sales.” [Laughs] That’s luckily gotten better over the years, but that was frustrating at the time as a person with very little resources to feel like I was putting everything in—you know, “CMJ is giving me a showcase, I’m on TV, why [isn’t the record selling]? What is it? What is that?” I think some of it was that I was gay. I think I was a trailblazer around talking about mental and behavioral health care struggles in my music—and nobody wants to hear about that, at least not back then—and I was also gay, and nobody wanted to hear about that back then either. My lead single off that record was a song called “Bottom Your Way to the Top,” and it was all over MTV and all over everywhere, but it didn’t take in the culture.
That was disappointing, and I was still on the road, I had just gotten clean, and I had a total mental health breakdown. I fired my band on the road while we were in San Francisco, fired my publicist, fired the label—just told the label, “I’m not on your label anymore,” even though I’m in contract with them. Like, Caroline/EMI owns Logan Lynn’s name and likeness, and yet, here I am saying, “Screw you guys.”
I sent out a press release to every contact in my email—not even just media, like, every person I had ever interacted with—titled “Logan Lynn Commits Career Suicide.” I just completely burned the shit down, or tried to. In the same email, I said, “I’m going to go work for [the Portland LGBTQ community center] Q Center. I want to go run a community center.” People were like, literally, “This guy is beyond nuts. I have no idea what he’s doing,” but I really did feel that I wanted to make a big change in my life. I’m sober, I am unhappy, I don’t want to play bars, I just don’t want to play music, I don’t want everybody looking at me. I’m freaking out.
So, I went and made friends with Kendall Clawson, who was the executive director of Q Center at the time, and she was like, “Yeah, sure. Come here. Come here every day.”
And I did.
As that relationship grew, I started kind of connecting to my well-person in a way. I started connecting to the early trauma of being an LGBTQ youth on the streets just through working with SMYRC, [Portland’s Sexual and Gender Minority Youth Resource Center], and other queer and trans folks who were struggling. It made me realize that it was a little more universal, my struggle. I think I had really compounded my trauma by also assuming I was the only one—which we all have a propensity to do. Come to find out, it’s all of us. [Laughs]
I started doing that work, and Kendall up and left to go work for the governor. She gets poached to go be the governor’s chief of staff, and suddenly, it’s just me and this other guy. So, I ran Q Center with him for years and started doing their innovation and PR, and eventually, that sort of public—I was still on Logo, still doing this stuff. I released my record that I had been working on for EMI, and because I was contractually obligated, I couldn’t sell it. So, I just gave it away, and the way you got it for free was if you donated to Q Center. That record was a fundraiser for LGBTQ activism, and I felt the power of that in that moment. I was like, “Holy crap, we sold so many!” [Laughs] It was both: I got my music out in the world and I got to support something I actually cared about. When I was getting interviewed, I was able to then talk about this thing that I actually cared about and use this thing that was previously really frustrating and I had decided was useless and point it toward absolute positivity.
That started happening more and more. I grew Q Center; we bought the building. They went from being kind of invisible to being very visible. Cover Oregon—the ACA/Obamacare rollout—started to happen, and somebody in town, Metropolitan Group, had been given the contract by the state to do all the messaging and community engagement. They had been, for whatever reason, tracking what I had done at Q Center and asked if I would be willing to join the community engagement team and just do some contract work. So, I did, and I was part of the team that did all those goofy ads and all the community engagement. The community engagement actually really worked in Oregon—while the website never [worked], getting people to the website did work.
I felt very useful again, and I realized that I can point this thing anywhere. This network, this position I’m in as myself, as an accidental public figure-type person, I’m able to point it at things that matter.
On Changing The Narrative:
About a year after that Cover Oregon stuff happened, the same person who had come to me and asked me to be part of that said, “I’m on the board of Oregon’s largest provider of mental and behavioral healthcare, Trillium Family Services. We’ve been doing this trauma-informed care work, sanctuary, certification,” all this stuff. I was like, “I have no idea what you’re even talking about. Sounds cool.” She was like, “We’re trying to build a branded cause, build an advocacy platform to mobilize the community around trauma-informed principles.” Which is like: “Buzzword, buzzword, buzzword, punchline,” right? All I cared about was, like, “OK, drill that down, what do you mean? What are you talking about?”
