“My voice is, you know it’s my life. You know we take it for granted cause it’s just something that’s given. And for me, it’s not a given right now, it comes and goes.” – Brian Littrell
This blog post right here is a major reason why I wanted to start this blog for The Dark Side Forum to begin with. The forum is active but it doesn’t reach people quite like a website does. This was literally the first idea I had for this page but once we got rolling, I was also a bit terrified to write it. See, this subject has been one that’s been the giant elephant in the BSB Fandom. We all knew it was there but we were way too terrified to say it out loud. It was taboo. Something to be discussed quietly or in member’s only message boards. You couldn’t tweet it or ask about it. Mainly because we love those Boys quite a bit, of course we’d be scared to offend someone. Of course we’d be afraid to hurt their feelings. But, it didn’t mean we didn’t notice things. We did. We just didn’t talk about it. In fact the only place I saw the subject brought up was on The Dark Side Forum. But we need to talk about it, we should talk about it. How can we support Brian if everyone is afraid, even now that it’s out in the open, to talk about it?
Let’s go back in time a bit.
Around 2009 is the earliest anyone knew for sure something was different. Just before the album release Brian contracted Swine Flu while the Boys did promo in Japan. Once he recovered, fans noticed at times his voice simply gave out, like he ran out of air. But we simply attributed it to the fact he’d just gotten healthy enough to perform again and hadn’t even fully recovered so much as gotten past the period of contagion. Fans murmured a little but the poor guy was sick, and that was that. For the next couple of years we thought maybe the Swine Flu did more damage than we’d known.
It wasn’t until 2013 and 2014 that we started to get some real hints that it was more than Swine Flu that was hampering that angel voice we’d come to love.
It wasn’t an answer but we knew something was up because Brian was trying to heal it. In retrospect it’s probably one of the strongest moments for the fandom. We didn’t harass the Boys. We didn’t question them. We may not have known what was going on but we knew Brian needed our support, as Leighanne said. So, we gave it to him without question. A lot of fandoms don’t do that anymore. The furthest anyone went was to ask Nick in one of the private Skype Chats he’d sold, what was happening with Brian. Nick tried to explain it to one fan, and then to another said he wasn’t comfortable talking about it. Once again, the fandom let it be. We worried, we wondered, but we never asked. I still find that shocking in the age of social media.
Six years after the earliest signs of something happening, we finally got an answer. Muscle Tension Dysphonia. The revelation came in the Backstreet Boys Documentary. Rumors had circulated from the early screenings but once the showings became regular this year, we all knew. Brian was as emotional and raw as we’ve ever seen him, trying to talk about it. It still breaks my heart every time. He also stated in this interview from Cosmopolitan that he had Spasmodic Dystonia as well.
“It’s frustrating, it’s very frustrating. Because I wanna…you know I just wanna be me. I want it to be easy. And I wanna have the carefree attitude that I had years ago.” – Brian Littrell
So what are Muscle Tension Dysphonia and Spasmodic Dystonia, exactly?
For both, unfortunately there is no surefire cure. I hate saying that. I want one more than anything and I’m just a fan. Shania Twain struggled with Dysphonia as well, and her words mirror Brian’s in this 2011 Billboard interview. “My fears and anxieties throughout my whole life have been slowly squeezing my voice,” Twain told Winfrey. “I was losing it slowly and progressively.”
Shania Twain gives me hope however because she did do a two year residency here in Las Vegas. If she can battle it and keep at her love of performing, I know Brian can too.
Spasmodic Dysphonia is a neurological issue. The exact causes are unknown but it’s believed to caused somewhere in the base of the brain. Simply put, Dysphonia is the psychological aspect. The nervous system acts incorrectly and sends the wrong signals down to the vocal chords. The moments where we might have noticed Brian sounding particularly “airy” or “breathy” come back to this problem. As do the moments where his voice seems to just cut out on him. Some doctors believe this often follows a viral infection but there hasn’t been a conclusive decision on this either way. So perhaps the fandom might not have been completely wrong in blaming this on Brian’s bout with Swine Flu. I’m just a fan but it does seem to be a bit much to be a complete coincidence. There’s also mentions of anxiety and stress playing a part (like with Shania saying they were squeezing her voice), and once again my heart breaks. Because someone who’s music helped me de-stress over the years might have enough to be stealing his voice away. All I want is to hug him and show him just how much the fans love him.
