For his fifteenth birthday, Dylan Flynn of Kellogg, Idaho, received his dream gift: a bass guitar. Music was the center of his life, and he was planning to turn it into a career.
But on June 6, 2000, five months after his birthday and on the last day of his freshman year of high school, he was in a car accident. He suffered a traumatic brain injury and fell into a coma. Doctors told his family they were doubtful he would ever wake up.
Miraculously, he did.
“The left half of my body, I was not able to move for a month,” says Flynn. “I was in a coma for twelve days. My mother was told that I wouldn’t live, [or] I would spend my life in a nursing home.”
Recovery proved to be largely successful. “About ten weeks after the injury, I walked out of rehab and went home,” he says. Throughout high school, Flynn struggled to find adequate support for his disability, so he dropped out during his junior year and earned his GED instead.
To this day, he still experiences some paralysis on the left side of his body, makes an occasional impulsive decision (like the time he took a 1,200-mile joyride to Los Angeles), and struggles remembering details like people’s names or how to play bass lines he’d learned before the crash. Still, he’s more independent than he ever expected.
“I can walk. I can drive. Before coming to Colorado, I lived in Columbus, Ohio, for five years by myself,” he explains. “I can do everything needed to be independent.”
In 2015, Flynn started selling merchandise at shows and music festivals, under the name Pass the Bass. He donates proceeds from sales to the nonprofit advocacy group Brain Injury Association of America. Pass the Bass has become his life’s mission and a way to interact with the music industry, even though he doesn’t play an instrument.
Over the years, Flynn has been profiled in the punk-music publication AltPress and has handed off his old bass to the likes of Flogging Molly’s Nathan Maxwell, Alkaline Trio’s Dan Andriano, NOFX’s Fat Mike and others to play to their fans as they champion his cause at shows. He even made connections with Vans Warped Tour founder Kevin Lyman, selling merchandise at that annual music festival when it was still going.
“Music makes the world go round,” he says. “The world can be a pretty dark, depressing place, and music just kind of lifts you out of those struggles. It can be a light to kind of mask whatever emotional struggles you’re trying to overcome.”
Over the years, Flynn has lived around the country: Idaho, Washington, Ohio and, as of early 2019, Denver. Along the way, he’s searched for friends and community.
“I’m 34. I haven’t had a social life in probably seventeen years,” he says. “That’s probably the biggest thing I want to change: get out, get to meet and get to know people, and not just be a recluse and sit in my house all day by myself.”
Flynn is optimistic that his fresh start in Denver will help. Since moving to town, he’s sold merchandise and attended ten shows at various venues. He’ll be setting up shop again at the Ten Foot Pole concert on May 29 at Streets Denver.
Though it might look different than what he dreamed of in his youth, Flynn is a part of the music world in a way that is entirely his own.
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“I’m not a spotlight guy,” he says. “I like being behind the scenes.”
From there, he’s happy to use his life’s work to spread awareness of brain injuries and to inspire people in the music community to learn more about the condition. As he tells it, nobody’s better suited to spread that message than a person living with a brain injury.
“The way I look at it is, even with these campaigns and charities that neurologists and whatever doctors do, regardless how many classes a neurologist is taking, how many books they’ve read, how many patients they’ve seen, unless, unfortunately, he or she suffers their own brain injury, they’ll never have the slightest clue of what it’s like to live with one. … I just want to do everything I can to be able to help support and improve the lives of people that weren’t as fortunate as me.”