Last night I called in to Blog Talk Radio for an interview with Cyrus Webb, discussing my experiences in Japan and some of the issues raised by Black Passenger, Yellow Cabs. You can listen to the interview via the MP3 cut below, as well as reading the full transcription that follows.
Cyrus Webb (Conversations LIVE! Host): When I read a great book on Amazon, I try religiously to post my review when I feel that others will benefit from it. I’ve been able to read my next guest, author Stefhen Bryan, and his book Black Passenger, Yellow Cabs. Welcome Stefhen. Before we get into the book, why don’t you tell us a little about yourself?
Stefhen Bryan: Thank you very much for having me. Well, I was born in Jamaica, left when I was 15, spent time in the USA and UK, went to school in UCLA, then eventually moved to Japan in 2001. I suffered from depression and suicidal thoughts since childhood. I think we of African descent, as black people we aren’t supposed to talk about these things. We need to be macho about it instead.
CW: It takes a lot of courage, I have to say, and definitely fits in with our theme for October, of getting to know who we are and using that information to help other people. You’re definitely right Stefhen. Suicide and depression particularly are not supposed to be discussed amongst the black community. There is this stigma not to talk about these.
SB: Yes, it’s taboo.
CW: How did you have the courage to share your story?
SB: I’d been depressed since I was 4, told my Mum I wanted to go to bed and die, and her response was to want to beat the crap out of me…literally to beat the ‘demons’ out of me. Maybe it’s my DNA but I was a thinker as a child. I forced myself to get an education and began to see a different life.
I placed myself in a different environment, traveled…and I want to emphasize, exercise. I’d been on cocktails of medications – Prozac, Paxil, lots of stupid meds – that had all proved ineffective. After trying all these, one of my friends literally dragged me to the gym, kicking and screaming. I was too embarrassed to say no. He was a military guy from Trinidad and I’m a Jamaican, so I had to save face. So I did weights 6 days a week, hours of circuit training, cardiovascular work; I hated it! But after 30 days it was like this door opened and I was ejected out of this depressive state. It really helped to shake me out of it.
CW: I’m glad you shared that. As you may have heard our previous guest, Susan Smith, also say, she had also been a slave to prescription drugs and they weren’t helping her either. It helps us to understand that drugs are not the only answer, which is why conversations like this can be so important.
SB: Yes, definitely.
CW: I wanted to talk about the ‘demons‘. You said that you’re mother wanted to beat the demons out of you to deal with your thoughts about dying. I picked up on the issue of faith throughout your book. How did your idea and thoughts about faith evolve as you were going through this period where you didn’t see a lot of hope?
SB: I was always a potential atheist – I am one now – as a child, seeing the world for what it really is rather than sugar coating it. I was raised in a shanty town in Kingston, Jamaica. It was a church commune, a ‘cult’ environment really. I saw these people talking in tongues and I questioned the whole ‘God thing’. I was just depressed; I’d see the environent, with sewage running down the street, and just think ‘How can you be happy?’. Gradually, as I questioned more – and got more beatings for questioning – I studied more, emigrated, started reading more, and became a fully fledged atheist. I think it’s genetic. I just don’t have that ‘God gene’.
CW: There’s also quite a bit of conscience in your book. You mentioned about your being a recovered sex addict and you talk about that freely in the book. You also talk about these women that give themselves to you and is that a case of ‘You know I can’t respect you for what you just did’. Do you think that’s your conscience working, without that religious aspect.
SB: No I think that’s just a result of my socialization. The sexual dynamics of the West are completely different to the perspective of those women in Japan. I learned that, just because a woman has sex with you soon after she meets you, it doesn’t mean she’s disrespecting herself. In the West there is the Judeo-Christian upbringing, the East has this upbringing in which sex is encouraged. The Gods had sex and saw it was beautiful, so they had more. The most important tenet of Shinto, the indiginous religion in Japan, is fertility…I mean, the city of Kawasaki has a penis festival in March and April! I had to de-Westernize and accept that it’s in their culture to have sex. It’s just a cultural difference.
