Tom Becka: Hello, welcome to another broadcast of Tombecka.com, where everyone is exceptional, where everyone has a story to tell and this guy has a story. He goes by the name of Lash LaRue, he’s real name is Larry Dan, he’s a musician, a rockabilly musician with tattoos all over his body.
He might be the last person you were thinking, could be a man that will also go and provide Christmas presents for some of the poorest kids in the Northern hemisphere.
He’s the man that has lived a bit of a life and said “it was time to turn it down a notch.” He talks about that, he talks about spiritual journey and he talks about being himself.
A man that I respect. A man that shows what one person will do when they want to have somebody.
What will a person do when they see a problem and think they can be a solution? I started by asking, Larry aka Lash how would he define himself?
Lash LaRue: I think a musician probably first and foremost – sometimes professional, sometimes not.
Lash: That’s the one thing that’s been a constant throughout my whole life. As of a year ago, I now describe myself as a dad, so that’s new. I don’t know, I guess…
Tom: I would also throw out there humanitarian.
Lash: Yeah, well.
Lash: That sounds a little highfalutin.
Tom: But it’s not. I want to get to that. We’ll look at that later on. That’s hard…First, I knew of you from your music.
Tom: But I got to know you personally through your charity work.
Tom: I want to talk to you about that because you are a musician, and you weren’t necessarily a musician of what would be traditionally popular music.
Tom: You weren’t in a band doing cover songs of Brittany Spears.
Lash: No, not at all.
Tom: How would you describe your music?
Lash: Roots music, rockabilly, blues, some big country influence. I think roots music is the kind of the genre that encompasses all of that.
Tom: Yeah. You have a band and being a musician and you were enjoying the musician’s life?
Lash: Yes, I was. I was enjoying it a little too much most of the time. Indeed.
Tom: You have some stories to tell?
Lash: Yes, and some that I shouldn’t. [laughs]
Tom: Eight, nine, ten years ago, you started doing some charity work for the Native Americans up in Pine Ridge.
Lash: Right. 11 years ago.
Tom: 11 years ago. OK.
Lash: This is the 11th year.
Tom: OK, so where do you go from being the rockabilly roots music musician, playing the bars, having a few drinks, living your life. How do you go from that guy to the guy who all of a sudden now is like concerned about poor Indian children what a regular Christmas?
Lash: Yeah, a lot of people have asked that question.
Lash: Kind of a roundabout way. I was living the musician lifestyle and doing some destructive things into drinking and cocaine heavily.
Even throughout my life before that I have been into and go back a little bit farther I wasn’t raised in to any religion but I was raised by my mother especially to look at them all and find what works for you.
I was an outcast all my life I was always searching for something that could make myself better inside, and it ended up being drugs for a long time but I had been exposed to a lot of spirituality and the Native American spirituality always kind of spoke to me. It was always something you read in a book.
So long story short I would read a lot about it and think that’s cool.
One night, while I was reading through a newspaper thing that Metro Tech sends out on their classes and they had basket weaving that is not credit classes and there was one on Native American spirituality. I thought I should go take that it’s a one night deal. I went and took it the funny part is it was Thursday and that was the night that the cocaine shipment would come in
Tom: Oh really, it is like a regular shipment?
Lash: That is when my dealer would get their shipment. Yeah, but it was always a matter of waiting to go up the street here where the CVS is now and pick it up. This class was on a Thursday but it was at seven. I thought I can go and take that and then take care of business, things are good.
Tom: I will go and do spirituality and then catch a bus.
Lash: There was…I was having little short stints of trying to get sober. I knew things were bad for me in that realm. I was having little stint here and there. I was kind of searching for something.
Tom: The spirituality classes you were taking was that too, to deal with the cocaine, to deal with the booze?
Lash: I think it was to deal with me. The cocaine and the booze was just more for whatever I was missing inside that’s I don’t know we are getting real deep here now.
