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Plea for Peace Tour takes action against suicide

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At its heart, punk rock is a passionate, personal reaction -- whether that response takes the form of music or activism or even the way one runs his or her own business.

When Asian Man and SubCity Records chose the National Hopeline Network as this year's beneficiary for the Hot Water Music and Alkaline Trio-headlined Plea for Peace/Take Action Tour, the socially active labels stumbled onto a strange bit of -- excuse the use of this marketing word in a punk rock context -- synergy.

The Kristin Brooks Hope Center and the National Hopeline were formed two years ago by Reese Butler, 45, as a reaction to his wife Kristin Brooks Rossell's April 1998 suicide. Butler used money from his wife's insurance policy to start the project.

The National Hopeline -- 1-800-SUICIDE -- connects crisis centers around the country with one, easy-to-remember phone number. People who need help call the number, and in theory, never get a busy signal or voice mail. The 500-plus callers per day are usually connected with their nearest crisis center within 20-30 seconds, according to Hopeline information, and that's important because people who are severely depressed often won't deal with obstacles put in between them and help.

What Butler did is "completely DIY," says Louis Posen, head of SubCity. In choosing National Hopeline, the tour was looking for "an organization that is making a difference, one that's on the level where a tour like this could really help them," Posen says.

And, after it learned about the effort, the people with National Hopeline wanted to be associated with Plea for Peace, says Mike Park, who runs Asian Man. "That's most of the battle right there."

In drafting Hot Water Music and Alkaline Trio as the tour's top draws, it was a prerequisite that the "artist[s] must be passionate about the issue" and be willing to accept less money than they'd normally receive from a tour, Posen says.

Both headliners have been touched by depression and suicide, Park says, and 10 percent of the gate goes to National Hopeline. Hot Water Music is enthusiastic enough about the concept to consider donating 10 percent of the proceeds from all their future shows to charity, according to Park.

"I went for a walk with [Hot Water guitarist] Chuck [Ragan] yesterday, and he was saying how important he thought this tour was," Park says.

Butler wasn't as sure about the concept when the parties started talking about it.

He says he didn't know much about the bands when he was approached about being associated with the tour. To him, punk rock meant the Sex Pistols and the lifestyle's early association with nihilism and self-destruction. That outlook has changed, Butler says.

Both Alkaline Trio and Hot Water Music write earnest, deeply personal lyrics -- Alkaline Trio in the pop-punk mode compared to the post-hardcore of Hot Water Music.

"If anything, the high-risk youth we're trying to reach will be at these shows," Butler says, referring to teenagers, 5,000 of whom die by suicide every year. "It's a great opportunity to raise awareness with the kids."

The Fulton County Health and Wellness Department will be on hand at the show, and the whole idea is to help reduce the stigma associated with mental illness and encourage people who are thinking about suicide to talk to their friends or family or with health care professionals.

With the dollars donated from the tour -- the Kristin Brooks Center operated on about $300,000 last year -- Butler's group will be lobbying the government to require health insurers to provide the same level of care for mental illness as physical illness. Right now, many insurance plans only allot a specific number of visits to a psychiatrist or therapist per year when someone is suffering from mental illness. The Kristin Brooks Center hopes to bring parity to the way mental illness is treated by the insurers so that being hospitalized and recovering from severe depression is no different than being hospitalized and recovering from a heart attack.

With $9 million recently allocated by Congress, the group also will be looking to certify 200-300 more crisis centers in the next few years so they can be added to Hopeline's network. Additionally, the Kristin Brooks Center will help implement the National Suicide Prevention Strategy developed in 1998 and issued in May by the U.S. Surgeon General's Office.

In Atlanta, Hot Water Music headline the bill while Matt Skiba from Alkaline Trio makes a solo acoustic appearance. The lineup also includes Selby Tigers, Thrice, Cave-In, the Eyeliners and Park. The tour also supports a food drive, so organizers would like guests to bring as many non-perishable food items as possible.

Plea for Peace/Take Action Tour comes to the Echo Lounge Fri., Sept. 7. Doors open at 9 p.m. 551 Flat Shoals Ave. 404-681-3600. www.echostatic.com

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