Then, when I was told it was probably just in my tongue, I got to be genuinely terrified for a couple weeks that I might lose my powers of speech, to be rendered - no offense to anyone - Ebertlike by my surgery, mute and maybe deformed. Maybe not quite as bad as Ebert, but since the surgeon was operating on a "go in and see" basis, I had no idea until after I woke up in recovery just how much of my tongue I would have left. Would I still be able to taste food? Would I be able to kiss my wife without feeling freakish? Was I ever going to be able to interview anyone, or teach a class, ever again?
Turns out I got off rather lightly, but I really don't recommend any experiences that come parcelled with anxieties like these. In fact, I recommend doing everything possible to avoid ever having to go through stuff like this. (Which brings to mind: hey, Ed and Eric and Ken and - who else do I know that still smokes? I really recommend quitting. It's not so bad, if you get your mind in the right place. Just meditate on cancer and death and get really really really clear that you want to quit. If you don't want to quit, it won't stick - so don't waste your time - but if you're doing it for YOURSELF, because you like having a tongue and a throat and lungs and a heart and being able to breathe and being alive and independent, and you get clear that you really DO want to quit, and why, it's not that hard. Skip the patch or any of those bullshit fixes that prolong your addiction; do some breathwork; switch some really pure tobacco like American Spirit for awhile; and then taper down into a week that you've set aside for cold turkeying, where you place really low demands on yourself. Be shameless - listen to a Reveen record, even. Sex is good - especially if it gets you BREATHING. Steam is good. Exercise is good. Getting connected to your lungs and throat and even doing some yogic breathing exercises will help - I liked some of what I found in Donna Fahri's The Breathing Book. Meditate on the money you're spending on smokes that you will be able to spend on other things. Meditate on how you smell to non-smokers, including prospective sexual partners who cross you off the list as soon as they realize you smoke. Meditate on the fact that you are paying some very evil corporrations to kill you slowly, selling you a product they know is addictive and dangerous; kick up some resentment towards them, then ask yourself why you want to help support those assholes in their slowly killing you? It might take a few tries, but, you know, I was a 30-cigarette a day chainsmoker from about age 24 to age 31, and I haven't had a cigarette or anything with nicotine in 17 years. It can be done. You might miss it for awhile but you'll feel great when you get on the other side of it, believe me).
Anyhow, to get back to the cancer narrative: also when I knew I was sick, at a HMV closeout sale in Langley, I bought, but did not watch, the doc about Ebert, which I am still afraid to look at. I remember following Ebert's later blogging, where he talked about how losing his capacity for speech made him a better writer - which seemed the case, to me, too, at the time; some of his later blogging is among the most engaging and reflective work I ever saw from him, and though I didn't go back and re-read it, what I recalled of what he wrote definitely empowered me as my surgery approached. I also read, somewhere in there, Christopher Hitchens' final memoir, On Mortality, which has very interesting things to say with his identification with and attachment to his voice. I had the same sort of cancer as Hitchens, note - squamous cell - albeit in a different place (his was esophageal). My voice has been fundamental to pretty much all paid work I have done in the last 20 years. And I didn't entirely dodge the bullet, where my voice is concerned: there is a wet, lispy quality that sometimes surfaces, nine months post-op, that I really don't care for, but have no choice but adapt to. (There is also still occasional discomfort in my tongue).
My anxiety about what surgery might do to me, and my desire to do something special for my wedding, prompted one of my better choices for 2017, getting David M. to be best man (he was utterly charming), and further asking him to do something with a lyric of mine that had been kicking around for years, "If I Was a Bat." He obliged me, and performed that, and a touching medley of "Stand By Me" and Bruce Springsteen's "If I Should Fall Behind" at the wedding, having commuted to the island after having worked a nightshift the night before and knowing he would have to work a nightshift that evening. It was kind of heroic, actually. Plus his doing a version of "If I Was a Bat" prompted me to do my own version of the song, which led to Pete Campbell and Coach StrobCam doing a version of it following my melody. M has done a totally different take on the song, since, inspired by the Monster Mash. This was all very fun to see, very gratifying and enjoyable. Thanks, David. Thanks, Pete. You were some very positive forces in my life this year. Much appreciated.
(I hope that when David takes stock of this year he will also realize he had a pretty productive one. Some of his new songs are among the best he's written - "You Need Your Tongue to Stand Up," inspired by something Paul Leahy once said, is just great. As is his dusted-off reconstruction of one of Paul's funniest songs, "Robert Johnson Boxset," which I hope he'll do at his post-Christmas show on Monday - more on which to come).
Of course, Erika stood by me through all of this, too, was patient and supportive and caring, even cancelling a work trip to Utah - she was gonna get to see Monument Valley - to be around to support me. She really needn't have done that, and I'm kinda bummed she missed out, but at the same time, I know I wouldn't have been able to leave HER alone at such a time, either, and it did mean something to me that she was there for me. These last couple of years would have been unthinkable without her. I don't know how to put it in words; I can express my gratitude to M. easily enough (thanks, David) but Erika's contribution to my life is kind of beyond measure at this point. Love her lots. (Love you lots, E.)
