204 Kasey Anderson
Singer / Songwriter
“I truly believed that we had gotten Bruce Springsteen to commit to this benefit compilation. And so when I went to present that to the group, I went back through my emails and there was no such communication.”
Kasey currently serves as a program coordinator for a recovery services nonprofit in Portland, Oregon. Between around 2004 and 2013, he was best known as a recording artist, releasing a string of three solo albums and two with his band Kasey Anderson and the Honkies.
Nadia Bolz-Weber (NBW): In 2004, district superintendent Frank Tassone was arrested and charged with embezzling millions of dollars from his Long Island public school system.
Now, I am no expert in white collar crime in America, but I AM an expert in watching basically everything on HBO, which includes the 2019 film, Bad Education, based on this case and starring Hugh Jackman as Tassone. The performances are stunning and the story engaging, but the uncomfortable thing about this movie for me wasn’t the crime that was committed, although of course, boys and girls, stealing is bad – it was the lies that had to be told about the lies in order to not be caught in a lie. The discomfort I feel from these kinds of stories differs from the discomfort I feel watching, say, torture scenes, although of course, torture is bad. What’s different is that I’ve never once tied someone to a chair and then broken their fingers. But I have most certainly lied.
Of course, lying is bad. It’s also something that academics like Dan Ariely from Duke University happen to study.
In a lecture I watched, Ariely said of lying, “It’s not about being bad, it’s about being human.”
At the very end of Bad Education there is a scene where Jackman’s character finally fesses up to how it all started.
“It started,” he said, “with two Greek salads and a couple fountain drinks,” he said. “I fucked up. I used the wrong card by accident” He planned to settle up on Monday when he returned to the office but nobody noticed or even cared really and so he didn’t and That’s how it started.
Ariely’s research about dishonesty shows that the brain reacts very strongly to a first act of lying – but then it adjusts – the subsequent lying registers less and less. That adjustment is disturbing to me.
I honestly don’t know what to make of all of this, but I do know we all lie.
Sometimes it’s noble – we lie to protect someone else, sometimes it’s selfish – we lie to get what we want, sometimes it’s ego – we lie to make ourselves look good.
My guest today has his own story of dishonesty and other people’s money, and he too, never intended to do what he did over the course of a few years and it started with something so small. Small enough to make me fidget in my chair.
I’m Nadia Bolz-Weber and you’ve stepped into The Confessional. It’s like a car wash for our shame and secrets. For listeners joining me for the first time, stay tuned after the interview for a blessing I’ve written just for my guest, but maybe also just for you.
NBW: Joining me in The Confessional today is Kasey Anderson. Kasey, welcome.
Kasey Anderson (KA): Thank you for having me.
NBW: What brings you into The Confessional today?
KA: So in 2009, I moved to Germany. I was a working musician at the time and I moved to Germany to go on tour and then was dating a woman who lived there, who had moved there for work and so decided to stay.
NBW: How old were you?
KA: I was 30. Yeah. So I was 30 years old, and I was at the time in recovery from alcohol and cocaine use.
NBW: For how long?
KA: I had been a few years at that time.
NBW: Mm hmm.
KA: I was part of a group of people working on a benefit compilation album for the West Memphis Three. So the West Memphis Three for those who don’t know, were three people from West Memphis, Arkansas, who as children were convicted of a murder that they didn’t commit. Two were sentenced to life in prison, one was sentenced to death. And so their case became kind of a cause celebre among people in the art communities. And there were several benefit concerts and albums on their behalf. And we were coming up on the tenth anniversary of the last time a benefit compilation had been done and so I talked to a man named Danny Bland who had been behind that first benefit compilation, and who was a friend of mine, about doing kind of a 10th anniversary thing — they were still incarcerated at the time. Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley, Jr. were the names of the three then young men. And I just said, you know, “I want to try and revisit this, do a 10th anniversary of this benefit compilation, let’s give the money to the legal defense fund.” And he was, of course, very excited about it.
NBW:There are a lot of people who have been wrongfully convicted out there. So why specifically did the music community start to pay attention to this one particular case?
KA: I think I mean, largely it was because they got convicted based on the evidence that they wore black t-shirts and listened to Metallica. But I think a lot of people gravitated to their story because they were young and because they really stuck out in their community and had been alienated prior to being accused of the crime.
NBW: So it was like one of the satanic panic type things
KA: It was totally one of the satanic panic things. And so Danny and Lorri Davis, who is Damien Echols’ wife, and myself had a conference call and sort of came up with a dream list of artists and it was my job to make sure that we had enough money to cover the costs of those artists.
NBW: ok, Yeah.
