Beauty In Pain

There's one song Lincoln Crockett can't bring himself to sing.

Alicia Crockett knew something was wrong with her pregnancy. All the tests said otherwise, that everything was fine, but she couldn't shake the overwhelming feeling of unease. 

"I couldn't describe it. I couldn't even tell you, to this day, what was going on," she says. "But I've never laid on the bathroom floor in tears, sobbing, so many times in my life.” 

At the time, she thought it might just be the nervous insecurity a lot of expectant mothers experience. Health concerns were part of it, too: Chiron, Alicia and her singer-songwriter husband Lincoln's then-3-year-old son, was born with cystic fibrosis, and they were aware the chances of having another child with the disease were high. 

Her anxiety was foreshadowing something much worse: Joseph Phoenix Crockett died shortly after birth, asphyxiating on his umbilical cord. 

It's a nightmarish story, one that would leave most parents emotionally shattered. Sitting in the dining room of their brick-lined Northeast Portland home one year later, however, the Crocketts hardly seem like broken people. They smile and laugh easily. It's not denial; in fact, it's the exact opposite. Already spiritual folks—Lincoln dabbles in "energy healing"—the couple sought meaning in Joseph's death. In doing so, they came across two organizations, the Dougy Center and Grief Watch, which assist the recently bereaved in coping with loss. Grieving, the Crocketts learned, is a process too many people deny themselves, causing depression to calcify into a burden carried around for years.

"The tragedy isn't whether somebody lives or dies," Lincoln says. "The real tragedy is if somebody does die and the living are lost in that pain."

Through the help of those programs, the Crocketts began to heal. In processing their ordeal, the purpose of Joseph's all-too-brief life opened up to them. For Alicia, it led her to find her calling, in what she calls "grief coaching." And for Lincoln, it confirmed his job description as a musician: “To help people be healthy and happy and deal with life.” 

Lincoln Crockett grew up in a musical family: His dad was a church organist and avid jazz fan. He didn't start writing songs until after college, when he took a job at an outdoor education school in Colorado. In the mountains, without easy access to amplifiers, he was forced to buy an acoustic guitar. Then he tried a mandolin. After moving to Portland in 2000, he joined the popular bluegrass party band Cross-eyed Rosie. In 2006, in the instrument-check room of the RiverCity Bluegrass Festival, he met Alicia. Within three months, she was pregnant with Chiron. A year and a half later, they married.

Around the time of their marriage, Cross-eyed Rosie went on hiatus. "I had all kinds of modern angst the band wasn't interested in," Lincoln says. He poured that angst, and every ounce of creative energy, into his first solo album, 2007's Angels & Devils Alike. However, not wanting to be on the road, away from Alicia and his young son, Lincoln didn't try to spin the album into a career. In 2010, he digitally released two more, less-labored-over records, then went to Thailand with his family for five months, unsure if he'd ever record anything again. Soon after returning to Portland, Alicia found out she was pregnant for the second time.

In the aftermath of Joseph's death, Lincoln is just starting to think about a new album. He says the experiences of the past year haven't changed him as a songwriter. He does, however, admit the tragedy produced a first for him: He's written a song he's not sure he can play live. It's about Joseph. He wants to perform it at this week's benefit, but in practice, he's yet to get through without crying.

"If I'm going to do it," he says, "I have to be willing to completely break down."

It will certainly be difficult. But what could help those mourning their own loss better than showing them the light on the other end of heartache? 

“There’s always beauty mixed in with the pain,” Alicia says. “If you know how to look for it, you can find it.” 

SEE IT: Lincoln Crockett plays the Old Church, 1422 SW 11th Ave., on Saturday, Feb. 18, with Chris Kokesh. 7:30 7 pm. $15. All ages.

Willamette Week’s reporting has concrete impacts that change laws, force action from civic leaders, and drive compromised politicians from public office. Support WW’s journalism through our Give!Guide Fundraising page.