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These Tiny Desk Contestants Extend Compassion 'To Honor This Heartbreak' Of Addiction

Amanda Gustafson and Eric Olsen of Swale.
Shem Roose
Courtesy of the artist
Amanda Gustafson and Eric Olsen of Swale.

Quinn Christopherson is the winner of the 2019 Tiny Desk Contest, but there were many other outstanding performances among this year's 6,000-plus entries. Weekend Edition will highlight just some of those over the coming months.

For this year's contest, the band Swale of Burlington, Vt. submitted a video that extends empathy to those struggling with addiction. Swale's Amanda Gustafson notably played "If You Get Lost" at the 2018 funeral of Madelyn Linsenmeir, a 30-year-old victim of opioid addiction and the sister of Gustafson's close friend.

As Gustafson explained in conversation with NPR's Scott Simon, though, Madelyn's funeral wasn't the first time she played the song for someone she knew — nor does she expect it to be the last. Gustafson says she wrote the song about 15 years ago for a friend who was suffering from a heroin addiction and whose whereabouts were often unclear. "I wanted to send him a message of hope: that there was always a way to come back home and to become recovered from his addiction" she says. This sentiment of inviting-home opens the track, at the top. "If you get lost / There is no danger / There is no danger," Gustafson sings.

Underpinning the song, Gustafson says, is a sense of deep pain for addicts and their loved ones. It's pain that she and Eric Olsen — her husband and fellow Swale member — are intimately familiar with. Olsen himself is a recovered heroine addict, sober for 11 years. (The two have been together for 17, and now have two daughters.) Gustafson says the experience of loving an addict has always colored "If You Get Lost," from the song's inception to its performance at Madelyn's funeral.

"The thing about addiction, about losing an addict or living with an addict is, it's heartbreak," she says. "And I think that's why this song kind of sounds like a love song. It is a love song. It was a love song that I sang for my friend, and unfortunately, over the years, I've had many people to sing this song for. ... I don't think I'll never sing it again. I think, unfortunately, we're going to continue to have to find ways to honor this heartbreak."

Still, along with the heartbreak, Gustafson and Olsen both express their intention to share hope, love and compassion for people battling addiction through this song.

Olsen, too, reflected on the complexities of addiction, including the potential for healing. He underscored the hope that he both finds in his family's story and hears in "If You Get Lost."

"I think another thing that having that song out there, and the two of us being able to talk now about it — another takeaway is that it doesn't have to be the end. There are ways out; there are solutions. For the addict that still suffers out there, I think that is a priceless takeaway — something to hope for, something to move towards."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Ned Wharton is a senior producer and music director for Weekend Edition.