KA: We managed to raise quite a bit of money and I, you know, was deposited into a business bank account. And that was kind of it in terms of my discussions with Danny and Lorrie about the thing. They got kind of busy and it just kind of hung. And I kept kind of accruing this money from people based on claims that I was making about artists that we hoped to have involved in the thing.
NBW: Okay. Say more about that.
KA: So, you know, I would present our dream list to these people, but I would present in such a way that it was already, like it had already been done. You know, so instead of saying.
NBW: So you lied.
KA: Instead of. Yeah. I would…
KA: Yeah I would lie.
NBW: Okay. Fair enough.
KA: So I would, you know, instead of saying we hope to get Tom Petty, I would just say we’re gonna have Tom Petty.
KA: So we raised a significant amount of money. And then I was still living in Germany, traveling a little bit in Europe on tour. I was not sleeping a lot. And I would stay up for like weeks at a time. And I would go through these periods where I would be convinced that certain things were happening in my life and then weeks would pass and I would, like, find an email or be told by the person I was seeing at the time that these things had not happened. So an example of that is like I truly believed that we had gotten Bruce Springsteen to commit to this benefit compilation. And so when I went to present that to the group, I went back through my emails and there was no such communication.
NBW: And how do you explain that?
KA: Uh, I have bipolar disorder, so I wouldn’t. I mean, I didn’t know that at the time, but that’s like delusions are part of mania. But I’m also able to just kind of navigate through them and lie to people and not think too much of them and just kind of keep moving forward. I also relapsed on alcohol and cocaine and had kept that a secret from my partner and from anyone else who knew me. So I was still telling people that I was in recovery and that I did very pointedly because I felt like a lot of the relationships that I had in the music industry were dependent on like part of my identity being in recovery. I had made a lot of friends…
NBW: Being in the sober club.
KA: Right. And I’m not going to tell my girlfriend because I feel like she would be upset at me. And I’m not going to tell my sober friends because they would be upset. And I’m not going to tell my family because I’m in another country and they’re back in Portland. And I don’t want to field a phone call from my mother every day for the next several months.
NBW: No one does.
KA: No one does.
NBW: Alright, so you’re in Europe, you’re alone a lot. You’re managing the money for this benefit album, and you relapse. So, then what happens?
KA: So I was like, well I’m in Europe and I’m traveling, I’m on tour. I was on tour with this band The Low Anthem, and musicians are very used to shitty like LaQuinta hotel rooms. And I thought, well, I’ll just, I’ll stay in the Sofitel in Munich. It’s really nice. It has a spa in it. I’ll just try that. And so I thought, well, they’re going to put a hold on the card when I show up. And I don’t want to have like my personal funds frozen while I wait for the hold to come off and pay for the room. So I’ll just use the card that’s attached to this bank account. And I did it. And then I thought, you know, when the tour is over and I am, you know, I’m reconciling my bills, I’ll just pay back into the bank account for my personal fund.
NBW: So really, it was just for convenience sake. I’m just gonna do this. And you weren’t thinking, I’m going to take money out of this account and keep it. You really thought I’m going to pay it back.
KA: Yeah. I mean, like that has been a really hard thing for me to explain to people throughout my life when this few years of my life comes up. And just like I also don’t want this to sound like an excuse because there were any number of times I could have stopped spending this money or told someone what I was doing or gotten some kind of help or, you know, made it right to these people. And I didn’t take those opportunities. But it’s not like I thought, well, I’m gonna make up a fake benefit compilation album. I’m gonna take a bunch of money from these suckers and then I’m gonna spend it on hotel rooms and whatever else I can get my hands on.
NBW: So you’re buying all of this stuff all over Europe with the money that mostly friends of yours gave for a legal defense fund for the West Memphis Three?
NBW: OK. So keep telling me the story. So what happened? You’re doing this. Nobody’s noticing.
KA: No, nobody was noticing because no one was looking at the account besides me. So I’m spending this money and I’m seeing that it’s dwindling. And I’m starting to consider that at some point we’re gonna need to either fund this benefit album or if it doesn’t come to fruition, if we can’t make it work for some reason, then the people who contributed are gonna want to see their money back. So, I just kind of started coming up with projects that didn’t really exist and asking people to invest and promising them like a kind of wild return on their investment. I was at the point where I believed that Bruce Springsteen and Lady Gaga were gonna do a duet. And I had emailed the people in the little investor group saying as much like, this, oh we okay, it’s locked in Springsteen and Gaga gonna do a duet. And they were like, “oh, wow, that’s incredible, let’s see the contract.” And so then then I’m confronted with like, oh, I don’t have this contract. So then I just forged like I knew who managed Springsteen, I knew who managed Gaga, I know what a contract looks like. So I just forged one and sent it off and was like, there you go. It’s locked in.
