DANCING WITH CANCER (part 4) – Grateful For This

This is Part 4 of the series, Dancing With Cancer. Here is Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3. More here and here.

On December 20th, 2002, I arrived back in Los Angeles from a 6 week work trip in central Europe. That next morning I woke up with a pulsing pain that reached from my right kidney down to my groin.  There was something about it, this pain, something about how deep it felt in my body and the resonance of it, the way it carried through my system. This was something new, something untold. It didn’t have a beginning or an end, it had a pulsing quality to it and felt ‘eroding’. The pain persisted throughout the holidays, then soon after the new year I had a first visit to the doctor.

Over the next 4 weeks the news went from ‘nothing’ to ‘maybe something but not major’ to ‘something there but no worries’ to ‘you need to see an oncologist’. I was introduced to oncologist Carol Nishikubo at St. Johns Hospital in Santa Monica, CA, a kind and caring woman who took her time with me, answered my questions, ordered more tests and when she realized how my condition was beyond the scope of her abilities to diagnosis and treat, referred me to the next and higher level of the medical gods.

Around the end of the first week in February, 2003, I found myself at UCLA Medical, in the office of Fred Eilber, chief surgeon of the oncology department. What I remember most about meeting Fred for the first time was his handshake, it was firm and solid, and I liked the way he looked me in the eye – there was a moment of recognition between us, something that said, ‘I know you and you know me’. Fred took the envelope of x-rays I had brought with me and left the room.  He returned five minutes later, brought the lights down a bit and gave me the news, flat out and straight up. He said it was serious, a leiomyosarcoma in my inferior vena cava, that I had 6 months max to live and how was Tuesday of next week to operate?

Right then a lot of things hit me at once, but most of all I knew how Fred’s frank delivery was reserved for someone like me, someone who he knew could take the news in this way.  I was a tough guy and he knew it. I was smart and I was a fighter and he knew that also. When I said to Fred, “Ok, I understand…let me think about”, Fred reached out and placed his hand squarely on my shoulder, gave a firm squeeze and said, “Doug, you don’t have time to think about it.  If I could I’d operate tomorrow, that’s how serious this is.”

From somewhere in the small cubicle of Fred’s office, there in the bowels of UCLA oncology, the wind begin to howl in my ears and over my skin, it ran through me, hot like a fire in my veins and forced me to recognize the size and scope of the moment and in an odd and determined kind of way it reminded me how I’d been here before, at this door swinging between two worlds, sitting square in the face of something larger than myself. Life is big and wide and deep. You either do or you don’t, you will or you won’t, you either make it or break it. At once I saw the depth of it all, how far I would be falling, how steep I would have to climb, how long the road of return would be.

On the drive home, back to Venice from UCLA, I thought most of all about my daughters, Malia Luna and Bailey Rye, who at the time were 12 and 11 years old.  What to say…how to assure them…

Turns out, when you’re a father, there is no choice but to be a hero; you set your sights high, aimed squarely on the mountain top of recovery and return, and make your way there through the fog and the pain and the cold and the night. You may lose sight but that’s ok, you keep going, one step forward, then another.  You fall and get dusted, then you crawl until you pick yourself up and wheel a turn against every grain of pain to get there, back where you began to begin again, back to a place of breath and love and light and air. This is how life is.

A year later, having found myself teetering on the edge of recovery’s road, my daughter Bailey came home from school and gave me a printout of this essay she wrote for a class at school. Her words lifted me like hot air in a big balloon and I wept, realizing how great this gift of life is and how magical it is we even breathe at all, and how God IS Love, and Grace and Beauty, all at once.

By Bailey Rye:

Like most children, I have been influenced by both my parents, and I admire them both tremendously, but in this case I want to talk about my father and how he overcame his difficulties.