CW: I want to step back for a moment, from your experiences and to your reasons for writing the book. When you decided to write the book, what was your goal in writing it? Was it to help yourself or did you intend to help others as well.
SB: I wrote it for myself. I don’t think writing is actually the right term, I haemorraged this book. It was up to 17 hours a day at times and if I wasn’t writing, I was recording parts onto my cell phone and transcribing once I got home. But I wrote it for myself, it was very therapeutic. At the time I thought: ‘Here I am, 40 years old, how did I get here, what happened?’. It was mostly a reflection of my journey from childhood to living thousands of miles away in Japan. Actually, the original title was ‘…and other reflections of a sex addict’, though now it is ‘of exile & excess in Japan’. It was very cathartic, very therapeutic. I got it all out.
CW: Has it surprised you that other people have been sharing their stories, finding the courage as you have?
SB: No, I’m not surprised at all, because I understand human beings and that I’m not the only person going through these things. But only some have the courage to admit it. Most people haven’t got this courage, though, or thought out these thing.
I also have to credit my acting coach in Los Angeles, Rick Edelstein. He comes from this idea that we must always be vulnerable. At the time I wanted to be a movie star but what I ended up being was a better person, thanks to this man’s class. He said: “The camera will know if you’re lying. whatever your experiences, shameful of painful, you need to own them.” That experience particularly helped me to be vulnerable with who I am and what I’ve gone through. It allowed me to put it out there, all the pain, experiences, and consequences, and just say: “This is me. This is who I am.”
So I wasn’t surprised, as we all go through these things but only some have the courage to own them and speak about them. The rest of us end up being hypocritical, preaching something on the left and acting on the right.
CW: It’s interesting you say that. We see that all the time. It’s so much better to do as you’ve done and just put it all out there. It’s a powerful lesson.
SB: If I ever decide to run for President, there will be no dirt out there to uncover as it’s already out there.
CW: It’s all in the book!
SB: That’s right.
CW: It’s a fascinating book and thanks for coming on the show Stefhen.
SB: I feel honored to be on the show, with people like the author of Tokyo Vice, Jake Adelstein, also having come on. I’m blushing, my teeth are turning red!
CW: Well you know, I’ve been doing this show for 7 years and it’s amazing the conversations I’ve had with people from all walks of life. I’m glad I had the chance to connect with you on Amazon and have the opportunity to read Black Passenger, Yellow Cabs. In fact, we have a special show on the power of Amazon coming up in December, with one of the Amazon vice presidents talking about the Amazon Encore program. I’m thankful for sites like that to connect readers to great books.
SB: Right. I have about 48 mainly 4 and 5 star reviews on Amazon.com and others on the UK, Canada, and Japan sites right now, so I hope and am optimistic to hear from Amazon Encore.
CW: And you should be. I’ve had the privilege of interviewing four authors published by Encore and one of the things we’ll be talking about with the vice-president about how they’re continuing to pull authors based on review w It would not surprise me if this time next year we’re talking about you’re book being released by Amazon Encore.
SB: I think they’re afraid. We’ve had mainstream publishers enthusiastic about republishing but it’s been shot down by the higher levels, who I think are scared of it. It’s too open and too honest, I think.
CW: You’re right but who knows? Times are changing and in light of recent celebrity scandals….again not naming names!…perhaps the mainstream will be more open to giving it a second look. Thanks again, Stefhen, for coming on the show.
SB: Thank you and all the best to you.
You can catch the full show and further information on Cyrus Webb’s programs at Conversations LIVE! Radio.
To learn more about Black Passenger, Yellow Cabs: Of Exile and Excess in Japan visit the author’s website at www.blackpassenger.com.
The book is available for purchase worldwide at bookstores on and offline. Click here for a list of purchase sites online.
If you’ve enjoyed Black Passenger, Yellow Cabs and can spare a minute to write an honest review on Amazon.com, it would be a great help and very much appreciated!