Saturday, October 30, 2010
Measuring the notes in a life's song
“In the end, it's not the years in your life that count. It's the life in your years.”
As musicians we read music by notions of key, tempo, time signature, volume etc., and units called measures. In rehearsal we’ll say, “Let’s begin at measure 30 and take it to the coda,” and we understand each other. When you hear a song performed or in a recording it began as notes fit into measures to create a song with a beginning and end. Playing through the rests or breaths between those notes is the key to becoming a musician people want to hear, lean forward to listen to and stay with an entire song. But like the Lincoln quote above says it’s the life “in” your years given that counts. This sober reality is so much on my heart as I sat with my friend, my partner and collaborator Wayne Crawford in a Houston, TX cancer center as the words left the Dr’s mouth that he has inoperable, stage four pancreatic cancer and would be lucky to live a certain number of months. How the hell do you respond to that?
Sitting with him in his first round of chemotherapy other day he asked what I was writing. I told him it was a blog tying the metaphor of the measures in music and a terminal prognosis—another measure. “Don’t worry I won’t mention you by name,” I said, wanting to respect his privacy always. He said, “No it’s okay. You can use say it’s me, the people in my life closest to me already know, so might as well.” Wayne is an amazingly creative, intelligent and generous person who taught high school and college for decades in Illinois and his students still write to him telling him what an influence he was in their life. One student is a Pulitzer Prize winning photo journalist; another is a major, gifted and successful Cellist and so many others who his time and passion made a mark on. He is, unarguably, a driving force in the writing and poetry community of Las Cruces, NM. He ran and organized successful open mics at Stonehaven, The Bean, The Rio Grande Theatre. Organized tens and tens of poetry readings, events, contests. Is on the Executive Board of the Dona Ana Arts Council, editor of Sin Fronteras Journal, creator and editor of the hugely successful Lunarosity online poetry and prose journal, runs a very important literary arts listserv, is well known throughout the state as an innovative and expressive poet with literally hundreds and hundreds of published pieces in some very prestigious journals. For me where his influence has been so important is the bridging of generations as far as poetry is concerned. He regularly would read at the NMSU Open Room readings amidst the hip-hop and slam spoken word always inviting the students to come to the open mics. At first they were reluctant, but he made them feel so welcome and supported and said, hell yeah you can use profanity, if it is important to the poem why the hell not? We have hosted student readings in our west Las Cruces homes and numerous receptions filled with laughter, drink and amazing food. Living with Wayne has been like living with a teenager though. He loves loves loves music of all genres and periods. He would BLAST his music and have concerts where he would sing along to printed out lyrics by Green Day, Blind Pilot, the Beatles (his favorite) and even Snoop Dog. I learned to take long walks by the Rio Grande when he is cleaning up being the very quiet person I am. Wayne was a music critic for the Chicago Tribune early on and the people he interviewed met and heard live just blows me away. That he loves my music meant something special. When I finally turned him on the iPod so began a new stage of experimental playlists…..
We have lived together for over eight years and have been together through some events like unexpected paralysis after a terrible neck surgery, a heart bypass and a stroke, and the terribly sad deaths of our two Greyhounds. I am a born caregiver if there ever was one with the patience even a saint would be jealous of. So today as I’m mopping the sweat of pain from him and feeding him applesauce I know no awards, nominations or recognition is as meaningful as the honor of caring, unconditionally for another being. I went through it with my Dad, my dogs and my ex’s Dad. I have had to cancel gigs, cut my expenses to nothing, live on sheer stubbornness and delay promoting my music—to the delight of my enemies. (Oh yes, I have them) That is okay. You know when you hear God’s Whispers and I always have. I’ll be back, with even more compassion, more depth, more feeling and music with so much feeling as to be living. Going through the terminal illness of a loved one especially makes you intolerable of bullshit—not that I needed any help in that area of course; so I ask if you are going to comment on this blog have the balls to do so publicly. I get so many emails from people who “privately” like my stuff on facebook, my blog, my music etc., but unless you support me publicly I delete them. Sorry but when you get 400 emails a day like I do you have to be picky. A friend asked me recently what I would do If had a terminal diagnosis; would I choose treatment or not? I said without skipping a beat that I would give my gear away and have a party. Having no health insurance or savings (as so so many working musicians and artists do) I wouldn’t really have a choice.
Wayne will, hopefully, be around for a while by the benefit of chemo and all the love and prayers he gets from people. He is in too much pain to read his emails most weeks but you can find him through his website: www.zianet.com/lunarosity Please don’t send messages to me because I am honestly more busy than can be imagined trying to make him comfortable and still keep my head above water financially.
This Monday I will play at the Mesilla Valley Hospice’s annual “Light of Our Lives.” It is when people who have had loved ones in Hospice the previous year pay a collective tribute with pictures, momentos and candles during a ceremony with words from many faiths and me on Native American flute. I first played at one of these about 7 years ago which led me to volunteer my music for 6 years before I got too busy on the road. Many of my friends have gone through Hospice so it is an honor to return the favor.
This is a video from my album The Roswell Incident a Hugely popular album. Wayne wrote this poem which I based the song around. We had such a blast recording both the song and the video. Wayne also co-wrote and read on the title song of my new album “Pura Vida”
DANCING AT THE TOTEM