Tom: You can tell as much or as little as you want about that–
Lash: Well, yeah. I think a lot of people who end up doing that, there’s something inside that they’re missing and they use that to sort of make up for it. The two dove tailed in a really strange way.
I took this class. It was just a one night deal and it was you know, pretty basic and pretty, kind of surface type stuff. The guy was a Lakota guy who taught the class and I got to talking to him after the class. He invited me to go to a sweat lodge that weekend, and so I did.
Tom: Now, few of them don’t know, what is a sweat lodge?
Lash: Sweat lodge is, kind of the most basic of the Lakota ceremonies. There’s seven big Lakota ceremonies, it’s the first one. It’s like a little hut for lack of a better word. It’s made out of sticks, looks like an igloo but not made out of ice. In the old days they were covered with buffalo skins, now they use tarps. They take heated rocks and bring them in and put them inside and like a sauna times 100, really hot.
Tom: What’s the purpose of it?
Lash: The purpose of it is, it’s a purification ceremony and basically the purpose is praying. They bring the rocks and there’s certain spiritual songs they sing and there’s a drum and they pour water on these hot rocks and it’s really, really hot. It’s really hard to do and it’s a purification for your mind, body and spirit and it’s a prayer and so, I went to that first one and was hooked immediately.
Tom: Were you going there with an open mind, I mean did you want this? Or were you doing it because it was like “ehhh, something to do?” I mean you know, again you’re…
Lash: I was super interested actually and when this guy invited me I had read about things like that before. I had read about a lot of these ceremonies when I was younger.
When this guy invited me I couldn’t believe I was going to get to go. In spite of the other parts of my life, I was really respectful of this. I knew that it was a big deal for me to be able to go and experience it. I was really, really interested in it.
Tom: So, you say you were hooked and so now, you’re really starting to pay attention to Native American spirituality?
Lash: I started going there and in the meantime, over the course of the year or something I finally did get sober and was going there regularly every week after I think it was after eight months, I became the fire keeper for that lodge. The person who starts the fire and heats the rocks.
I started learning more and more. From there, the guy who runs that sweat lodge introduced me to a medicine man on the Pine Ridge Indian reservation. I started going up there and doing the next big ceremony which is Vision Quest. You go and the medicine man puts you on top of a hill or on top of a mountain and you sit there for four days and four nights with no food or water and you just pray. It sounds a lot easier than it is.
Tom: It doesn’t sound that easy to begin with, yeah.
Lash: That really, really changed my life.
Tom: When you prayed now, again, you weren’t raised in traditional religion.
Tom: When you pray, are you praying to an Indian God? Are you praying to Jesus Christ? To Buddha? To Allah? I mean who…
Tom: OK, all right.
Lash: Is the way I look at it. A lot of the Native traditions boil down to, well like in the Lakota the word for God is Wakan Tanka, Great Spirit, another translation is “the great mystery.” Most of the Native American traditions will tell you, we can’t tell you exactly what it is, but it’s there. You might want to get down with it. You might want to make some sort of a connection there. So to me, yeah, I’m talking to all those.
Tom: Much like the higher power in a 12 step program.
Lash: Sure, sure. Yeah.
Tom: Whatever that God is to you, that’s what the God is…
Lash: Right, right. This is weird because I don’t talk about this a lot anymore so I’m not used to talking about this but you know, for you I’ll do it.
Tom: Well thank you, I appreciate it. I do.
Lash: I don’t know what it is, but I know that it’s there. I know that it works and I know that if I do the things that I need to do that it takes care of me.
Tom: What about now, you’re going to the sweat lodge, you’re going to these Indian ceremonies, are you being accepted?
You’re a white guy, a musician with all these tattoos going up to Pine Ridge, going up to Indian reservations. Are you being welcomed and accepted or are you being looked at with a jaded eye, like “Who is this guy?”
Lash: Completely looked at with a jaded eye. It took a few years of going up there before some of the guys would talk to me. Today, I understand that because there’s a lot of…people can’t agree amongst themselves up there whether white people should be allowed to do this or not.
