Music and Pain

This past Sunday (Father’s Day) I was a substitute singer for a friend’s band at a local pub (the normal singer and wife had just had a baby, and had to pull out of the gig).  Some fans of their band had asked them to play for their 25th Anniversary party.  It was standard “Dad Band” stuff, and I’d jammed with a couple of the guys before.  We rehearsed hard on the day before, and all seemed well under control.

How hard could it be?
Well…it turned out that I’d overdone the rehearsing the day before.  About 30 mins before leaving for the gig I “tanked”.  Just seem to lose all energy, and usually just have to take a nap to recover.  Its something I have to manage with the cancer.  A major reason I don’t take a lot of gigs.

But there was no time for a nap, so I made my way to the pub.  Surprise, I was the first one there.  Ok, so I started carrying the PA the 75 meters to the pub’s patio.  One guy came, and we set up the PA.  Drummer?  Not yet, so I started carrying over his kit.  This was not good, I was using the last of my energy units up before we even started.  (BTW, the anniversary party was a lot bigger (200 people) and really quite formal looking…damn, I was seriously under prepared).

The guy that asked me to do this still was nowhere to be found.  I was starting to get pissed off!  But, I couldn’t let rage zap my remaining energy.

I used all my new found coaching skills and knowledge to keep a positive mindset.  Surprising myself really.  I was cool.  Part of my new life sentence vs death sentence attitude.

We started off a bit ropey.  Even with experienced bands, it can take a while to sort out who is driving the tempo, eye contact, sound levels, and audience expectations.  I had already visualized this situation, and managed to lead the band through this awkwardness.

We went on to do about 30 songs over the next 3 hours.  We rocked it!  I was going for it, the crowd was dancing, the couple was dancing, people were singing along….brilliant!  We recieved comments like “you guys are better than the normal lineup!  Thank you so much, we wouldn’t have had much of a party if you wouldn’t have played”.   Plus, two more bookings were on the table.

I don’t know why, but I don’t feel tiredness or pain when playing music.  (Actually, I think I do know why.  But, like a magician I’m not sure I want to tell how the trick is done.  At least not yet!)  I do crash pretty quick after we stop, but that is ok.

I’ve wanted to write about this topic for a long time.  But, have hesitated because I’m a bit afraid I won’t do it the justice it deserves.  Warning:  this is going to be a multi-part blog post.

Well…putting this off isn’t getting us anywhere, so here goes.  It is 430am and I’ve already checked facebook, twitter, wordpress, whatsapp, email, youtube…ok, enough Mark!  Write!

Just a quick recap, I’ve been battling with Neuroendocrine cancer with liver metasis since diagnosis in 2007.  A couple major surgeries in 2008-2009, Y-90 targeted radiation therapy in 2011, and curently half way through Lu-177 PRRT this year.  Its been a roller coaster to say the least.

Pre-carcinoid syndrome in 2000, my wife had bought me a guitar after my fourth and final knee surgery to set up the next chapter of hobbies after racquetball and rugby. The goal was to be able to play rugby songs for the club, so I would still have a role to play with the lads.

(BTW, drinking and singing with the guys was probably the first indication of music’s power. You could be severely beaten up by the rugby match, but were instantly “whole” again as soon as you someone started “I Used To Work In Chicago” or “Grand Old Duke of York”.)

At the time I was working hard on my career, rebuilding and raising a family life, playing hard, and I was not taking very good care of myself physically or mentally.  I was heading towards a physical breakdown.  Overweight, out of shape, binge drinking, and addicted to nicotine (I was chewing tobacco 90% of the time I was awake).  I was setting up the “perfect storm” for serious health issues.

Before diagnosis I had several years of feeling pretty bad.  Which, I put down to my lifestyle.  I was spending hours on the toilet.  While there, I took solace and taught myself some basic chords.  The first song I taught myself was “Hang” by Matchbox20.   A song about a guy who’s woman just stops the car and kicks the guy out, because she is bored with him talking about himself and “realized she didn’t care”.  It was my mantra at the time, and I wallowed in it.  I played it over and over for months.   Literally over a thousand times.

I didn’t know it was carcinoid syndrome at the time that was sending me running to the toilet. (That is part of the problem with Carcinoid/NET cancer, it appears to be IBS or diet related.  If caught before metasis, you can take out the primary tumor and you are cured.  You just have to “suspect it before you detect it.”)

At the time, I just knew I had to get to the toilet.  (It was violent and painful and gut wrenching and really not nice).  I was running to the toilet several times a day.

In 2001, I was in my last year of active duty USAF, and for some reason I was stressing over the looming retirement speech I would give in August 2002 (a year away…come on Mark, get a grip!).  I was so stressed I developed panic attacks when public speaking.  These attacks were crippling!  I’d never experienced anything like them. Literally felt like I was suffocating.

In an effort to get a grip, I forced myself to go to an open mic.  If I could do an open mic, I’d surely be able to deliver my speech.  (Right?)

Well, I couldn’t have been less prepared.  Armed with my one song “Hang”…which, nobody else in the UK knew, I was going to come off as some pathetic dumbass who’d taught himself how to play G,C, & D on a cheap clasical guitar.  Right?  But, was I somehow wrong?  Nope, I was right…pathetic dumbass!   I was a one and done performer.  (So I thought.)

But, I had done what I set out to do.  I took my beating, and was able speak again in public. (Thank you music!) BTW, my retirement speech was epic (in my mind’s eye).  I’ll post it someday.

I also noticed that all the nerves I experienced before doing my song were quiet when I was actually performing.

I had no intention of ever doing another song in public, but one night at a dinner (and drinks) with some friends I told my open mic story.  And, thats when I met my guitarist.

End of part 1.

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4 thoughts on “Music and Pain

  1. Cool blog. I’m so glad I found you. I don’t have NETs, my husband does, but I’m the one that does all the reading. Thanks for keeping it real!

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