Last year, my father was told he had maybe six months to live. They said he had terminal cancer, and even after they had removed his kidney, he would still die. It was a really rare cancer, and not many people have had it, but the ones that had, have not survived. It was a really awful surgery, and he went through a lot of pain, but through all of this, my father seemed really confident, and that everything would be all right. Instead of us telling him it was going to be okay, he was the one who was telling us. He told my sister and I that he knew he was going to get through it no matter what the doctors said, and something about the way he said it, made me believe him. And not just because I wanted to, it was because there was something in him that made me feel confident and safe. And he made me feel as though he might know more than the doctors did.

It turned out he did know more than they did, at least in terms of himself. Luckily for us, my father isn’t dead. Far from it. He is now completely free of cancer, and has a free bill of heath. Even when everything was against him, my father stayed positive and determined. He remained certain of his own recovery. I am sure my father was frightened sometimes, but that didn’t did not stop him from doing everything he could to get well, and looking into as many ways as he could to get rid of the cancer. He never gave up, he never lost hope, and he believed things would turn out right in the end, and they did. These are the qualities I admire in my father. I hope he has influenced me. I hope by being around him through this terrible illness, that his heroic spirit has rubbed off on me, because that is what my dad is, he is a hero to me.

Thanks for tuning in…
Doug Lewis
April 20, 2012

Malia Luna, Doug Lewis, Bailey Rye
Image by Cara Tompkins 

Bailey Rye

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JAMES MATHERS DECODED – Storyboard scenes from the animated short film, ‘The Parking Lot At The Center Of Time’

No one would ever accuse VAC founding member James Mathers of spreading it on ‘too thin’. Everything he does is spread thick, especially his paint. Many of these oil-stick  drawing were completed here at the VAC.  During this period, the script for Parking Lot was refined then recorded with an ensemble cast including DJ Lyf, Malia Luna, Bailey Rye, Pablo Capra, Dead Dave, Doug Lewis, Cara Tompkins, Derek DeVries.

These drawings form the groundwork for the produced version of Parking Lot.  Approximately 80 drawings make up the storyboard for Parking Lot, here are a few choice selects.  The complete collection will be posted on this blog, coming soon.

JAMES MATHERS – STORYBOARD SCENES FOR ‘PARKING LOT AT THE CENTER OF TIME’

PARKING LOT AT THE CENTER OF TIME – YOU TUBE


NEW WHITE TRASH – ‘One Good Reason’

THE LIFEBOAT HOUR, hosted by uber-activist and New White Trash founding member Michael C. Ruppert, aires Sunday evening at 9p Eastern on the PROGRESSIVE RADIO NETWORK. Ruppert opens his weekly show with AVALANCHE & EARTHQUAKE, a popular New White Trash tune, and closes the hour with a snippet of YOU LOSE, a mostly instrumental song from disc one of DOUBLEWIDE, the debut release from New White Trash. Listeners tuning in to the Lifeboat Hour for Sunday, March 4, 2012 would have also heard a slice of ONE GOOD REASON, a New White Trash song from disc two of DOUBLEWIDE.

Released January 11, 2011, the music of the New White Trash and the songs of Doublewide chronicle the slide of the former American middle-class down a steep and slippery slope to the New White Trash, a place impartial to race, religion, creed or color.

Dubbed the ‘music of the post-paradigm’, Doublewide describes the vacuum left by the sudden disappearance of the former American middle class.  According to Ruppert, “it is in this vacuum we now find ourselves, tumbling in turmoil as home losses mount, bank balances shrink, and shelters are jammed with the likes of you and I. The good ol’ days are done and dusted. The party is over. The coming chaos of the post-paradigm era will lead to a radical and immediate rethinking and remaking of America or it will lead us to complete devastation.”

The New White Trash folds into itself the former middle class with the working poor and, for good measure, the unemployed and uninsured.  The NWT defines and represents a majority of people whose common bond includes and exists beyond the demographics of age, race, location, education. The people of the NWT are the new ‘have-not’s’, and by its nature and size, this vast swath of population (99%) is now squarely at odds with the 1% who own, operate and dispense our corporate universe, big pharma, big food, big defense and big government included. ‘By the people for the people’ is a thing of the past.

As Woody Guthrie filled a musical vacuum by acknowledging the pain and the suffering of the Great Depression, the New White Trash fills a bigger and more insidious vacuum left by a rampant, programmed consumerism that serves only corporations and their shareholders.