Some medicine men will let a white guy come, some won’t. When you go for ceremony, you never really quite know who you are going to be around. You find out real fast.
Lash: After a few years, I kind of proved myself. You’ll see people, call them tourists. They’ll go and they’ll do it and they’ll halfway get through it and then leave and you never see them again. Once you show that you’re committed and you can do it, that makes a bit of a difference. Today, I’m almost more on the side of, “Yeah, white people shouldn’t be allowed.”
Lash: I’ve seen plenty of people who don’t respect it and go there and take. It’s about taking and what they can get and there’s no respect and they go home. I’ve seen a lot of people go and do the ceremonies and they go home and they give themselves an Indian name and all of a sudden they’re a spiritual healer and….
Tom: Right…and charge them for that.
Lash: Exactly. That’s the kind of stuff. Why they look at the white people doing that in a bad way and in a lot of ways I agree with them.
Tom: Now you are going through this. You’re going through your spiritual journey and all the while. Now you’re going up to the reservation on a regular basis. People that don’t know, Pine Ridge, next to Haiti, is the poorest spot in the Northern Hemisphere, right?
Lash: Yeah, it is. It’s definitely the poorest spot in America. Poorest counties in America right there. It’s eye-opening when you go up there. It’s amazing the poverty that you see.
We’ve talked about this before, too. It’s third world conditions poverty, but what’s also amazing to me is the hearts of the people and that they will take you in. They’ve got nothing, but, “Here, come in and eat with us.” It’s amazing. The generosity is unbelievable.
Tom: Why do you think that is?
Lash: I don’t know. It’s just the way they are. You don’t see that a lot of other places. It’s weird. I think a lot of that is because of their traditional culture and their spiritual view. It’s amazing.
Tom: OK. Now you are there and you see the poverty and you see little kids and it’s getting close to Christmas time.
Lash: This was actually, when I first came up with the idea to do it, [cough] it was summertime. I became a sun dancer. The sun dance is the biggest ceremony. 11 years ago I became a sun dancer and I went and did the sun dance ceremony. A big part of all the ceremonies is what they call [foreign word 13:10] ,”Thank you.” After sweat lodge, there’s a meal. People all bring a meal. There’s always giving back. Always a thanks.
I remember talking to medicine man and we were talking about the kids and he had told me about how he’s been trying to get toys for the kids at Christmas time because most of these kids get nothing. That stuck with me because the kids are beautiful. Kids everywhere are beautiful and innocent and sweet. So you see that and he was talking about that.
[Cough in the background]
Lash: As I came home…that was like August…as I came home and was thinking about it and it’s [cough] . It’s what musicians do. We hold benefits. I thought, “I can do something. I can try.” I got a few of my friends together and we had a show at Mix which is a place that used to be up in Benson. Gone now.
It’s gone now. That first year we printed up some cheesy little fliers and it was not a big deal but for some reason it touched a lot of people’s hearts when they heard about it and the place was packed. We raised like $500 and went to Walmart and bought toys.
People donated a lot of toys. I thought it was the greatest amount of toys I’d ever seen. We had a pickup truck with a camper shell. My friend Steve had the truck and we jam-packed that thing full of toys and I thought, “Holy cow, that’s the most awesome amount of toys I’ve ever seen.”
We drove them up there. There was a community center up there that’s now been torn down. They brought the kids in there and they had a guy dress up like Santa and gave the toys to the kids.
It was unbelievable. I’ve told this story a million times, but there was one little kid who obviously had been told, Santa doesn’t…there’s nothing for Christmas. He doesn’t come here. I remember he got a toy and he looked up at his mom and said, “See mommy, I told you Santa wouldn’t forget me.” And you’re done then. [laughs]
Tom: Yeah. These kids don’t have a lot of hope, they don’t see a lot of hope and so you gave that kid hope.