So…Muscle Tension Dystonia. It’s often confused with Dysphonia but they are separate conditions though they may often accompany each other. Brian mentioned both, so I’m going with him and making the leap to say that’s the case with him. MTD is considered to be a more functional condition because it’s caused by too much pressure or exertion on the vocal muscles. Often it can be caused by those with Spasmodic Dysphonia because of the fact they’re trying to hold their vocal chords tighter so they might control them better. That extra pressure causes the actual physical condition of Dystonia on top of the Dysphonia. It becomes a vicious cycle because the anxiety exacerbates the Dysphonia, which makes them try harder, thus the Dystonia, and it simply keeps on going like that.
It’s incredible when you think about it. All this time he’s been performing, trying to act like nothing was wrong. Mind you this is his voice, his livelihood. It’s the only thing he’s done since the call (that changed his destiny) in 1993. He’s been fighting this the whole time. Brian says in the documentary he doesn’t want to stop the train. He said this was a big year for them and he didn’t want to ruin it, essentially. Brian goes to cities and to therapy all trying to fix this problem he hadn’t told the world he had. But then…he put it out in the open for us. And it wasn’t easy.
In an interview with the documentary producer, Mia Bays, she makes it clear. “Every time Brian did a solo, they would stop us filming and I asked them why do you do that – and it was my job to ask that”.
Despite his initial (and understandable) reservations, Brian managed to find a way to share it with us, to put it out there as boldly as he did. I can’t fathom how hard that must’ve been. Thinking about it alone is scary enough for me. Picture being Brian for a moment. Where you let them film you, knowing fans around the world will see you at your most vulnerable, see you fighting the battle you’ve been battling secretly for years. And you fight to keep from being anxious or stressed about it because those very things make your condition worse. It’s just mindblowing. And yeah, that’s our Brian. The fact he’s lived so optimistically even with this, is inspiring. The fact he’s been touring, facing this, is inspiring.
If you’ve watched videos and gone to concerts within the past two years you can hear the difference. Whatever he’s doing? It’s working. I saw them in 2013 and then I saw them a total of three times in 2014. The difference was incredible. I didn’t know what happened or what changed things at the time but I remember cheering as loud as I could after he sang his solo in 10,000 Promises. I remember fans around me with looks of joy on their faces because they had noticed the differences too. Had revealing the problem in the documentary, even if it hadn’t aired yet, helped? I don’t know. I’d like to think so. Does it matter? Maybe not. But his strength, and our support…that does matter. It matters more than I think most of us realize.
I just know Brian didn’t have to bust his ass. He could’ve taken the break, as Kevin suggested. He could’ve performed or lip synched, as so many artists do. How many so-called singers sound nothing like their albums these days? Too many to count. Brian didn’t go the easy way. Brian not only worked his ass off and likely continues to do so as therapy is necessary for both conditions. He’s facing this major challenge of his life dead on. There’s probably a lot of fear. Brian said himself he wants it to be easy but it’s not. He keeps trying, he keeps fighting, he keeps healing because of it. And it’s amazing.
Besides educating the fandom, the whole point of this post Brian, is for you to see that your fans support you. We want to give it to you. We want to help you. We may only be the voices of your fans but in this way we want to do our part in helping you heal. Why?
Because like Nick, we see you as Michael Jordan in the group. We know you can get that voice back. We want it back just as badly as you do. Just as bad as Nick does. Maybe more. We have faith in you. We will cheer for you and your efforts every step of the way. You’ve shown so much strength in this. You’ve shown us bravery in being honest with us. I can’t imagine just how hard that was for you. You didn’t have to tell us. None of us were going to straight up ask you, just out of respect. But you respected us enough to be honest about it.
Brian, you are amazing. We always knew that.
Now we realize you’re even more amazing than we ever knew.
And I for one, haven’t been prouder to be a Backstreet Boys fan.
Do you support Brian as much as we do? Show your love in the comments and tweets! We might do a future follow up post of your comments and tweets to show Brian how the Fandom is completely behind him :).