By Robert Hunter
I drove across the U.S. in a beat-up RV in pursuit of a goal that always seemed a few miles up the road. I’d written an album and a novel and set off on a 50-state tour seeking the most fickle and fleeting marker of success — fame. It wasn’t long before I grew disillusioned.
Night after night, pouring my heart out to audiences more interested in their phones than my singing, my ambition for social media followers, streams, likes and clicks left me feeling empty. When I got to Texas, I found an unexpected way out of the whole mess. I fell in love. This jumpstarted a journey that eventually led me to use my experience and talents to spread hope.
Danique is Dutch and was vacationing in America. Adventure is in my blood, so when she invited me to play guitar at her birthday party in Holland, I quickly accepted. I flew from New York City to Amsterdam on a roundtrip ticket — and I have yet to get on a return flight. I became enthralled with the landscape, the history, the food and, of course, with Danique.
At first, the Netherlands reminded me of home. I’m originally from Danville, Pa, Dutch country USA. The ancient barns and tranquil farm fields of Holland felt more familiar to me than most of what I’d seen on the road in America. After playing in Las Vegas and New Orleans, barely surviving a booze cruise in Chicago, coming even closer to death while driving an overweight RV down Teton Pass in Wyoming, I thought life in a small village near Amsterdam would be easy.
Somehow, my problems managed to follow me across the ocean.
For starters, I didn’t speak Dutch. “Beroemd,” for instance, was not a word I was familiar with. It means famous. Danique said it all the time when she introduced me to people. The truth was that my so-called fame was diminishing by the day. My streams and social media numbers cut in half when I stopped touring. On one hand, I knew fame wasn’t going to bring me happiness. On the other hand, I’d worked hard to gain that recognition. It was painful to let it go.
Then the global pandemic hit, and I couldn’t tour. I couldn’t even fly home to see friends and family. I was completely isolated, totally broke and utterly dependent on Danique to keep me buoyant. I stopped writing songs. What was the point if there was no one to listen? I was hopeless. I knew that many people had it far worse than me, but there were times when I wished I were dead.
Something shifted when I stumbled upon a news story about high school kids opening up the mental health conversation and fighting suicide. The link I just happened to click on led me straight back to my hometown of Danville, Pa. The daughter of a friend of mine, Lauryn Hawkins, helped start a group to destigmatize mental health issues and prevent suicide. I was so inspired and proud of her that I wrote a song about it. That song is called “Permanent.”
The lyrics were the very the words that I, myself, needed to hear:
“I know you’re afraid to feel this way. It’s gonna be ok. It’s not Permanent.
I know it’s hard but please let someone in. I’ve been so alone and without a friend.
Just so you know, alone is not Permanent.
If you’re lost don’t be ashamed. We all lose our way. It’s gonna be ok.
It’s not Permanent.”
I sent a rough recording to my friend, Josh Hawkins, along with a note for his daughter saying that her message of hope reached all the way across the Atlantic with impact. For the first time in a long time, I felt less alone. I wanted Lauryn to know the power of the hope she had helped initiate — that a high school kid can change the world for the better, and that she had changed mine.
Josh replied within minutes. I expected a simple “Thanks.” Instead, he told me he wanted to help get the song out into the world. A few weeks later, “Permanent” was recorded and produced — half in Nashville and half in Amsterdam. I released it immediately.
This was the first song I’d ever written where the streams only mattered because I truly believed in the cause and the message — not the fame or the residuals. I wanted people to feel less lonely. I wanted Lauryn and others to know that anyone can change the world for the better and that hope has a ripple effect. “Permanent” is proof of that.
Messages started pouring in almost immediately. People from all over the world shared incredibly private stories of tremendous struggle. I even spoke to someone in Ukraine. Despite all the chaos they were experiencing, they said things like, “Your song made me feel a little better.”
There are people everywhere who struggle with hopelessness. I was one of them. But hope has a ripple effect. In this case, it started with a high school kid. My only contribution to the cause is a simple melody and some heartfelt words from someone who’s been there.
I hope those words continue to reach the people who need to hear them.
To that end, I have reached out to talented producers in every genre of music and asked for remixes. In fact, any producer on earth is invited to make “Permanent” their own. I’ll send them the stems. Two completely different versions of the song are already complete, and I can’t wait to release them.
Robert Hunter has released three EPs and two singles. His signature melodic alt-country rock sound has been described as "magnetic after a single listen." His most recent tour, "Relapse and Revival," is an innovative concept combining his book and record tour promoting his novel "Relapse" and a new EP "Revival." The "Relapse and Revival" tour spanned the entire U.S, reaching all 50 states with more than 350 appearances and 150,000 combined miles traveled, making it the first and only book/record tour in history to do so in less than one year.
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