Of course, besides cancer and marriage, there were other fairly unlikely things that happened in 2017, like the Slow reunion, or getting to talk to Art Bergmann at length, or to shake Bob Mould's hand, or to hang out with Marshall Crenshaw (whose music I didn't even know before this year, but it was still fun). Knowing that I would get to see the Flesh Eaters a second time has been pretty exciting, too (my favourite punk band of my youth, playing the Rickshaw on January 25th; more to come on that). Plus the school I worked at for 15 or so years went bankrupt; relatives I barely knew sent me money to help me get through my cancer recovery; and all of this done while I was still adjusting to no longer having either a mother or father around. (For those who haven't followed, I lost my Dad in 2009 and my Mom in 2016; losing her had some really complicated aspects to it - she had been helping me out financially just as I had been helping her out with daily life stuff, since her stroke of a few years previous had left her unable to take care of herself in various ways; but it turned out that the loss of having someone to take care of - the resulting sense of purposelessness after seven years as her caregiver - was harder to deal with than the loss of her support of me. I have muddled on more or less the same, albeit with a bit of help from without).
I also did a shit-ton of writing, most of it "pro bono," for The Georgia Straight in 2017. Most of that was done just to get it out of my system - I don't think I'll be taking on many new articles this year, so I wanted to pay tribute to the music scene that has nourished me, and tip my hat to some bands I've really enjoyed, while there was still a Straight around and while I had the energy and time to do so (I had to do SOMETHING while recovering from surgery). Two other papers I had written for, Westender and BC Musician, folded this year. The Straight keeps getting thinner, and took only maybe five or six actual print articles from me this year, which trend I don't expect to change much in 2018. People bitch about them now, but they'll miss them when they're gone, and it's a sure to come as Keith Richards' eventual death is (because no matter how many jokes you crack about Keith and cockroaches, he's gonna die too, eventually. We all are... Though at this rate he might outlast the Straight).
As 2018 rounds the corner, I find myself training for a reasonably demanding ESL job, and hoping to look ahead towards a future maybe not so financially precarious, where I put more time into actual paid work than I do to hobbies and caregiving and "just scraping by." It is going to involve my working evenings and weekends for the forseeable future; I'll have the odd night off, but I doubt very much I will be nearly as involved in the music scene as I have been this year. Gigs have become more demanding to get out to, and my enthusiasm has waned a bit.
All that said, here's a final (for now) David M. gig poster.
Having worried about M. (see below) throughout a NO FUN-less Christmas (not alone) in No Fun City, I am pleased to report, as you see, that M. has rallied and will be performing a post-Christmas show this Monday, starting at 9pm, at the Heritage Grill in New West. Thanks for having been in my corner this year, David M! And thanks for having re-introduced me to Bruce Springsteen's "Open All Night," a song I had forgotten, during one of your shows this year. I can't stop singing it to myself for hours after I hear it - and I don't even HAVE a carborator in my life. And did I ever mention that Erika cracks a pee joke every time she hears the line about the "wee wee hours?" (They're the time, around 4am, when I wake up and need to urinate. And btw, thanks to the Pointed Sticks' covering "Down Home Girl" at Keithmas, I checked out The Rolling Stones Now, heard their cover of Chuck Berry's "You Can't Catch Me," and discovered that hey, whattaya know, Bruce was paying homage to Chuck in that song! Chuck also has wee wee hours! ...So much I still don't know about music).
M. writes on Facebook (slightly tweaked by me):
More than a half-hour of the show is entirely new, plus there will be January 8th celebrity birthday Christmas songs, Ukrainian Christmas songs (Robert Rebselj has a new one), 80's NO FUN At Christmas Dance Party, NO FUN At Christmas beat poems and Dickens-style readings, evocations of NO FUN Christmases Past, plenty of "he's not going there is he oh my God HE'S GOING THERE", and all of the Christmas things that will not go as planned and will become the most magical Christmas things of all. You will dine out on stories about this show for many Christmases to come.
Just go ahead and join David M. and the whole NO FUN gang - Lester Interest, Dave Dedrick, and Pete Campbell, with their special guests - for the post-Christmas letdown of your fondest nightmares. They'll kick the living s**t out of that f**king annus horribilis 2017 until it's as dead as the use of asterisks to camouflage swear words! Some of you will still be hung over and grumpy from Ukrainian Christmas the night before, but bring that; we NEED it!
NO FUN AFTER CHRISTMAS - January 2018, more than ever, the WORLD needs it!!!
This may be the last show I go to (except, of course, the Flesh Eaters) for a long time. I have a lot of work ahead of me in 2018, recovering from 2017 and getting back on financial track. This blog will be seeing SOME action Flesh Eaters related, but not much else, for awhile.
Hope 2018 is better for everyone than 2017 was. I'll take a kidney stone (my current worry, 9mm and lodged in my left ureter, with a urologist appointment in the near future) over tongue cancer any day of the week. These are strange days to be alive, but... let's keep the show going for a bit, eh? Keep the train a-rolling? Rally 'round the fort? Run it up the flag and see...
...ah, nevermind. Happy New Year, folks. I might not be around so much this year, but have a good one anyhow.