NBW: Oh, wow. You know what it sounds like? It sounds like a nightmare. Literally like if I have an anxiety dream, I could imagine it being exactly what you’re describing. Like I didn’t mean to steal some money, but it ends up I did and I can’t really remember how I spent it. And then I’m convinced that Lady Gaga, Bruce Springsteen or doing a duet. Do you know what I mean?
KA: Yeah. Yeah.
NBW: And then people are like, show me proof. And then in the dream, I realized, oh, my God, I didn’t really book them. And now I have to. That’s what it feels like, your story.
KA: Yeah. And now that I’m years removed from it and I am a person who tells the truth to people, like, to sleep — and it’s like it’s a really cliche thing to say, I sleep well at night. But to get a night’s sleep where I don’t go to bed worried about what is going to greet me the next morning or to get a night’s sleep where I’m not worried about, like, if someone is gonna find out that I’ve lied to them about something is incredible.
NBW: Wow. So you are living this waking nightmare, and it’s requiring more and more drastic measures to maintain the lies. How bad did it get? Like, I guess what I’m wondering is, how much of other people’s money did you spend, Kasey?
KA: The total amount that I ended up taking from people is around five hundred thousand dollars from everything combined.
NBW: And how long did it take you to spend five hundred thousand dollars?
KA: Two years.
NBW: Wow. Wait a second, two years. If you went to Germany in 2009, that brings us up to 2011. Isn’t that around the time the West Memphis 3 got out of prison?
KA: So they were released from prison in August of 2011, in September of 2011. My band played a show with the band UMI at a place called the Sunset Tavern in Seattle, a little rock club, and Jason Baldwin was a couple weeks released from prison. And Danny Bland, who I was living with in Seattle and who had orchestrated the first West Memphis Three benefit and who I had worked with on the second one, brought Jason to the show. So the first live music Jason Baldwin ever saw in a bar was my band at the Sunset Tavern. And I was looking at him and talking to him and knowing in the back of my head the entire time that I had stolen hundreds of thousands of dollars, essentially in his name
NBW: Oh Kasey.
KA: And it was just like I was overwhelmed and felt so disgusted with myself and overwhelmed by guilt and just physically sick.
NBW: So, Kasey, how’d you get caught in the end?
KA: I’m going to put us now in like the summer of 2012. So I am still having really extreme manic episodes that last for months. Like, I was using and drinking to the extent that it was not very possible for me to hide it from everyone I was around. I was around my bandmates and we were pretty busy with shows and working on records. So we go on tour with Counting Crows. My band at the time was called Kasey Anderson and the Honkies. That tour wrapped up in September. And I came home. I was living at the time with Danny Bland, who had, well, who is the person I originally contacted about the West Memphis Three benefit. And I got a message from him that said, you know, I think that we need to talk. And so I go to the house and he just said, you know, “first of all, I want you to know that I know that you’re not sober and you haven’t been for a while, and I don’t know why you haven’t talked to me about that, and secondly, I have been contacted by the FBI and they’re aware of what you did financially because someone who you defrauded has reported you to them. So this is going to end up being a significant amount of trouble for you and your life going forward.” And he was, like, as kind and diplomatic, I could not believe it. He should have been, like, I would have been just beating the shit out of me, probably. And the West Memphis Three, you know, like he had become very, very close with Damien and Jason and Jessie over the course of working for more than a decade on trying to help them with their release. And so it wasn’t just like, you know, I can’t believe that you committed this crime. I can’t believe that you stole money from people. It looked like it was so much deeper than that. And I’d known Danny by that time for, you know, over 10 years. And so there were, you know, there are all these layers of like, I can’t believe that this is what our friendship was to you. I can’t believe that you used these people’s cause, this cause that I care so much about, this cause that you told me you care about. I remember him just saying, like, ‘I can’t believe, I can’t understand, I truly can’t understand how you did that.”
NBW: So what was what was going on in your, in your brain and in your body?
KA: I mean, I was weeping really openly. And I was saying, “I can’t explain it. I don’t know either. I can’t explain it. I don’t know why I did this. I don’t know why I kept doing it.” I was so far past the point, like I was not at that time probably deserving of empathy from anyone. Like I had gone so far past the point of no return that at anything I would have said would have sounded so hollow. And I hadn’t told anyone the truth about anything for years, so it wouldn’t have, whatever I said at that time would have been construed as a lie, whether it was the truth or not.
NBW: Who do you turn to after a conversation like that?