Lash: Yeah, and we’ve had a lot of people over the years have said, “Giving these kids toys doesn’t do anything. It doesn’t change anything.” I’ve told this story, also. I’ve got a million stories. We could be here all night.
Tom: We’ve got time.
Lash: This was last year. There was a little girl we had…let me back up a little bit. Somebody had donated a teddy bear that was about five feet tall. A huge teddy bear. It was too big of a toy to throw in with the rest to give out.
We asked the teacher at the school, “Is there one kid who needs a little extra pick me up? A kid who is having a hard time or whatever?” They said, “Oh, we know the girl.” They brought her in and we gave her this teddy bear and she had tears in her eyes. It was amazing.
This little girl sent me a letter a month or so later and talked about how much she loved this teddy bear. In one line in this letter she said, “He takes away my nightmares and makes everything OK.”
That’s when I just…you know, “Don’t tell me it doesn’t make a difference, getting the kid a toy.” I don’t have any idea what this girl’s nightmares are. I can only imagine because I know the statistics on the reservation, but there’s a lot of nightmares up there.
Tom: With the poverty, drug and alcohol abuse. There’s also domestic violence. Sexual abuse…
Lash: Domestic violence, sexual abuse…it’s one of the highest rates in the country up there.
Tom: When you give these toys…by the way, this started out eleven years ago with $500 worth of toys, which had to be a lot of fun that first time, going to Walmart and buying toys and toys and toys.
Lash: It was the greatest thing ever.
Tom: Give people an idea now how it has grown.
Lash: Well, now Mack Truck Leasing of Omaha gives me a 24-foot Mack truck and we fill that thing full of toys. It’s changed a lot.
Tom: You say, “One toy can’t do anything,” but the same thing with one person. You were just one person who had an idea and a dream and you got other people to buy into it and to work with you and now you are providing all these toys. It’s even more than that, because you are not doing that you are also providing money for heat…
Lash: After the first couple of years, it grew and grew every year. After the first few years, we were making too much money to buy toys. It was going to be giving 48 toys to each kid and that doesn’t do any good.
That’s going the wrong direction. So one of the things…every spring I hear, “So-and-so’s grandma froze to death, in the wintertime.” That’s just ridiculous in America. Nobody should freeze to death. We thought, “We earned this extra money who was going to start buying propane for the elders.”
Some of the local people would call me and say, “Look, I know that so and so is out of propane. Could you help?” You bet I can. We’ll fill up the tank.
There was one guy. I got a call from a lady who is a nurse at the clinic and she said, “This guy got discharged from the hospital that got a kidney transplant. They’re sending him home now.” It was three days later, after a kidney transplant. You know how hospitals are. It’s ridiculous. He had no propane. They’re going to send him home to recuperate, and it’s January.
Tom: In a freezing house?
Lash: Yeah, with no way to heat the house. I’m proud of that kind of stuff.
Tom: You’ve also done scholarships to help the schools.
Lash: We helped the school. I would buy books for the school. There’s a school called “Our Lady of Lourdes,” in Porcupine. It’s actually a catholic school. They pay to go to that school.
There’s public schools, but this is a really good school — which I always scratch my noggin about that. Who’s coming up with tuition on the rez?
I talked to the principal of the school and she said, “Well, it’s $100 a year,” which is nothing here in Omaha. If you send your kid to a private school here, I don’t know what it is.
Tom: It’s thousands.
Lash: Yeah, it’s a bunch. She said that some parents will pay like four dollars or six dollars a month or every six weeks, just to get their kids to go here. I said, “OK, you’ve got kids that want to come here and can’t afford it? Not anymore. You call me.”
Tom: That is amazing, to understand that people just, “Here’s four dollars, can you send my kid to school?”
Lash: Right. They have public schools there.
Tom: Yeah, but how do you break that cycle?
Lash: That’s the thing I love about this school, and that’s why I really like helping them.
Up there the dropout rate isn’t all right. I didn’t bring figures or anything with me tonight because I just thought we’re just going to talk, but the dropout rate is crazy.
