When you picture an organ player, the image of a sweet little old lady peeking up from behind the large instrument in the front corner of a half-filled church might come to mind. Now delete that image. Replace it with a 90’s rocker, playing a Hammond organ while getting naked on stage, lighting his hair on fire as he and his band, The Freewheelers, open up for legends like Joan Jett, Joe Cocker, and Johnny Cash to massive crowds. That’s the image of a 21-year-old David S.

Dave and his younger brother Scott were raised by their mom, a Jewish children’s book author, and dad, a lawyer, in Sherman Oaks, California. “A Jewish-American Family in Suburbia” Dave recalls his father being physically present but emotionally absent. “He was there for dinner but we weren’t allowed to go to him with any problems.” While his mother, on the other hand, was fully engaged in his life from a very young age. Even writing a ten-page paper on the topic near and dear to most eight-year-olds,  Romania(!) and had him submit it as his own in the third grade. But Romania was just her warm-up act, “She wrote all of my book reports and all of my term papers through senior year of high school.” That was good because Dave was pretty preoccupied from the age of 16 doing LSD and smoking pot. Mom’s hard work combined with Dave’s acid trips would lead him straight through the doors of Santa Barbara City College…for one year…before dropping out…and going to five other community colleges over the next few years.

At the age of 21, school clearly not being his jam, Dave followed his true passion—music. He’d played the piano since the age of six and really excelled at playing a Hammond organ. When he and his friends started their band they beat the industry odds and were quickly signed to a record deal with the same music mogul that represented a small band from Seattle called Nirvana. Soon after that, Rick Rubin signed them to another record deal and they were on their way to rock n’ roll stardom. During the three years it took to record their album Dave dove head over Hammond into some pretty hard drugs and before he could really enjoy the fruits of his labors, the drugs had become too much of a problem to ignore. They took priority over his career as the next Hendrix on the keys.

The bandmates officially parted ways in 2000, some married and “grew up” while Dave had moved to Portland, Oregon to help raise his son, Zack (a happy surprise he learned about the day before Father’s Day in 1996). With this new family development, Dave tried to clean up his act and began attending AA meetings. “I’d stay sober for 30, 60, 90, days, once 6 months, but I kept relapsing. All I knew was relapse. I never had a spiritual experience.” It wasn’t until Zack was four-years-old that Dave was able to stay sober for multiple years in the early 2000s. 

Dave went back to school, at 35 he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Science and began working with at-risk youth. He used his degree along with his extensive music knowledge and created a program for 9-17-year-olds who’d been molested and had committed sex crimes themselves. “It began with an acoustic guitar and some pots and pans. We taught them life skills and coping tools through music therapy.” Dave continued to thrive, he began working with schizophrenic adults, creating music classes (very successful), and comedy courses (not as successful), they didn’t quite get all of the nuances of improv due to their disorders and bouts of PTSD that didn’t lend well to comedy, but he was trying to make the world a better place by giving back.

In the following decade, Dave married, divorced, moved back to Los Angeles, got a job as the personal assistant to Michale Silverblatt (the KCRW host who’s interviewed countless authors that Dave adores). Sadly, during that time period he also began using drugs again. With this latest relapse, Dave experimented with some very non-traditional (some might go as far as to call them crazy) methods to detox, including injecting the serum of a tree frog into his body until his eyes bulged out of his face and his lips blew up like a…well, like a tree frog, in order to avoid the uncomfortability of withdrawal pains. He also tried micro (and macro) dosing psychedelic mushrooms. He enjoyed these unique remedies a little too much and found himself completely hooked on magic mushrooms. Ribbit.

There were many other lows that followed. “Covid hit, it was chaos. I couldn’t get sober, friends my age were dying every few months from alcoholism, I was suffering from grief and depression, trying to keep my house afloat but going deeper and deeper into this pit. I hit a financial bottom, a spiritual bottom, and a physical bottom.”

It was time to put the shovel down.

In 2024 Dave had decided to try sobriety again. He heard about Beit T’Shuvah (and their music program) and asked around the rooms of AA if anyone had any experiences at this Jewish rehab in Culver City. He heard story after story from people who’d been through their program, five, ten, even 20 years ago and how it had changed their lives. In March of 2024, Dave decided it was worth a shot.

Dave is flourishing at Beit T’Shuvah and emphatically attributes his success to his “team”. His therapist, Miri, his Spiritual Advisor, Cantor Rebekah, his Counselor Katie, and his friend, AA mentor, and recent spotlightee, Tom D. He now has a sponsee of his own and has been volunteering his time giving new residents piano lessons.

He’s looking forward to soon being the featured instrumentalist during an upcoming Shabbat service. It will be a special treat for all who attend! And if anyone is worried that his old rock star ways might pop up, he promises to be fully clothed and hair un-inflamed. But we might want to have a fire extinguisher ready just in case, rock stars are so unpredictable. Rock on Dave, Rock on!

Spotlight on Dave S. by Lisa S.

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