April 10, 2009
If Bryon Friedman hadn’t lost control during a training run at a World Cup downhill ski competition in Chamonix, he may never have recorded a single track, let alone release two albums as a singer/songwriter.
While nearly ending his athletic career, a severely broken leg served as the catalyst for Friedman’s music. The albums are loosely autobiographical, based on injury and recovery. Friedman cut his first album, "Road Sodas," in Pleasant Grove in 2006 during rehabilitation. His sophomore effort "Matchstick Memories" emerged as he returned to the slopes. He released the album in the fall.
Friedman, who grew up in Park City and attended the Winter School, plays a show at the Main Street nightclub Downstairs April 17 at 9 p.m. as part of a regional tour. He’ll perform April 18 at Kilby Court in Salt Lake City and May 23 in Moab.
"Matchstick Memories" features local jam bands MuddPuddle and Wisebird. Like Friedman’s first album," "Matchstick’s" 12 new tracks draw the skier’s experiences on and off the mountain. His vocals and acoustic arrangements resemble Jack Johnson. Friedman’s lyrics, sometimes meditative, other times whimsical, discuss romance, recovery and the often divergent paths in life. In the song "Nothing Right," Friedman sings, "I close my eyes and just pretend/I close my eyes but it doesn’t make sense/Where are we going, what do we do/When the snow melts and brings that excuse . . . We only complain about the memories that slowly drift away/From the thought in your mind that nothing’s right."
In another song, "Signs of Healing," Friedman seems to evoke his unlikely comeback. "It’s not over ’til it’s done/You don’t have to be on your own When it’s over baby and the day is done/I’ll be chasing down that setting sun The signs of healing will surely come."
The songs represent a kind of B-side to Friedman’s ongoing career as a competitive skier. The passion and daring that make skiers successful also mold musicians, although the stakes on stage might not be as high. "Getting on stage and being on top of a hill before a race are totally different," he said. "There’s no physical danger on stage, and the adrenaline of being on a hill is exhilarating." He added that in both cases, "You have to believe in what you’re doing and go for it."
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At 24, Friedman was one of the most promising racers on the U.S. Ski Team. He called the broke bones suffered in January 2005 "catastrophic."
Friedman’s crash into safety netting at 65 miles per hour sent his career as a professional racer into tailspin. At the time, Friedman doubted he would ever race again.
"I saw my career flash before my eyes," he said. "I knew it was something serious. My ski didn’t come off and I cart-wheeled into the fence."
A helicopter few Friedman to a nearby hospital where doctors discovered the extent of the damage. During the next two years, Friedman underwent eight surgeries to repair his fractured right tibula and fibula and nearly lost his leg, he said.
The injury kept Friedman off skis for a year, and kept him from competing at the top levels of the sport for another three. The experience prepared him for a life without the sport he loved.
"When you do nothing but eat, drink and ski for most of your life and all of a sudden that is taken away from you, you have to redefine yourself," Friedman explained. "I was fortunate to have my guitar by my side."
Friedman began playing guitar when he was 17. Music started as a lark, just a way to pass the time when he wasn’t racing. Friedman wrote ditties about his teammates and improved through practice.
Trevor Nailm, a musician from Wisebird, has played on both of Friedman’s records. He remembers the psychological and physical strain of his friend’s injury. While working on "Road Sodas," Friedman still wore a walking boot and used crutches. "The coolest thing is that it’s been inspiring to watch him stand tall through it all," Nailm said.
When Friedman couldn’t do much with his legs, he used his hands, explained Steve Nyman, who was on the U.S. Ski team when Friedman went down. Nyman has broken his leg twice while racing and called Friedman’s comeback "one of those remarkable stories." Returning from injury requires a gestalt-like ability to quell fear and battle pain, he said.
Friedman takes his recovery one week at a time. When he’s not on the mountain, he has been teaching Nyman to play the ukulele.