This particular school is a K through eight school, and then they go on to the Red Cloud High School in the town of Pine Ridge. This particular school, it was something like 94 percent of the kids who graduate go on to the high school, and it was 96 percent of the kids who gradate Red Cloud High School go to college. A kid going to the college, from the reservation, is huge, and that’s where the real change is going to happen.
Tom: When a kid goes to college, do they come back to the reservation to be a role model and to teach? Or do they say, “I got my ass out of here, adios.”?
Lash: I don’t know. From what I know of the people, and the people that I’ve seen, and the way the culture is, I think most of them are coming back and helping.
Tom: Good. Now, you started out this whole conversation talking about the spirituality and the church. It’s not what I call a church, is it?
Tom: But then you talk about the poverty here, all the poverty that that’s there. Do the prayers, does the spirituality give these people hope? Or is it just a way to pass some time because they’ve got nothing else to do, they’re on the reservation?
Lash: You know, it’s interesting, because I’ve thought about it. As much faith as I have, I question stuff all the time, because it’s like, “God, if you’re so strong with your spirituality, how come aren’t you praying for some money?”
Lash: “Get me out of here.” I don’t think it really works that way.
The thing that I can say, and I should have prefaced this earlier, I’m no expert on Lakota spirituality or Lakota culture. I’m speaking from my point of view. For anybody who’s listening, this is from things that I’ve seen. There’s a lot of people who want to be an expert on it, and I don’t. This is just me.
But I see it grounds them. They don’t look at it in, “What’s this getting me?” They look at it in, “This is part of my life.” But then, even deeper, so many of them that I know that live there. That are living in poverty and third world conditions almost, they don’t think about it, and they’re not really mad about it. It’s just like, “This is what it is.”
I remember the medicine man talked to me about it one time. He was talking a lot of people who come and want to take part in the ceremonies and stuff.
He said, “The real way to be Lakota is just to accept. That’s part of being Lakotas. This is what we have, and this is what we do, and we don’t really worry about it all that much. We take what comes, and we’re happy for it.”
Tom: There are no jobs up there?
Lash: No, nothing.
Tom: Could there be?
Lash: I don’t know.
Tom: I’ve driven through that part of South Dakota before, and it’s pretty desolate.
Lash: It’s real desolate. There’s a lot of ranching that goes on, but it’s all white ranchers from somewhere else leasing the land.
I don’t know. A lot of people ask me, “What’s the answer for up there? Creating jobs, doing this, doing that?” I really don’t know. There’s so many facets to it.
I’m not the guy, and I don’t want to be the guy to do it. I’m doing what I can in my little niche to try to make things a little bit nicer, but I don’t know what the big answer is in the big scheme.
I think some of the problem is it’s just going on so long. It’s just been happening this way up there so long. I just don’t know the answer.
Tom: I know you’ve done this for 11 years or so. I’m thinking the small kids that were six, seven, eight years old the first year,
Lash: Now they’re surely teenagers. [laughs]
Tom: …Now they’re 16, 17, 18 years old. They remember you? What sort of stories have they told you? What happens now when you go there and, “Sorry, Timmy, you’re not that cute little kid anymore. You’re an adult now, deal with it.”?
Lash: It’s funny. I haven’t had any sort of interactions like that, because from when I started going some of them were kind of teenagers now, maybe they were 12, and maybe they are 20.
They’re at that stage now where they don’t want to talk to this old guy. Maybe later on, as they get a little older, they might have some merit, but an 16, 18 year old Lakota guy, he don’t want to talk to me.
Lash: It doesn’t matter if I brought him a toy a few years back. [laughs]
Tom: You told me a couple of months ago that you would drive towards the reservation, and there would be a mountain of clothes off the side of the road. What was that all about?
Lash: I’m one of thousands, if not maybe tens of thousands of people, trying to help on the reservation. I got my eyes opened a lot this year by one of the guys at the school who was helping me facilitate going to the other school to start giving out.
