Josh Brooks: Voice of forgotten veterans

Josh Brooks and Jon Stewart

By Brandy Cochran

Special to The Press

Vincent Van Gogh once said, “Art is to console those who are broken by life,” and most artists would agree whole-heartedly with this statement.

Those who are touched with the talent of writing, singing, sculpting, painting, drawing or dance tend to work through their demons and damage through their works, and by doing so, they latently inspire and encourage others who may be going through their own personal turmoil.

Josh Brooks, a folk singer-songwriter and Weakley County native, has experience both trauma and healing and shares his and others’ stories through lyric and song.

His efforts have now been internationally recognized, and he has been rewarded by being added to the British record label, In Black Records, featuring his single, “The Ballad of Love Lost: The Death of Stephon Clark.”

The single is a protest song that dually details the devastating story of an innocent man who was shot by police in his grandmother’s backyard and Brooks’ own experiences with homelessness and helplessness.

To have written such a serious song, Brooks must have experienced extreme struggles in his past, and during this month when this country pays honor to veterans, his story is important to be told.

Growing up in Dresden, Brooks’ family was unfortunately plagued by mental illnesses that negatively-impacted their ability to flourish and give their children a leg up in society. This motivated Brooks to join the United States Air Force in 2008 at the very impressionable age of 19.

Brooks sought out what most young men and women were looking for in the military during a time of national economic uncertainty; he wanted to give himself opportunities, receive aid in funding a college degree, and, of course, get out of the South and see the world. What Brooks ended up with after finishing boot camp, though, was much more than he had bargained for.

In 2011, Brooks, along with so many other young soldiers, was deployed to Afghanistan to help stabilize the war-ridden wreckage several years after the initial attacks on Sept. 11.

He worked on an airfield, where he spent the majority of his time supporting medivacs and witnessing casualty after casualty of his military brothers and sisters. After only one year experiencing the terror of combat, Brooks was discharged back into civilian life with little to no professional support.

He had great trouble adjusting back to regular society after living his life in a constant state of battle, preparing himself for attack even in his sleep. This extreme contrast between his recent life and the apparent arbitrary lives of those around him led him down a path of internal suffering, flash backs and a substance abuse pattern he mistakenly confused with actual coping skills.

This unfortunate turn of events led Brooks to a life of homelessness in 2016, where he met many vets with practically the same stories as his own.

James, an army vet in his early 30s, who was a paramedic after leaving the war, became homeless after his divorce that sparked from his lack of psychological help after coming home. Once all his past trauma caught up with him, he turned to substance abuse, which ultimately led to his downfall.

Marty, a Marine Corps veteran in his mid-50s, who became a police officer after leaving the military, also turned to substance abuse to kill his inner demons after receiving no government support for civilian transition. He eventually lost all his family and found himself living on the city streets.

Corey, another army veteran in his early 20s was the worst case Brooks had seen while being homeless. He was terribly troubled and traumatized from the war with no coping skills. He also turned to substances as a form of self-medication.

Even when Brooks found shelter briefly, at a complex for homeless veterans, he said, “I met a dozen others, age ranges all over the spectrum, with all the same struggles, sparked from time spent in Vietnam to Afghanistan. Sometimes, the only recognizable or seemingly-attainable relief was substances, and, of course, the substances made everything worse. I didn’t meet a vet on the streets that didn’t use some form of substance to quiet their minds.”

After coming out of homelessness in January of 2018, Brooks was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) — a common disorder for those who have experienced active combat and war.

Studies have shown that large numbers of veterans who have come home from every war in recorded history have experienced PTSD and require professional help transitioning back into civilian life. After meeting so many veterans his elder, while living on the streets, Brooks considers himself one of the lucky ones to have found the help he so desperately needed. “The medications I’m on help immensely.”

Since then, Brooks has found himself behind a guitar with pen and paper in hand, writing protests song as a form of therapy for himself and restitution for the forgotten people of America — the works, the caretakers, and, of course, the vets — those who make up the backbone of society.

Growing up, Brooks always had a fascination with the Civil Rights Movement and its leaders, especially Muhammed Ali and Martin Luther King, Jr., and began writing folk music at the age of 16. Back then, his main focus was censorship, governmental control, religion and superficial ideals in America. Now that he has had more life experience and practice, his music had matured, become deeper in-depth, and finely tuned. Displaying the famous Woodie Guthrie logo “This Machine Kills the Fascist” across his acoustic guitar, Brooks shares his stories through song with audiences across Louisville, Kentucky, and to anyone who comes across his music online.

His raw, unapologetic, straight-forward style is reminiscent of Bob Dylan’s early works and other protest singers from that time period who knew their country needed such truths to be told.

If this classic, lo-fi, politically-influenced genre sounds like music to your ears, check out Josh Brooks’ latest single, “The Ballad of Love Lost: The Death of Stephon Clark,” on Spotify and be looking for his next release, “The Satellites,” to be released soon.

Upcoming live show times and information can also be found by following him on Facebook at joshuapaulbrooksmusic.

Whether recorded or live, Brooks’ lyric and song is guaranteed to transport your soul to the places of the once forgotten who deserve to be honored.

Editor’s note: Brandy Cochran is an Entertainment writer for The Press. She may be contacted by email at peace.love.brandy@gmail.com.

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