Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Last Encore

Wik performing The Great Gig In The Sky

Day 35 of hospice care. Symptoms may have begun. I hope to find that out today. Stay tuned.

Prog Fest was everything I hoped it would be, and came with unexpected blessings. It was exactly what I needed. One more chance to perform with friends, and another chance to reconnect. A chance to say goodbye.

I've been having some trouble sleeping lately. I'm writing this at 1:45 AM right now because I can't sleep. But Friday night, I had a great night's sleep. I was rested and energetic for Wik's rehearsal on Saturday, the day before the show. But I always have had trouble sleeping after an evening rehearsal. This one started in the late afternoon, but that was enough to keep me from sleeping well. So come Sunday, the day of the show, I was running on fumes. As a result, my energy and balance were not what I hoped they'd be. But adrenaline is a wonderful thing. Adrenaline and love carried me through.

Sharon and I arrived early. I was needed for sound check, so we showed up around 3:00 PM. The show started at 4:00 PM, and lasted until 10:00 PM, an hour later than scheduled. Typical Prog show. Our friends Dave and Stacey showed up at about the same time so we'd have a chance to talk. But our conversation kept getting interrupted by more friends arriving who wanted to talk to me.

Two friends from my wedding singer days, Jerry and Kathy, showed up out of the blue. I had no idea they were coming. It was a touching reunion. Jerry's wife Becky had died of cancer several years ago, and a drummer we had all worked with for years had died the year before, also of cancer. I told them that after Becky's memorial, I had taken to telling my friends from those days that I hoped the next time I saw them, it wasn't at a funeral. I also found myself wondering, after two deaths in that circle of friends in a year, who would be next. I never thought it would be me, I told Jerry and Kathy. Cancer again. Stupid cancer.

More friends came, and as usual, our party consisted of two tables put together. But there was one reunion that stood out.

I found out a day or two before the show that my high school girlfriend and her husband were coming. Joy and Mickey. I hadn't seen Joy since 1973, my senior year of high school. You might think this had the potential to be weird or awkward. I wondered if it would be. It wasn't. It was awesome. She and Sharon got along well. Joy and I talked about old times. We remembered what had connected us.

I enjoyed talking with her husband too. A great guy. At one point, the fact that I had broken up with Joy back in the day came up. She didn't remember why, but I did. I told her it was because I had felt it was God's will. I've often looked back on that decision as a bonehead move by a dumb teenage boy, but shortly after that, her family moved away, and I went off to college, where I met Sharon. Joy went to college elsewhere, and met Mickey. Mickey pointed out to me that I had probably been right. It wasn't God's will for us to stay together. We were both supposed to marry someone else. Sharon and I have been married for 40 years, and Joy and Mickey have been married for 36. God does all things well.

Wherever I went that night, friends wanted to talk and embrace. Love and sorrow were in the air. But reunions with old friends and love exchanged between so many more were only half of the blessing. I also was there to perform in public for the last time.

At last year's Prog Fest, (an annual progressive rock festival put on by The Colorado Art Rock Society) I put together a huge ninety minute set of "bucket list" songs. I had a veritable cast of thousands, and it was a mammoth undertaking. This year, I was only involved in two easy sets for me, and I was a sideman rather than the leader in both. Perfect for this stage of my life. I was asked to sing the last song of the night, an old Genesis classic that I've known for decades. I only had to show up for one rehearsal for that. Easy peasy. The other set was the public debut of the band I'm in with my friend Todd and some talented teenagers. Wik.

Let me put this in perspective. I'm a 62 year old Stage 4 cancer patient in hospice care, and I'm in a band with teenagers. Who does that? I guess we know who does that. We had been rehearsing for this performance for at least six weeks, maybe longer. Prog Fest performances are often done by ad hoc bands, and tend to be a little under-rehearsed and sloppy. That's part of the fun. But we wanted to get this performance on video for the launch of Wik's Facebook page. So it had to be polished.

The band played the first two songs without me. We've written one original song as a band so far, and they performed it in front of an audience for the first time. It rocked. When I took the stage, I made a joke about how last year was my big finale, but I never could resist an encore. This was my encore. The last encore.

It was very emotional for me. I was only onstage for three out of the five songs Wik played, but I was loving every minute of it, whether I was up there or not. Everyone nailed their parts. The whole band could feel the energy of the moment. And Colorado progressive rock fans found out about a very special singer. My protege, Payton Roybal.

Payton hadn't performed since our 40th anniversary party in July, yet somehow, she was easily better onstage than I've ever seen her. Intensity poured from her the entire set. And she saved her best for last.

Our last two songs were from Pink Floyd's Dark Side Of the Moon; Time and The Great Gig In The Sky. The Great Gig In The Sky is one of the greatest vocal solos in the history of rock. We chose it specifically to show Payton off. She nailed it, beyond even what I was expecting. And my expectations were high. Every time I think I've set the bar high for her, she exceeds my expectations. I had heard her sing it in rehearsal several times, but she sang it last night like I'd never heard her sing it before. A video of it is on the Wik Facebook page now.

I did the speaking part that I refer to in To Know Or Not To Know. The one that starts with I'm not frightened of dying. Tears were shed at our table and elsewhere. It was a special moment. Afterwards, Jerry and Kathy came up to me to say their goodbyes. Kathy was in tears. My little speaking part had hit her hard. Kathy has always loved me, and the feeling has been mutual. Hearing me say those words was hard for her, as it was for many there. But it was the exact right song for that moment. And I was the exact right person to deliver those lines.

I'm bursting with pride today because of how the band performed. And I'm humbled by the protege who will surpass her mentor. Who already has, in many ways.

I'll meet with my doctor and nurse tomorrow. Actually, it's today, since it's 2:47 AM as I write these words. We’ll discuss the possible appearance of my first symptom, and get a new prognosis from my last PSA result. It’s a big day. Your prayers are appreciated. I'll write about all of that after I come home and share the news with those closest to me. But I couldn't let this important event in my life go unreported. I have to bear witness. My next post may bring bad news, but this one is about love and completion.

My performing career is now complete. I've performed my last encore. And I felt the love all the way through it. #waroncancer


  1. Hi dearest Mark,
    I am curious about the eating-to-keep-weight-on tips. I couldn't tell from this post where exactly the tips are?

    1. I think the post you're looking for is My Manna From Heaven. There's a link to it in the post before this one.

  2. And yes, I think there were a lot of wet eyes during your To Know Or Not To Know recitation. Mine at least! ;)