There’s groups from all over the country that are trying to help out. Because you want to help out doesn’t mean you know how to help out.
We used to take coats and clothes. Last year, I had to throw out as much stuff as I took because people were dumping crap on me, for lack of a better word. They’re poor, they’re not stupid. [laughs]
Tom: To joke about it, like canned food drives. Haven’t had any food drive, and, all of a sudden, these poor people are getting like canned pumpkin pie filling.
Lash: Here’s the lima beans and all the crap that nobody else wants.
Tom: Good, more creamed corns.
Lash: Last year, a lot of people were dumping stuff like that on me, and I ended up filling a few dumpsters full of stuff.
I’m sure they meant well. They probably meant well. Everybody throws the clothes and stuff in garbage bags to donate them. Going through all these garbage bags of stuff that I didn’t want to take up and give away, I found an actual bag of garbage.
Tom: Somebody’s, “Hey, I put a bag of garbage in there with all the other stuff,” just to get out of their house work.
Lash: I don’t know. I’m sure it wasn’t malicious on anybody’s part, but it really brought the point home — we don’t give them our garbage.
There’s people all over the country doing that.
It’s maybe two miles north of the border from Nebraska, there’s a place where every year we go, and it looks like a landfill.
The pile of bags of clothes and trash bags full of stuff is so huge that somebody, I don’t know, apparently just brought a trailer up and dumped it there, which to me is demeaning also. “Here, go rifle through this big pile of crap, and see what you can find.” That’s not right.
This year I put my foot down. I said, “We’re not taking clothes.” I needed to pull back a little bit, back to the original intent, which was the Toy Drive and then the Propane Fund. One organization can’t serve all their needs. You can’t serve any needs well if you’re trying to serve all of them.
Tom: Do you work, do you coordinate with people that are on the reservation? Or do you just show up and it’s like, “Here you go.”?
Tom: No, I definitely coordinate. There’s been times where we would go up and have a public sort of thing. As it got bigger, that got worse. When you’re in that poor of a situation and you’re giving out free things, it can get a little ugly at times.
Every year is a learning process. We had to rein that in a little bit. What we do is we just go to the schools. I hate to say this, but if you take the parents and the adults out of the equation, and get children, it’s so much better.
It was us and the kids and giving the kids toys. The kids are never greedy. The parents would get greedy, the kids don’t. It’s one toy per kid. They never, never say a word. They’re grateful for it. The parents get really greedy.
I think that’s anywhere. That’s not something I’m saying about Lakota people. That’s people anywhere.
Tom: Having been in radio a bunch of years, when you start giving away T-shirts or something…
Lash: People go crazy.
Tom: …People just say “Free, free”. It’s like, “Lady, you’re a triple XL. This is a small.” “I still want it.”
Lash: We had a couple of years that were not as joyous because of things like that. I can say we learn every year and, now going to the schools makes it all so much better and more organized.
Tom: You’ve been doing this for 11 years. Notice any improvement? Are things better? Are they worse? The same?
Lash: I don’t notice any improvement. I wish could say I did, but I don’t. I don’t know where it’s going to come from.
Tom: Do they want to get better? Or is that’s what they know, and so, therefore, it’s their comfort zone?
Lash: They want to get better. I hear them talk about it all the time. Unfortunately, I hear mostly the older folks up there talk about it, “We need jobs. We need something to do.”
The kids are like kids everywhere, especially teenagers, the young men who could probably make a big difference. Gangs up there are huge. It’s no different than what’s happening…You hear people talking a lot about North Omaha, right here in town.
Man, I don’t know the answer. But I haven’t seen it get better.
Tom: If you’re not seeing it get better, do you feel sometimes like it’s just an exercise in futility on your part to be doing all of this? This takes a lot of work. What you do takes a lot of work.
