Anyone will tell you that 2020 was a tough year, but Langhorne Slim’s 2019 was no picnic, either.
The Jewish singer-songwriter was unable to make music due to his struggles with clinical anxiety disorder and prescription drug abuse. Slim battled and beat addiction in the form of drinking years ago, but couldn’t shake the need to escape feelings of anxiety and depression.
“That’s my experience since I was a kid in Becky Horowitz’s parents’ basement in Villanova, when I drank a six-pack of Yuengling and I knew that it was going to be a long road of drinking,” said Slim, who was born Sean Scolnick in Langhorne. He knew he would have a similar experience when he started using drugs, and addiction felt inevitable.
A friend intervened and urged him to seek help, so he checked into a program in December 2019.
A few months later, a tornado swept through his neighborhood in Nashville. A few weeks after that, the pandemic hit in full force and led to widespread shutdowns.
In quarantine, Slim used the newfound sense of quiet and his recent healing experiences in therapy to write a song a day at the suggestion of a close friend. Three months and many songs later, he had the 22 tracks that form his new album, “Strawberry Mansion.”
The album is named for the Philadelphia neighborhood where both sets of his Jewish grandparents grew up. Slim idolized his grandfathers, Jack Scolnick and Sid Cohen, and meditated on their lives as he wrote the new songs.
“They were incredibly sweet, loving, kind, generous and also badass and tough. I don’t mean tough like violent, but tough like you have to be because this world ain’t easy, as we all know,” he said.
Slim, 40, was raised Jewish, attended Hebrew school and became a Bar Mitzvah, but struggled to connect with the religion through rote memorization and recital. He felt more connected to Judaism through family, traditions and music.
He calls his grandfathers “Jewish Buddhas” for the wisdom and guidance they provided him, teaching him to treat everyone with respect and value people from all walks of life.
“I do think of them as men that had deep, deep wisdom, and an intelligence that goes far beyond an academic one. I don’t know that either one graduated high school and, like a lot of people from that generation, they just had street smarts. But they mixed that with a huge heart and taught us to be cool and kind to our fellow brother and sister,” he said.
It was a powerful message to teach a child, he added, and one he has come to appreciate even more as society becomes increasingly fractured and tribal.
His family continues to be a strong source of support. During the pandemic, he has traveled to Pennsylvania to visit his mother, Robin Scolnick, and his surviving grandmother, Ruth Cohen.
In his song “The Mansion,” Slim mentions his grandparents by name in a tribute to his family, their neighborhood and their love of music. In “Red Bird,” he shares one of Jack Scolnick’s favorite parables, which involves a lot of horse excrement.
The other songs on the album, like Slim’s grandparents, are a mix of tough and sweet. Although many address dark topics, the music itself is consistently lighthearted, even playful. Tracks like ”Mighty Soul” and “Alright to Hide” explore finding the strength and hope to face the fear and uncertainty of the current era. “Panic Attack” is a catchy, toe-tapping account of Slim’s experience with mental health issues.
He said he turned inward to find a sense of optimism when faced with pain and suffering.
“It’s what we do with the suffering and the pain, and how we figure out a way to have a lighter step, perhaps, to be more graceful, to be more kind to ourselves,” he said. “And for me, getting started to get myself healthy again, which happened right before the tornado in Nashville and right before the pandemic, I was able to start to recognize myself more.”