What they wanted me to do was make mental health cool. Ultimately, it was about centering the conversation like I had already been doing on MTV or in my life or in my social media networks. “Just do that. Make it official.” She said to me, “I think you’re a mental health advocate.” And I said, “Mental health advocate? I don’t know what you mean,” but she kind of explained what I was doing, and they just wanted me to replicate that. They wanted me to build a coming out movement like I had done in my own life. So, I was like, “Hell yeah, sounds good.” I realized I had quit all of that in the midst of a mental health breakdown, and that what I had needed was a break, not to blow the whole thing up—but hindsight is 20/20.
The first day I came here to partner with Trillium, the CEO said to me, “Surely if we can mobilize the whole community around keeping Portland weird, we should be able to do the same thing around keeping Oregon well.” I was like, “Ha! That’s my advocacy platform.” That next week, I made bumper stickers. I started really thinking about it as the brand, what it would look like.
I had a lot of clinical people telling me what to do and a lot of other organizations with really great ideas, but I—having lived as a mental health consumer my whole life—knew that the old horror movie adage, “The call is coming from inside the house,” absolutely applies to stigma. We have this whole industry where people would say to me, “OK, we’re going to change your name on all the paperwork, and you can come in the back so nobody sees you access services, and don’t tell your story to anyone or they might abuse you.” I mean, it’s so bad.
So, I listened to all the “in the box” ways of doing things, and then, I recycled that box and just burned it down. I was like, “We’re not doing any of that.” I thought to myself, “What would I have needed? What would have interrupted my 16-year traumatic journey? At what point in time, early on, could someone have reached me? Who would it have been that I would have listened to?”
I think it would have been New Kids On The Block.
And Debbie Gibson. And Paula Abdul. And, eventually, Pearl Jam and Kurt Cobain. People like that. I think those were the only people who mattered to me at a certain point. My escapism in music, my dream of becoming a pop star was what tethered me to the world. It’s what kept me alive. Had those people, in an organized way, been able to say to me through the TV or through their songs, “It’s OK. You’re not alone. I have no answers, but you’re not alone. We are all crazy. We’re all traumatized. I experienced abuse too. I’ve survived.”
You know, Tori Amos, at one point, started talking about her sexual assault survival, and I remember instantly feeling like I’ve put this woman into the place of my heart that lives there forever. It was like, “You’re there forever.” Liz Phair, the same way, she was never really explicit, but those songs where she’s talking about being sexually active as a 12-year-old, some of that stuff really resonated with me.
So, as I built Keep Oregon Well as an advocacy platform or as a model, every step of the way, I thought about kids today and what might reach them. I didn’t do that just by using myself, I also met with kids today. [Laughs] You know, Grandpa Lynn is still connected to the culture in enough touchpoints that you can plug in. So, we did that, and it now reaches 1.5 million people a week. We’ve partnered with everybody from Kevin Bacon to hundreds of bands, from Of Monsters And Men to Charli XCX, who took us on tour with her and Jack Antonoff from Bleachers. I’m going to L.A. to partner with Katy Perry and Miley Cyrus on a bunch of stuff. It’s, like, blown up, and it’s really lovely to watch.
I’ve had a couple of moments where—we’ll use Bleachers as an example. I partnered with Jack on a bunch of different shows, and when Bleachers were on tour last, they played a show at Crystal Ballroom [in Portland] with Charli XCX. I had been downstairs hanging out with Jack; it was quiet. Then, I came upstairs and, as I rounded the corner, we had this big Keep Oregon Well booth that has a prize wheel, we’re giving out t-shirts, everybody was taking their picture by the “Mental Health Matters” signs. There were 80—no joke, 80—kids lined up to get their picture taken with this “Mental Health Matters” sign, and I thought to myself in the moment, “That’s it. We’ve done it.” That’s all I’m trying to do. Those people, those kids, from here on out, will forever think, “Charli and Jack said it was OK for me to be sad. Charli and Jack said it was OK for me to stand up and say the truth about my suffering.”
That shit matters. It just does. It doesn’t matter if your doctor says it—I mean, great for your doctor to be on the same page, great for the parents in your life to be on the same page, but ultimately, we have gone to where the kids are and partnered with people who folks are already listening to and inserted messaging in places where people already are. You know, I don’t want to act upon community, I want to act within community, and the community I was able to engage immediately was the music entertainment side of things.