Lash: Yeah, there’s times I get discouraged. I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t. Usually, about the time January rolls around, I’m just beat from two three months of planning, and preparation, and doing all that. Every January I say, “I’m never doing this again.” [laughs]
By the time summer rolls around, I get over that. Yeah, it can be discouraging. It definitely can be, but how do you stop?
Tom: Well, that’s it. I’m not that familiar with the Lakota. I’ve spent a number of years in the Four Corners area with the Navajo. People that have never seen that don’t understand the abject poverty.
I know of situations in New Mexico and Colorado, where a reservation will be on one side of the highway and the bar will be on the other side of the highway, and you’d have to watch.
If you’re driving that highway late at night, because Native Americans will be coming out of the bar so drunk. The air would be cold, but the highway would be warm. They would lay down on the highway to sleep.
Lash: Right. A lot of deaths happen in that way.
It was not uncommon for some truck to be driving down the road and boom, because he’s lying there in the street. People don’t understand the poverty.
Yet, I don’t have the answer either. I wish I did. Education is the answer.
Lash: I think so.
Tom: Jobs, hope, that’s the answer. If your culture has been this all your life, how do you instill that?
Lash: There was a priest up there that actually was talking to me about that this year. He said, “You know, you need to think when you’re doing these things. You need to think about what message you’re sending. Are you another person just giving stuff and keeping them in the cycle of give me, give me. I’m not going to do anything about it?”
He’s like, “I don’t think that’s the answer,” and I don’t think it is either. We talk to the kids about why we’re there and what we’re doing and about help. My eyes were opened a lot this year with seeing the piles of clothing, and all of these other things.
It was like in some ways it’s not helping them by giving them stuff. It gets so used to you giving that culture, that welfare culture, and “Why should I do anything more?”
Tom: On the other hand, you’re providing heat. You’re providing education. You are providing everything.
Lash: Yeah. I’m not going to stop doing it. I’m not saying I’m doing bad. I guess what I’m really saying is I don’t know the darn answer. I don’t have a problem with keeping a 70-year old woman in heating in February.
Tom: You probably have to look at all these things and take solace in the victories.
Tom: If you looked at really what was going on all the way around you, and the poverty and abuse and the drugs and all that. If you looked at that it probably would be too depressing. When you realize that, “Oh, I saved that life! I helped that kid! I did this!”
Lash: Yeah. I like to focus on that, that somebody stayed warm. It was last month that I heard someone on the Standing Rock Reservation died, froze to death; ran out of propane and froze to death.
That’s not a reservation I know much about, but I was just thinking, “There you go. I’m not saving anybody’s life, but maybe we kept somebody alive.”
Tom: You talked about the gangs on the reservation. Is it like the Crypts and Bloods? In other words, is it all drug related, or is it young kids that have nowhere else to go, and they’re hanging out and fighting for turf? What is it?
Lash: I can’t really speak to that. I don’t know. I think it’s more the latter, but I don’t know enough about the gang culture up there to speak about it at all.
Tom: Well, with poverty, you’re going to find a lot of the same problems.
Tom: For somebody that’s never been there, somebody that’s never experienced what you experienced…
I’m going to go and talk about a spirituality that you get from them, the warmth you get from the people, what they teach and everything, or somebody that’s never been to the reservation and seen the poverty and the discretion.
How do you reconcile the whole thing? How would you explain this to them to get them to understand why this has such an appeal to you?
Lash: Why this has an appeal to me?
Tom: Yeah. Why it speaks to you so much. You were a musician who was looking for something, looking to fill up the hole. The cocaine wasn’t working anymore.
You could have tried Catholicism, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism. There’s a lot of ism’s, you could have gone down the line. You chose the spirituality of the Lakota Tribe.
What is it that spoke to you that maybe some of the other more traditional religions didn’t speak?
Lash: I’m not really sure. The main American religion, Christianity, it’s never really spoken to me. I think because I wasn’t raised in it. It’s funny, because I don’t remember learning about the Lakota spirituality. I knew about it from an early age.
