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Features Daily Feature Friday, July 26, 2002
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POP CULTURE
Strung out?
Maybe Dorney Thompson has the answer. . . . He's Louisville's singing therapist
The Courier-Journal

Thomas Nord

Thomas Nord

Photo
Dorney Thompson has written and recorded a 15-song CD called "Personality Adaptations: Lighthearted and Lyrical." He also uses the songs when counseling clients who seem open to the idea.
Photo by MICHAEL CLEVENGER
It's the kind of song you might hear in a smoky bar or a caffeinated coffeehouse.

"My daddy, he had him an unconscious plan/To control me and mold me into his kind of man/'Be who I want you to be and not who you are/'My way or the highway' -- So I stole his car!"

"Playfully Resisting" could have been written by Jimmy Buffett or John Prine, well-traveled barroom philosophers with keen insights into the human condition. It's so catchy that you find yourself humming it almost immediately.

"A song would pop into my head," said the actual songwriter, Dorney Thompson. "It would simmer overnight, then by the next morning, it would have practically written itself."

Normally, when an artist says something like this, you dismiss it as false humility. But after spending a few minutes with Thompson, you realize it's the real deal.

Because, like any self-respecting singer/songwriter of his generation, Thompson just wants to help us bridge our troubled waters and find our way home through the fire and rain.

The only difference is that he's got science on his side. We've all heard of, and maybe even bought a few, self-help books. Thompson, 50, is a pioneer of what you could call the self-help record album.

It's got a hefty name -- "Personality Adaptations: Lighthearted and Lyrical" -- but Thompson's new CD is anything but cumbersome. A series of songs aimed at helping us recognize the traits that often get us down and hold us back, it's Thompson's quirky attempt to take his work down a new path.

For 27 years, Thompson has been helping people work through their psychological and behavioral issues as a Louisville therapist.

If you go . . .

Dorney Thompson will perform selections from "Personality Adaptations: Lighthearted and Lyrical" at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Hawley-Cooke Booksellers in Gardiner Lane Shopping Center. It's free.

The CD is available for $15 on Thompson's Web site (http://www.psychsongs.com/) and at Hawley-Cooke, ear X-tacy and Celebrations on Brownsboro Road

But the whole time he was probing his clients' psyches and listening to their inner children, Thompson was suppressing a bug that bit him several decades back.

"I started playing guitar when I was 12 -- I heard the first Beatles album and I fell in love that day," he said. "I started what you would call a garage band, called The Baroques. We had the matching outfits, the Beatle-boots, and everything."

That led him to Paul Simon, Cat Stevens and James Taylor -- the so-called "sensitive" singer/songwriters who blossomed in the late '60s and early '70s.

The guitar was put away when Thompson got his master's degree from the University of Louisville's Kent School of Social Work. He embarked on a career as a licensed marriage and family therapist.

"I had to make a living," he said.

But the guitar was always there in the corner. Thompson had toyed with using music as part of his therapy for some time, but it wasn't until about seven years ago that he found a catalyst.

Thompson had begun studying the techniques of Vann Joines, a psychologist noted for his groundbreaking work in the study of personality traits. Building on the work of others, Joines identified six basic "personality adaptations" that could describe just about everyone.

Therapists from all over, including Thompson, flocked to Joines' Chapel Hill, N.C., office to study his theory. It was during his late-night car rides to Joines' seminars that Thompson, to pass the time, started concocting songs like "Don't Worry 'Bout Me."

"Don't worry 'bout me/I'll just go to my room/Stick my thumb in my mouth/In my own little womb."

Sung in a style reminiscent of Leon Redbone, "Don't Worry 'Bout Me" describes those of us whom Joines has dubbed the creative-daydreamer. You know who you are -- head always in the clouds, kind of shy, lots of artistic energy, nonconfrontational.

Then there is "Don't Make Fun of a Paranoid," a bouncy German-style cabaret song with a sinister edge. Thompson sings this in an unhinged, frenzied style that adds to the unease.

"He's brilliant in his logic/He's a marvel and he's tough/But don't you try to get too close/Arm's length is close enough."

"Don't Make Fun of a Paranoid" is a gentle jibe at the so-called brilliant-skeptic, someone who is bright and interesting yet determined to find the cloud in the silver lining.

"One of the things that had me migrating toward the therapy business, I think, was listening to old Paul Simon tunes," he said. " 'I am a rock/I am an island.' Think about what he's saying there. And I've got hundreds of those songs floating around my head."

In Thompson's opinion, guys like Simon are really just amateur psychologists. They've been singing about the dreamers, the loners, the fighters and the charmers a lot longer than Thompson has.

Thompson makes no attempt to hide such influences. "Playfully Resisting," for example, was written with the aforementioned John Prine, that smirking but lovable singing rebel, specifically in mind.

"John Prine is the classic playful resister," he said. "He's talented, but falling off the bar stool drunk."

At first, Thompson used the songs when counseling clients who seemed open to the idea. Each trait has a plus side and a negative side, hence a "playful resister" denotes somebody who has a great sense of fun yet resists following the rules, to their own detriment.

"In doing therapy, if I can teach you something with a laugh, with some levity or warmth, you're more likely to remember it," said Thompson, who lives in St. Regis Park with his wife, Libby, and their three children. "As opposed to me just droning on and droning on."

He quickly added that this is not for everyone.

"I don't want people to think that I sit around all day in psychotherapy singing to people," he said wryly. "I don't spring this on everyone. There are people who don't need humor woven into their therapy. I've got clients who have never heard any of this."

Recording the songs didn't immediately occur to Thompson. He had been singing them for clients and fellow therapists, who began to ask why he hadn't thought to put them on a CD. Sometime in 2000, he approached his friend and guitar teacher, Craig Wagner, about going into the studio.

Wagner, a member of the popular jazz combo The Java Men, recruited several other local singers and musicians from his own band and the bluegrass group Hog Operation, and they laid down several tracks.

It quickly became apparent to Wagner that this was more than some vanity project from a guy going through a midlife crisis.

"Dorney is a really good songwriter," Wagner said. "He writes in a whole lot of different styles, and he can write these simple, sweet tunes without getting schmaltzy."

The songs sat for over a year -- Thompson said that's the creative day-dreamer in him -- before he decided to send them off to a company in New Jersey that prints CDs. "Personality Adaptations: Lighthearted and Lyrical" went on sale this month.

All told there are 15 songs on the album -- six tunes about the specific personality types, six that delve into ways to deal with them and three that explain the overall idea behind the record. There are also several spoken tracks that help guide the listener from song to song, but the songs are good enough to stand on their own.

Thompson plans to promote the album through public appearances, which he will somehow wedge between his busy therapy schedule, his youth soccer coaching duties and his family obligations, which, as someone who ought to know, he takes fairly seriously.

He's not anticipating a big moneymaker (if he sells all 3,000 copies, he says he will break even), although musical self-help could be the start of something.

"Given the choice between that and flipping on the TV set -- or going out and getting stoned or drunk -- what the hell?" he said. "A little self-help can't hurt."

Thomas Nord can be contacted at tnord@courier-journal.com or at (502) 582-4628.

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