Talking With Paul Luftenegger – Part I: Suicide, Gay Rights, and the therapy of music
Q: When you were 10, you were already auditioning for St. Mary’s Choir in Canada. When did you begin to sing?
A: When we moved to London from St. Thomas I started a new school. With this new school came a new music Teacher named Mrs. Vermue. Mrs. Vermue use to come into our classroom two times a week and bring her autoharp, which is an instrument I had never seen since. She would do singalongs with all of our class and I absolutely loved it. By the time I was in grade 4 she had pulled me aside and told me what a wonderful voice I had and that I should consider changing schools to attend St. Mary’s Choir and Orchestra School. At the time, I didn’t understand what was happening. Mrs. Vermue sent me home with a pamphlet for my Mom to read. I thought nothing of it. My mom had different plans. I will never forget, my mom pulling me aside a few days later telling me in a stern way (with pamphlet in hand): “Paul, you are going to this new school!” The universe and these two women had plans for me that I didn’t know at the time. My mom sent me back with the pamphlet (enrollment form filled out) and instructed me to return it to my teacher. A few weeks later I had to sing privately for Mrs. Vermue. She again told me I had such a beautiful voice and explained to me what a gift I had. I was thankful for her kindness and didn’t give it much thought.
The following summer, my mom sat me down and told me I was accepted to attend St. Mary’s because of my audition with Mrs. Vermue and that I would start this new school after the summer holidays. I remember being so incredibly sad at the time and not at all open to the idea of changing schools again. I thought my world was over and that my mom was the meanest mom on the planet! I will never forget my first day at St. Mary’s. I remember my Mom dropping me off at the front gate and feeling sick to my stomach. I remember running to the bathroom trying to hide my uncontrollable tears erupting beneath my eyes. That first week was incredibly hard for me. I felt like I had no friends. I would often find myself crying in the bathroom stalls. I remember the day everything changed. This beautiful boy became my best friend In gym class, he chose me as his gym partner when I thought I was alone. Having one person accept me made feel everything was ok and I instantly accepted St. Mary’s as my new home. I thrived with some amazingly talented beautiful kids for four years of childhood musical bliss. We took music classes every single day and it was a magical world to grow up in. Every student had to sing everyday and learn how to play a stringed instrument. For me it was the beautiful cello. Let’s just say that my mom, Mrs. Vermue, and the universe knew exactly what I needed when I did not. The blessing in my life was people caring enough about me to know what I needed in order to thrive. It was and still is music!
Q: What attracted you to music?
A: My first memories of being conscious about music was when my Granny Ruth would sing and play her brand new organ. All the colors within me would light up like the organ’s selection keys. My granny use to sing and play
“Somewhere Over The Rainbow” and “Yellow Bird” with the beats and blends of the modern sounds of the time; I think her favourite beat was the classinova. Around that same time I was in half-day kindergarden; I had a
teacher named Mrs. Soaper. She used to play the piano and sing songs for the whole class like my granny and I just loved watching and listening to her play music that soothed my soul. Music for as long as I can remember
made me feel lovely inside of my heart and gave me feelings of love like nothing else has ever been able to.
Q: Who are your artistic influences and in what ways have they impacted you creatively?
A: I find this question challenging to answer as music is a life-long-journey finding the literal soundtrack to your life. I feel like I am the total sum of all of my parts especially with music. I would not be here without every single music teacher and every single note from the hearts that sang or played notes that entered my heart and soul. The short answer is everyone and everything. Some key musicians would be Joni Mitchell. My Aunt Julie use to put together slide shows of photographs of our family and it was always certain “Circles” by Joni Mitchell would be included. I love “Circles” with all of my heart. I feel it encapsulates life’s gift so delicately. My dad loved music as well. I remember having huge conversations with him about musicians; he would watch documentaries about
amazing people like Freddie Mercury, Cat Stevens and groups like CCR, Men at Work, and the amazing Bee Gees to name a few. One of my favourite songs is “Wonderful World” by Louie Armstrong. What a gift for our world! Michael Jackson, Tina Turner, Lionel Richie, Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston, Cyndi Lauper, Madonna, and the whole ’80s and ’90s engine of music that I was raised on impacted me; musicians united to help heal the world –
this always resonated with my heart. I used to dream I could help heal our world like all of them. I have always had a calling to be a superhero.