KA: So there was a psychiatrist that I had seen as a teenager. I had some behavioral issues as a teenager. I had, you know, my substance use started very early on in my life. And so I went back to seeing him. And the first thing he said, you know, we did another sort of intake reevaluation and he said, ‘this does seem like type 1 bipolar disorder. But I can’t treat you if you’re going to continue using and drinking because it’s not you’re not going to be able to parse your symptoms of mania or depression with your use of stimulants and depressants.”
NBW: Right, of course. Yeah.
KA: So I went to an intensive outpatient rehab. I went through that. I stopped using cocaine and alcohol. That was October 23rd, 2012. That’s my, you know, what people say is their sobriety date or my recovery date. And. so I went, I finally went into prison in December of 2013. And I remember walking in the first night and just thinking like, oh, holy shit, it’s really, like, this is real prison. Uh, the officers in charge of the unit were not especially pleasant or respectful. The other inmates, like we’re not especially welcoming to me. It was like prison. It was prison. It was a place where people go to be punished.
NBW: I do have a question about the time that you served.
NBW: What in the experience of being inside for two years changed you?
KA: Well, it was involuntary, but I had to sit with myself. You know what I mean? I just am sitting in a room with myself and my past and trying to reckon with it. And I wouldn’t. I would not recommend prison as a vehicle for someone to go through that process. But for me, it was probably the only way that it would have happened.
NBW: No, I get it.
KA: And I think part of that is the mania and depression in the mental health component. And I think part of it is just being so, like, once I was in that cycle, there were so many fires to put out every day that I was exhausted by the end of the day. And I didn’t have the energy to do any sort of observing ego work.
NBW: What did you see when you spent that two years in a room by yourself sort of forced to do your personal work? What did you discover?
KA: Like I went into prison thinking I’m a horrible person, I’m a piece of shit. Like only a horrible person would do these things to people. Only an irredeemable person could do these things to people. And I started then through the work that I did and through looking back at my life and trying to contextualize a few years of my life within the greater scope of my life, like, I did horrible things. That doesn’t mean that I was a horrible person.
NBW: I want to hear you talk about blame. There were things that factored into what you did that you didn’t that weren’t a matter of choice. Right? So having bipolar one, that’s not a choice.
NBW: So it’s always interesting. Where do we place blame when there are factors you didn’t choose that are playing into it? Because it’s hard in people’s lives when we have people who have hurt us, who have caused us harm to know where do we have compassion for them and where do we sort of hold them accountable. And how do you see that whole mess of things?
KA: First of all, I think there’s a difference between a reason and an excuse. Right. To me, it’s appropriate for me to say, “hey, like I have this mental health disorder, I have a substance use disorder. Those are partially reasons I did the things I did.” And if somebody doesn’t understand that, then that’s fine. That’s not, you know, it’s not their responsibility to offer me sympathy for that. But it’s also it would be disingenuous of me to pretend that those parts of my life and of my brain didn’t exist.
NBW: Yeah. Factors not of your choosing.
KA: Factors not of my choosing. Umm. But I also think that I try and think about it from the perspective of, okay, if someone did that to me, you know, if if I — I am not at a place where I can loan someone thirty thousand dollars right now — but if I did, if someone came to me and said, “I have this opportunity to contribute to a charitable cause, can you give me a couple of five hundred dollars?” Right, whatever I can spare. And I did it and they never paid me back. And then they said, well, you have to understand, like, I have bipolar 1 disorder and I have substance use disorders. That doesn’t give me my money back, so it doesn’t help me really to know that about you other than, you know, it gives me an opportunity to show some empathy. It would be extremely selfish and arrogant of me to expect forgiveness from people because you can’t go back and right those wrongs. And, you know, if they see the way that I move through the world now, then they recognize that there’s a change. And if they don’t, then that’s okay, too. I mean, that’s that’s there.
NBW: They don’t owe it to you.
KA: They don’t owe it to me. And also, I, you know, I pay restitution every month.
NBW: Who does and who does it go to?
KA: That’s a great question. At the beginning of my probation, I played a show where I made a decent amount of money. And so I came into my probation officer’s office one day after playing the show and said, “hey, I’m gonna make a pretty big restitution payment. I’m feeling pretty good about that.” And he said, “Why?” I said, “well, like, it’s the right thing to do. I have this extra money. I have my monthly budget that I live on. I don’t need this extra money right now. And I hurt these people. And I want to, like, I want to make sure that they’re getting their money back.” And he said, “well, you can do that. And that’s admirable that you want to do that. And I encourage you to make as big a restitution payment as you can, because this is a debt that you owe. But I want you to know that that money is collected by the United States government. It is not paid out to your victims.” So…
NBW: What? Wait, hold on. What?