This is a new breed of American music in which the message is clear: You’re f**ked.  But now what?

NWT portrays a post-paradigm, ‘less beautiful’ America, brought to life through music, media, theatre and message – those of love, need, equality and social justice. ‘Drop it down’, ‘don’t dig too deep’, ‘we charge extra for this’, ‘take these’, ‘we can’t escape from’, all are the language of the NWT.  And for good reason.

If you got no credit and you got no cash, you’re NWT.  If you got more going out than you got coming in, you’re NWT. If your 401k is MIA, If you’ve filed for bankruptcy, if you find yourself living in a trailer or back with your parents, if your unemployment has run out, if your roads have holes and local schools are closing, if you lost your health insurance to a pre-existing condition, you are the NWT. If you bought the hype and borrowed on a dream,and now your house is gone and you’re selling your things, you’re the NWT. If you’re pissed off, yet you keep a sliver of love in your crossed heart and at least a post-ironic smile on your lips, you’re NWT. If what you had is gone – just like that – then you know you’re running with the New White Trash.

Ruppert states how, “The NWT offers what popular music does not: it recognizes and acknowledges all those who are being marginalized and dropping off the radar screens of ‘official’ life. It is not all depressing. In fact, the NWT celebrates the joys, simple pleasures and love that are often re-discovered only in the darkest times.”

ONE GOOD REASON is one of those tracks, a song of love discovered. Have a listen to One Good Reason from Doublewide by the New White Trash.

THE NEW WHITE TRASH – Music Of The Post-Paradigm

DOUBLEWIDE

Mike Ruppert & Wade De Void.  Image/Cara Tompkins

Song page for ONE GOOD REASON.  Image/Cara Tompkins

Mike Ruppert & Wade De Void.  Image/Cara Tompkins

Phil De Void, aka Andy Kravitz

Sasha De Void

Emily Rose De Void

Kristen Vigard

Wade De Void

Phil Maggini playing with the New White Trash

James & Kelli Mathers of the New White Trash.  Image/Cara Tompkins

Malia Luna

New White Trash.  Image/Cara Tompkins


FELL MUSIC – Sonic Waves From Venice, CA

ARTICLE AND INTERVIEW BY M.D. BAER FOR SMARTCHANNEL.TV

The four-album Fell Music project was recorded at Lotek Studios, Mar Vista, CA from 1994-2007.  Produced by Arthur Barrow and Doug Lewis, the original seven albums were edited into a four-album project now hosted by Bandcamp, the independent music hosting site. The Fell Music project sets the tone for other music projects and collaborations by Doug Lewis, whose propensity for ‘bringing in the neighborhood’ is evident in Fell Music and remains a strong theme of his later work, including The Cheeters, Venice Arts Club Music, New White Trash and Gunter Vile.

M.D. BAER: Fell Music is both similar and unlike your other projects, similar in that it is a large body of work, and also how it brings in a group of contributors to the project, many of whom are not trained musicians, or musicians at all. Also, the sound is more produced, yet not as intimate as your later work.  Can you trace the beginnings of Fell Music and it’s evolvement into your later projects?

LEWIS: My first experiences recording sound were with Jim Lewis – Col. Jim Lewis – my dad.  Jim had a thing for audio, mostly tinkering, but did a lot of reel to reel recording of Jazz music, also Hawaiian, which is where I grew up (Hawaii) until I was ten. He also had a decent stereo system; late sixties and seventies stereo systems were rocking – big home speakers, a MacKintosh turntable and an analog receiver that weighed a ton. Back then, music sounded really good through his system, especially the Jazz and the Hawaiian.

M.D. BEAR: That’s a long way from rock and roll…

LEWIS: Rock & Roll was around my corner, that’s for sure. After Jim retired from the Army he moved us to San Francisco, Marin County exactly. Summer Of Love, June of 1967. His dream was to become a television news broadcaster, or work in radio, which he fulfilled.  He had a real passion for speaking, using his voice.  He had maybe the lowest voice ever, not gravely or smoke-filled, but low in a smooth and pleasantly resonant way…I wouldn’t know another voice to compare it to. Lee Marvin had a low voice which always caught me off guard, but nowhere near Jim’s tenor.