Now, I’m in talks with a bunch of people at major health systems across the country to fund this work. We just got a $100,000 grant from Providence [Medical Group] last week to do it in Oregon, and we’re going to take it to scale in other markets.
I just won that award too! I won the National Council for Behavioral Health Award for Excellence. It’s super prestigious. I am not from this field, so it was particularly special to be able to take this thing that could have killed me—and should have killed me at a certain point, really truly awful trauma—and be the victor. To be able to not just heal from the trauma, but create a life for myself and a movement for other people that would never have been possible had this awful thing not happened. It’s been a real healing thing for me in my life, like cleaning up the wound, then putting it out in the community in a way that feels super empowering.
My parents were in the audience at that awards show, and I think they got to have that experience too. It’s our family’s trauma. My family and I are super close; they have since left the church years ago, and we’re all who we were supposed to be all along now. I watched their faces as I walked through the audience getting back to the table. I could see my mom, and she had a peace about her. I think they set that trauma down that night too.
I think being able to recontextualize shared trauma or shared experience and have it be—somebody said to me at some point in time, “Logan, it doesn’t have to be pretty to be true, but if it’s true, it’s beautiful.” That’s real. Whether it’s homophobia or transphobia or violence or abuse or all this stuff that we think breaks us, if the trauma is interrupted with healing and you connect to your resilience, it actually can fuel the vehicle of your life in a way that is impossible otherwise.
I often get accused of glamorizing mental illness or glamorizing suicide or glamorizing drug addiction just from being open or trying to make it cool to talk about this stuff. I used to fight against that. I used to be like, “No, I’m not! I’m glamorizing wellness!” Now, I just say, “Hell yeah! I am glamorizing mental illness. I’m trying.” If we ever get to a point where it’s thought of as glamorous [to seek help], I’ll be like, “My work here is done.” [Laughs] We’re so far from there. That’s the way stigma happens, with the silencing of new narratives.
My record ADIEU. came out last year, and it’s all about my journey of suicidal ideation into recovery and out the other side into a place of love. I think if I can reach people through my songs or through TV or through the campaigns or through storytelling and embolden other people to stand up and be like, “Me too”—not in a sad way, but in a “high-five, I see you” kind of way—then I’ll feel really satisfied with my time here on earth.
On Turning Negatives Into Positives:
I was raised in a church where instrumental music wasn’t allowed; it was all a cappella. The quote is: “If God wanted you to have an instrument, he would’ve put it on your body.” So, I have a really keen appreciation for a cappella music. I write all my songs a cappella—except for this new record, I wrote it on piano, but historically, everything starts as an a cappella spiritual, then I turn it into a song. That’s probably something that’s unusual, and it’s very much a part of that terribly abusive conservative church I grew up in, but I never would have had that as part of my process otherwise. It’s been a real gift.
On Problematic Representation:
I watch “The Real Housewives” of everywhere a lot; it’s totally problematic, but I do.
I tend to think visibility is always good. That can be controversial, because people want their visibility to be positive and representative of the best parts of us. But I’ve worked in LGBTQ communities for so long, and we’re all of it. If we only project the positive or that we all get along or that it’s “one size fits all,” all of that is equally problematic.
I was a very destructive gay person publicly for years. I think that was controversial and not totally positive always, but the fact that I was out and public and visible and reaching 26 million people every week, that was positive. So, I think when we get into trying to silence people’s art or stuff like that, it actually hurts us. It’s better, from my perspective, to have a conversation about problematic art.
Don’t cut your friends just because you can’t cut the president, you know? […] If we collectively bargain and we collectively link arms—I think even beyond the LGBTQ community, if all minority groups got together, we wouldn’t be the minority anymore.
There’s a “crabs in the barrel” thing that happens too. The gay press, if anyone starts to be successful, they want to pull you back into that boiling pot with the other crabs. I reject that. I want to celebrate the good work of LGBTQ people. I started that Queer Heroes Northwest program over at Q Center for that very reason, and I do the Mental Health Heroes Awards [through Keep Oregon Well] for that very reason, because everybody has a piece in changing the world. I think the problem we all get into is that we try to change it by ourselves.
To become a mental health hero, visit Keep Oregon Well and take the pledge today!