KA: I mean, that’s like in a civil case, the money would go to the victims. In a federal criminal case, the restitution money is collected by the federal government.
NBW: That feels super fucked up.
KA: It doesn’t seem right to me either.
NBW: Oh that’s crazy.
KA: So in terms of blame, I just, there were spots along the way where I could have asked somebody for help. But I didn’t take those opportunities, so the blame rests on me. But I can also acknowledge, A, that those choices were informed by co-occurring disorders and, B, that my life is very different today than it was then, you know, and I can be proud of the changes I’ve made without ignoring the things that led to those changes.
NBW: You know, personal accountability in terms of the choices we make and the harm that those choices make is important and these other factors that that were involved in creating this situation are also important. I mean, I think one of the things that comes up in this show a lot is having to hold paradox a little bit, having to hold two things more than one thing can be true at a time.
KA: Yeah, if you move through your life and say, well, none of this is my fault because all of this happened to me, then you’re centering yourself and you’re the most important thing in the world because all of this is visited upon you by some other force. And on the other side of that paradox is like There were no other deciding factors other than just like I am this horrible, disgusting, irredeemable human being. And once again, like that centers you in the narrative and makes you the most important thing in the universe because you’re moving through the world, creating all this havoc. And if I hold onto the belief that, yeah, there’s a God, but it’s not me. Then I’m not either of those things. I’m not so important that I can derail the entire universe. And I’m not so important that the entire universe is geared to derail my specific life.
NBW: Yeah. We’re all a combination of volunteer and victim. But, Kasey, I have to say, it sounds like you’ve really come to a better place after all this. I’d love to just hear you say a little more about what your life is like now and your relationships with people, too
KA: I feel like a lot of my relationships prior to going to prison were relationships of convenience and sort of moving through circles who hadn’t yet seen through my bullshit. And my relationship with my mom and, you know, my dad before he passed and now my brother, my relationship with my family is now based in honesty. And that’s not something that I had practiced with my family. And I think that’s something that’s a hard thing for a family to practice when it’s a family of four people and one of those people is in a constant state of chaos. It’s really hard for anyone else to get the emotional or psychological attention that they need. And so I think that a lot of people’s needs got neglected in my family, just because everybody’s emotional resources were devoted to trying to get me from one day to the next.
NBW: And then just quickly, you’re not really in the music business quite so much anymore. But tell me just quickly what work you do.
KA: I mean, I do, I still make records very slowly. My job job is, I work at a recovery services nonprofit, the Alano Club of Portland here in Portland as a program coordinator. So I get to come up with ways that people in recovery can try and integrate things like writing or making art or cooking and try and make it, you know, a little more accessible to people who may not have experience with those things.
NBW: Mmmm, amazing. Well, I’m so grateful you came on.
KA: I’m grateful to be on. This was great.
NBW: It’s an incredible story and I just wish you well. And I think that one of the things that I’ve sort of taken away from this is that idea of having a compassionate view of what is really something that’s in my control, and what are some things that aren’t in my control, and how can I hold the truth of both of those as I sort of look at my life. And I think that’s really helpful.
KA: I think we’re all at a place right now where we’re having to really reckon with things that are completely out of our control.
NBW: No kidding. All right. Well, thank you so much, Kasey.
KA: Thanks Nadia. It was really nice talking to you.
NBW: A blessing for Kasey,
Kasey when you came into The Confessional to tell me what landed you in prison, I had no idea it was going to involve the West Memphis Three, specifically Damien Echols and his wife Lorri Davis. And I’m pretty sure you didn’t know that I actually have a connection with those two.
And so when it came time to write this blessing for you, I wondered if maybe they had something they could offer you, a word, a blessing, a gift. And it ends up they do, Kacey. Here’s what Damien Echols and Lorri Davis asked me to read to you as a blessing, which starts with this verse:
“We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”
So, whatever happened back then, for whatever reason, it serves us, and we forgive you, Kacey — far worse things were done. We forgive everyone and ask forgiveness for the wrong we’ve done. In the end, Damien, Jessie, and Jason were freed, and that’s all that matters.
There you go, friend. I just can’t think of a better blessing than unexpected forgiveness. May you accept it as the gift it is and offer it to yourself and to others as often as humanly possible.
NBW: Next time on The Confessional…
Joel: But like being a father, I mean, I have to excel at that because a lot of people, like, were expecting me not to.
NBW: The Confessional is produced by House of Pod and Shameless Media, with spiritual guidance and support from The Moth and PRX. Our original music was composed by Antwan Banks Williams.