M.D. BAER: And the music?

LEWIS: Went from Jim’s turntable collection to San Fran street scene in full bloom. SF was the place, that’s for sure, and at the same time Marin was a hotbed of psychedelic activity. I was young, but still, the times were groovy. And so was the music. I became radicalized by the experience, caught a glimpse of the power of Love, and witnessed a revolution of sorts. I was enough in the cycle of its movement to have been influenced, probably profoundly. From there, it was a quick series of lefts and rights to GO! by John Clellon Holmes, then Kerouac,Ginsberg, Burroughs, Paul Bowles, the lot. I self-educated, developed an urge for self-expression, let the words of Whitman, Neruda,, Crane and Proust fall into place.  Around that same time I had an older friend, kind of a big brother named Ralph Robinson.  Ralph was in the Air Force, stationed at Travis, and he would take me out on backpacking trips through the Sierras.  Shaw said that thirteen is the age when the ‘passions bloom’…or they don’t. He was referring to art, poetry, color, nature both natural and human. This aligns perfectly with my story. At that age I lived through a dynamic consequence of events, the San Fran revolution, Vietnam, available literature and a viseral experience with nature and the road.  I began to seek adventure, saw myself as a poetic adventurer, read Ulysseus and felt the poetic urge to write, travel, explore.

M.D. BAER: You’ve certainly done all of that. When did you begin playing guitar?

LEWIS: I was singing in bands before I ever began playing the guitar. It wasn’t until my second move to L.A. that I picked up the guitar, when I was twenty-two or twenty-three. Until then, everything I had written was in verse and books of poetic rambling, a lot of which would eventually be transformed into lyrics for songs, first with a band called The Ducks, then into the Fell Music project. For me, playing the guitar was always only a means to an end. No one would ever credit me with being a great musician because I’m not. And I’m a lot worse for wear after losing the left ring finger on my left hand. But I did always seek out a decent player, someone to collaborate with. I went through a few transformations before settling into a way of working that produced Fell Music.

M.D. BAER: Which was?

LEWIS: BY the time I met Arthur Barrow and Lotek Studios, I was immersed in writing with the guitar.  In fact, the first recordings I made with Arthur was with a bass player and a mandolin player, Jay Clark and Dorit Yaffe. These were songs the three of us had been playing around town in the coffeehouses, open mic’s, etc. That was in 1994.  I lost my finger in March of 1995 and didn’t begin again with Arthur until 1996. We completed, Crudland, the first Fell Music album, in 1997.

M.D. BAER: How did you meet Arthur Barrow?

LEWIS: Through Jamie Cohen. Jamie was a well known music A&R guy who eventually dropped out to pursue his art.  I met Jamie in the early 80’s, at a under-the-underground club on the Sunset Strip called AT SUNSET. I was one of the founders of At Sunset, and early on we ‘hired’ Jamie to DJ on occasion. But Jamie and I didn’t become close until we lived around the corner from each other in Venice, around 1992. From then on we became real close buddies and great friends. Jamie led me to Arthur and eventually Jamie and I recorded 66 songs together with Andy Kravitz on a project we named The Cheeters, from June, 2006 to the end of August, 2008.  Jamie was also a big contributor to the Venice Arts Club Music project. Jamie passed away Sept. 11, 2008.

Basically, from Arthur Barrow, I learned how to make music, how to tune in to sound, how to listen and how to record. One benefit from losing the finger was that I didn’t have to beat myself up over not being able to play the guitar well. With Arthur, all he has to do is to hear it once and he’s got it. Arthur was Frank Zappa’s bass player for years, but he was also what Frank called his Clonemiester, in that, being a multi-instrumentalist, Arthur was able to orchestrate Frank’s music for the rest of the band. So our process was that I would come in with an idea, usually fairly flushed out in terms of song and chord structure. We recorded the idea, usually a guitar to a click track, then build the song from there. My original guitar track would occasionally make it to the finished song, though often we would replace it with a stronger Arthur Barrow version. Arthur is also an amazing guitar player and a whiz on the organ, so we would pile on his talents to build songs then bring other talent in to record drums, background vocals, mandolin, whatever. Robert Williams, ex-drummer for Capt. Beefheart, was a big contributor, he played drums and percussion on a lot of the songs.

