One year after a devastating car crash, local musician Johanna Beekman celebrates the release of her comeback album.
On a dark and unseasonably dry November night one week before her 31st birthday, Johanna Beekman was driving home from a friend’s house when a drunk driver barreled headlong into the back end of her silver Toyota Previa. The impact threw Beekman’s van, which had been stopped at a traffic light, 30 feet forward into the intersection.
The driver who hit Beekman was not only drunk, but also uninsured. He leapt out of his vehicle and begged Beekman not to call the police.
Beekman was only two blocks from her North Portland home when the collision happened, but she was carried by ambulance to the emergency room at Legacy Emanuel Hospital where she spent the night.
One year later, the Corvallis born singer-songwriter celebrates the release of her comeback album — the first she’s recorded in seven years — with a live performance at the Troubadour Music Center this Saturday.
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Her work on her new album titled “The Edge of Divine” cleared her mind and facilitated her recovery.
Beekman was lucky to survive the crash without a single broken bone, but it would take months for doctors to fully assess Beekman’s injuries.
“At the time, I had no idea how badly I was hurt,” Beekman said.
After the crash, Beekman had trouble sleeping and began to suffer migraines. Shooting pains traveled up and down her spine and through her right arm, preventing Beekman from returning to work at the New Seasons grocery store on Hawthorne Street in Southeast Portland.
On top of the physical pain, Beekman remained anxious and dazed for weeks. She felt terrified to drive and, at times, helpless to find the words necessary to communicate to her doctors what was wrong. She stayed for long periods of time with her parents in Corvallis.
“I’d always been able-bodied,” Beekman said.
Struggling to accept her new limitations was like butting up against an enormous stop sign.
Having only just been certified to teach power vinyasa yoga (an athletic type of excercise yoga), Beekman was perhaps in the best shape of her life at the time of the crash. “I had to figure out who I am when I’m no longer able.”
Over the next two months, Beekman sought treatment from a battery of specialists. It wasn’t until January that her doctor in Corvallis ordered MRI scans, which revealed the source of Beekman’s back and arm pain; a herniated disc in her neck was pinching Beekman’s cervical nerve.
The scans also showed extensive soft-tissue damage.
It was at around this time that George Beekman, Johanna’s father and longtime musical collaborator, suggested she record a new album.
Six years ago Beekman walked away from a burgeoning music career. She had recorded two albums and toured the Pacific Northwest extensively. Her song “Free to Decide” took on a life all its own as other groups asked Beekman’s permission to perform it.
“Music,” Beekman said, “has always fed my soul. It was the business part that exhausted me. I don’t have a business mind.”
George knew his daughter had amassed a cache of songs in the years since releasing her second album,“If I Could Fly.” The songs had gone unrecorded, though, because she’d been too busy. He saw Johanna’s recovery period as an opportune moment for her to return to the recording studio.
“The pain from her injuries had brought most of her life to a standstill,” George wrote in an email. “Fortunately, it didn’t hurt to sing.”
George convinced Johanna’s friend, Lyris Cooper, to help him produce the album.
Beekman and Cooper attended Corvallis High School at the same time, but didn’t become close until 2008 when the two reconnected in Portland.
“Our first couple of recording sessions were really hard for her,” Cooper said. “She was trying to sing through a lot pain at first.“
Weak and tormented, Beekman’s first recording sessions lasted only a couple hours and proved she was in no shape to play guitar on the album.
Once in the studio, her strength began to return, though.
Standing and singing with the moral support of other local musicians she admires built confidence that she’d recovery fully.
In October, as Beekman recorded the final songs for the album, she noticed that her stamina had tripled; she was logging six-hour recording sessions.
Her voice, too, had improved remarkably, Cooper noted.
Beekman returned to the songs she had recorded in January in order to rerecord the vocal tracks. The difference from start to finish, she said, was stunning.
“It’s almost unreal, comparing how I felt then to how I feel now.”
Strange though it may sound, Beekman feels grateful for the crash.
“It brought me back to music and it focused me on singing, which has always been theraputic and healing for me,” she said.
Without the crash there’d likely be no new album.
For some, the title, “The Edge of Divine,” will evoke religious images, but Beekman didn’t intend it to.
“In times of darkness, we are all standing on the edge of divine,” she said. “There is a way of looking at the darkness and seeing it as light, as opportunity, as the divine.”
The title describes our relationship to the reservoir of inner strength we tap in times of need.
It’s a universal thing and music is a part of that, Beekman added. “Whether you’re listening to it, dancing to it or making it, music has the power to heal almost anything.”
Johanna Beekman is scheduled to perform at 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 23 at the Troubadour Music Center, 521 S.W. Second St., Corvallis. Tickets are $10. For more information, call 541-752-7720. •