Q: “It’s Only Love” is a beautifully moving anthem for gay rights that looks at the issue on a human, personal but not political level. What kind of response have you received for it thus far?
‘It’s Only Love’ is ‘that song’ that took almost two decades to write and a lifetime lived with more tears than any other song I have ever written before or since. It is also the song that has been rewritten too many times to count. I needed this song for my gay heart to heal. Adversities and struggles are the actual teachers to humanity. I know this song was my responsibility to write and share my heart’s loving emotion openly with the world about being gay. The truth is it took my dad taking his life to really be able to write this song properly as being gay became a piece of cake compared to him taking his life. Perspectives, right? I did not know my own strength, power or worth before he died. To answer your question, this song has only just begun to make the waves I know it will. So far, I am at 31,000 views on YouTube and I know I have just scratched the surface. I want to sing this song live and unplugged with just me playing the piano and singing to really bring the heart to life in others. I am so sorry when I hear of LGBTQ hate crimes and at worst gay death as a result of hate. There is nothing more disgutsting to me. I actually was called to release this song as my first single from my album Diamond Light after reading about an eighth-grade boy in Chatham, Ontario, a neighboring town to where I live in Canada. This poor innocent gay child was beaten by four teens in broad daylight on his way home from school for being openly gay as he got off his school bus. It just killed my heart and soul to think these kids today are fighting the conflicts and
wars of adults and organized religions preaching hate for the way someone loves another human being. I knew I needed this song to have wings as fast as I could to say enough to LGBTQ hate crimes so I contacted the
Chatham newspaper where I read the story of this boy and released “It’s Only Love” immediately to the world.
At the same time, PROP8 and DOMA were being reviewed by the Supreme Court in the United States and to think here in Canada where we have Federal Same-Sex Equal Rights and Protections under the law kids are still being hospitalized for LGBTQ hate crimes by other kids. I mean, what is wrong with us? At the same time I was also reading about LGBTQ hate crimes and deaths in New York City and Paris, France. This stuff just breaks my heart. I am crying right now. I want the world to really wake the fuck up. Being gay is the least of our worries, people. Look at the way Russia is right now with LGBTQ hate crimes by the people and the Russian government, and they were awarded the Olympics? Rewarding Russia’s gross behavior does not sit well with my soul. I love what President Barack Obama just announced yesterday, that he has appointed openly gay delegates to represent the United States at the Sochi Winter Olympics. I am so in love with this beautiful man! I guess you could say I didn’t
want the song to be political but I certainly am so I guess the song sort of is. I will always be an advocate for love between two consenting hearts and souls. When I sing, I sing my heart to life for love. I made that promise to myself the day my dad died.
Q: Do you feel that Canada has had a more open and tolerant view of gay rights than the U.S.?
A: So far yes, Canada is certainly a leader in this area of LGBTQ human rights but good God we have so much more work to do to heal this globally. For instance, right now in India the government is still willing to put
someone in prison for life for being gay. We need to really step up our game with our kids and have those imparative conversations about equality for all people. There is no longer the right to hide behind religious
Q: Your father committed suicide in 2011. Did that inspire you to begin working with mental-health organizations?
A: Absolutely. There are no words to express how this changed me. I always say it changed my DNA to see my dad with my own eyes hanging by a rope. I collapsed. I broke open. There is nothing that can prepare one’s heart
for the damage to the spirit of humanity be seeing this and experiencing this. I will never forget what that looks like or feels like. I am here to always be an advocate for love and life. The crazy part for me is that his own dad took his life when he was only 9-years-old. I have also come to learn that my great grandparents on my dad’s side also took their own lives. I also know they did the best they could. This is the product of the first and second world war. Those seeds are still alive in our world today which is why we must find global peace and start talking about it and creating it. War is not the answer or the solution. Peace comes from within us through love, which is always the message within all of my music and compositions. Peace is only attainable outside of ourselves by
being peaceful inside of ourselves. I will always volunteer my time to any mental health organization wherever and whenever I can. I pray for all people that suffer with any challenge or adversity. God bless you with love.