M.D. BAER: Two strong themes emerge from Fell Music, that of love/romance/unrequited love and the themes of social-commentary, protest.  It’s pretty much an even split, not only with the Fell Music stuff, but throughout your catalog including The Cheeters, Venice Arts Club Music and especially the New White Trash with author and activist, Michael C. Ruppert.

LEWIS: I mean, what else is there? Equal rights and justice for all, that’s my beat.  War is a lie. Politics and politicians play a money game for a money grab. Television and Madison Ave. are vacum’s built to sustain passivity and subtract life and imagination from those they attract. The real world is somewhere else. I figured out early on that Vietnam was a calculated and cold-blooded propaganda campaign built on media cooperation and most of all built on fear…fear of the VC, fear of communism, fear of the unknown. So yea, my writing and songs have to do with a world of hearts and bones, love and loss, a through the looking glass view from the here to beyond, an awakening and an enlightenment.

M.D. BAER: Several of the Fell Music tracks, songs like WAR CREEP, WAR ETERNAL, MORE WAR NOW, SAY NO MORE, have choruses sung by children. You give credit as the ‘Venice Children’s Choir’.  Why the kids?

LEWIS: Because they were available and because having the voices of children lends a certain irony to the subject of war and to the act of protest.

M.D. BAER: Your history of working with Kristen Vigard begins with Fell Music.

LEWIS: Yes.  When Kristen and I met in the early 80’s, she was part of the NY art and music scene, as a performer and a catalyst. She came to L.A. and we met At Sunset. She sings a lot of backgrounds of the Fell Music project, and we collaborated on several songs including TIDE GOES IN, TIDE GOES OUT, also SUNCAT. There are others.

M.D. BAER: There are seven Fell Music albums and you’ve made only four available on the Bandcamp site?

LEWIS: Three of the four albums available on Bandcamp are compilations pulled from the complete body of work. The fourth – Fell Music FOUR – is the complete last album Arthur and I recorded together. FOUR is its own thing in that it chronicles my dance with cancer during that period of 2006-2007.

M.D. BAER: GROOVING WITH THE ARCHETYPES is an article written by Bud Theisen about you and the Venice Arts Club. This story, about music and healing, is pretty compelling. A reader would discover how this was not your first dance?

LEWIS: The reader would discover how in February of 2003 I was diagnosed with a malignant sarcoma and given six months to live, max. A similar recurrence and diagnosis came around again in mid-2006.

M.D. BAER: Similar but the same?

LEWIS: The same but different. There is that same echoey quality to the news itself. Like someone shouting out the diagnosis to your through a megaphone from very far away. But they are not shouting, the voice whispers but the echo builds and the force of the resonance, when the vibration hits, is dangerous and can kill. You have to remain standing, take the blowback with the stagger and stare down the light. I have a particular point of reference, and the imagery of that reference is of a horse.  A tall horse, standing somewhere, maybe in a field or a battleground, I can’t tell, and where doesn’t matter, nor does ‘why’. The horse towers above me and takes up the frame. And it’s always been my duty to get myself up and on the horse. ON Fell FOUR, the song XYZ is my dealings with it all though all the songs on FOUR are tied to the themes of recovery and alternative levels of healing.

M.D. BAER: Well, thanks for sharing.

LEWIS: Alright. Thank you.

FELL MUSIC

Hammond Organ at Lotek Studios.  Image/Patricia DeLaRosa

Fell Music Original Artwork.  Image/Patricia DeLaRosa

Arthur Barrow

Robert Williams at Lotek Studios

Doug Lewis at Lotek Studios. Image/Cara Tompkins