I’m going to get really all the way new agey out there now, but it always felt like something that I was supposed to be doing. It felt natural for me.
Tom: You weren’t raised in it. You have a young daughter now. Are you going to raise her in this, or what the hell will you do with her?
Lash: Yeah. I don’t know. [laughs] I’m still learning how to be a dad, and luckily she’s young enough now.
I think I’m going to raise her the same way my mom raised me with it, and say, “I believe that there is a God. This is the way that I choose to worship this God. This is the way that I choose to commune with this God for myself. There are many different ways to do it. If you want to follow my path, that’s great. You should maybe acquaint yourself with all of them, and whatever speaks to you is what you should do.”
I think my mom did a good job raising me that way. I think I’ll try to pass it on to my daughter.
Tom: Your wife, was she also into the Native American spirituality?
Lash: No. That was something that she didn’t know much about until she met me, and got interested in it after meeting me. She would come to the Sweat Lodge with me, and she ended up coming to Sun Dance with me also for a few years, and being a part of that, and supporting me in that.
Tom: The friends that you knew from the old days, how do they react to the spiritual?
Lash: In the old days they thought I was crazy! [laughs]
Tom: So insane then?
Lash: Yeah, exactly. I think they’ve always been very supportive. I always had some good friends who in my tough times they supported me, if things were fine they partied with me. [laughs]
Tom: On Thursday nights! [laughs]
Lash: Yeah, exactly. [laughs] I’ve always been a little bit different. I guess it didn’t really…
Tom: What I love about this story though is too often I hear from people, and they say, “Well, I’d be like one vote,” or “I’m one person. What can I do?” It’s an excuse for most people. “I’m one person. What can I do?” It’s an excuse for them not to be involved.
You said, “I’m one person. What can I do?” and you did it. You continued to do it, and it grew into quite an impressive operation.
Lash: I never really gave it that kind of thought though. I didn’t think to myself, “Oh, I can’t. I’m one person,” or “Even though I’m only one person, I can do it.”
There wasn’t that much thought that went into what I did. I heard about it. I thought, “I can help.” It sounded like something that would be great to do, and so I did it. I didn’t give it that much thought.
I get a lot of pats on the back for it these days, but it’s not like I really sat down and went, “How can I be a humanitarian? How can I make a change?” I wasn’t thinking that way. I was thinking, “Well, there’s some kids who need toys.”
Tom: You saw a need, and you’d fill it.
Lash: Yeah. The beauty of it is that it’s become more work over the years, but really it’s not work. This is a bunch of musicians, who go and play shows. We had albums for four years. We sold locally written and produced albums.
This is all a bunch of guys, who love to play music and love to record and write songs. What we’re doing is doing what we love to do anyway, and then it helps somebody out.
People who come, they buy a CD. They get some great music. They come. They have a great time. They feel good about bringing a toy. I’ve always said, “It’s not that big of deal.” Everybody is having a great time.
There’s been times in the recording studio when all the bands are there and we’re doing all of this, where we think, and “Good golly! This is benefiting us more than anybody, because we just have such a great time.”
Tom: I found that to be true though of any giving. Whenever you go and help somebody else, you really are helping yourself. That is the great dichotomy I guess, is that, “I’m here to help you, but really I’m helping myself.”
Lash: It’s one thing that I’ve learned from doing the ceremonies that I’ve done, “The more you get out of yourself, the more you get back.” It’s like opposite of what you think, but it works.
I always say, “You don’t give until it hurts. You give until it feels good.” It works out that way, and everybody has a good time with it.
Tom: Thank you, Lash, not only for doing the podcast, but also for the work you’re doing for those kids, the changes you’re making in their lives, giving them a little bit of hope in an area that has very, very little hope.
Hey! If you like the podcast, if you like what we’re doing here, would you do me a favor and spread the word. Tell your friends, let them know, this is the place to be. Every Sunday we’re going to introduce you to a new person with an interesting story to tell, right here on TomBecka.com.