Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Other Akin Comment

(Bill Glahn writes)
I’ve been following the reaction to the Akin comments pretty closely and most of it is not especially surprising to me. I’m not surprised that he made the comment nor should anybody who has followed his career in politics and the legislation that he has sponsored. The outrage over the term "legitimate rape" is justifiable in its intensity - I’m not surprised by that. I’m not surprised that many Republicans are now throwing him under the bus for clearly stating the agenda of a large part of their party and representatives – including that of their VP candidate. Politicians are not supposed to state things that clearly in public.

I’m not at all surprised that the 7th District Republican Assembly – who are quick to remind folks that they are "the home of the true conservative (you can read that as "klan" and be more right than wrong)" - is standing behind Akin, calling the group of current and former Missouri members of Congress who have called for Akin to withdraw, "cowards." And while they may, in fact, be cowards, you’re not supposed to say that in public either. But the Missouri 7th District is all about being ideologues first and politicians second. Those ideals do not include personal liberties and civil rights. In fact, in the 7th District, where the Republican Assembly holds sway, a Democrat has never been elected to the House since the passing of the Civil Rights Act (1964) and Voter Rights Act (1965).

I’m not surprised that the Springfield News Leader had the headline "Akin supporters blast his critics" in 1-inch block letters above the fold, while placing the more newsworthy "meanwhile more party leaders push him to drop out" below the fold in much smaller letters. And a far too weak condemnation of his remarks as their main editorial. (I can see an endorsement for him coming after the furor wanes as a tainted but preferable alternative to Claire McCaskill.)

Here’s what I do find surprising…

I find it surprising that I’ve seen nothing – absolutely nothing – taking Akin to task for his follow-up comment that his desire is to "punish the rapist, not the child." Nothing from pro-choice advocates. Nothing from women’s groups. Nothing from liberal pundits or bloggers. Nothing from the psychiatric community. Nothing. Which doesn’t mean that that discussion hasn’t been presented, but that it has been buried so deep that even someone following the events doesn’t come across it. My belief is that it is equally as offensive, and maybe even more dangerous, than the "legitimate rape" quote.

Dangerous because of Akin’s complete and unconscionable lack of recognition that there is a third person involved in a rape resulting in pregnancy – the rape victim. Pregnancy is not a minor rash that can be treated with some over-the-counter hydrocortisone. It poses very real dangers to the expectant mother in every instance. Every instance. I see no reason that a woman should be forced to accept those dangers and certainly not to be forced for no other reason than to satisfy Akin’s self-image as "morally superior." Because it’s not morally superior. It’s morally repugnant. And here’s why.

A woman has hopes and dreams just like the rest of us, dreams that never included having a child by a man not of her choosing. Dreams that may include pursuit of an education, (put on hold if possible at all), dreams of financial independence (put on hold if possible at all), a life free of stigma (certainly not possible as long as people possess the Akin mindset), a life where she (and if married, her spouse) will not see the shadow of the rapist in the child’s face day after day after day. Dreams like those and many beyond, which the rest of society, unaffected by any such intrusion into their lives, has the ability to pursue. A fetus has no such dreams. Punish the victim.

Adoption provides the answer? Maybe, but in the case of a minority or mixed race child, I don’t see a lot of pro-lifers lining up to take on the responsibility. 64% of children growing up in the foster care system are minorities. Children with disabilities are at least equally hard to place. And while there are certainly dedicated foster parents, that system is rife with problems. Whatever dreams the fetus – now a child – may develop, they will soon be dashed as well. With the fervor to eliminate support systems (also the agenda of Akin) – punish the child.

In the group that contributes to this blog, we’ve had enough discussion on rapist’s motives– including expert testimony – to know that rape is not about sex, but about power. And the sociopath’s desire for the power to completely dominate and control other people’s lives. With that in mind, Akin’s extreme pro-life stance does not punish the rapist. It rewards him.

To my mind, that makes Akin a rapist as sure as it does the man who did the deed.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Class Meeting Down at the Laundromat

(Bill Glahn writes…)

Andy Griffith’s body wasn’t even cold yet and the masters of disaster were already at it. "While I prefer to remember Griffith as Sheriff Andy, I’m sure the Obama administration will always hold him in high regard for his role as a shill for ObamaCare," concluded one blog on A comment section that included even more vociferous condemnations of Griffith for the unpardonable sin of serving as a spokesperson for the Affordable Care Act followed.

Let’s not forget that Sheriff Andy lived in a fantasy world, one where there was no discrimination (no minorities, in fact) and no unemployment. It seems even Otis, the lovable town drunk, had a job. He at least had a home to go to after sleeping one off in Andy’s jail. Bad guys, whether they be used car hucksters or bank robbers, always came to Mayberry from outside of town. The town folk loved their teachers and there was never a complaint about how much Helen Crump made. Cancer didn’t exist. And if someone came down with some minor malady, Aunt Bea’s chicken soup or apple pie was always good enough to get them back on their feet.

Like Sheriff Taylor, Andy Griffith was a kind and decent human being. Unlike Sheriff Andy, he lived in the real world.

The Laundromat where I usually go is in one of Springfield's most impoverished areas. It's not the closest to where I live now, but it's the cheapest and I'm something of a creature of habit. Especially when it comes to saving a quarter or three. Politics are never discussed there. The folks who go there are so disenfranchised, I suppose, most of them feel "what's the use?" This past weekend I had a lot of errands to run so I went to a more expensive one where I knew I wouldn't have to wait for a washer that worked.

As I walked in there was a somewhat heated argument going on about the Affordable Care Act with three participants - the woman attendant, a jack-of-all-trades, and a woman I'll call Ms. Parrot. And plenty of available washing machines - all quite modern to those I’m used to. I proceeded to do my wash without comment, but you couldn't help to eavesdrop as the voices grew louder. The attendant and JOAT were not very well versed in economic speak but they had a pretty realistic grasp of what their own economics were and fell on the side that ACA was a step in the right direction. Ms. Parrot kept insisting it was a Communist program and the ruination of the middle class. The more they resisted, the more argumentative she got. At one point, when she called JOAT "a Communist"," he walked outside to grab a cigarette and leave the attendant to her own devises. "I don't think he's a Communist, but I think he cares about sick people."

I thought that was a pretty strong statement. But Ms. Parrot persisted. She saw me taking my work uniforms out of the machine and said, "I can see you're a working man. How do you feel about paying taxes to support lazy people who don't want to work?" I know the uselessness of engaging rhetoric so I changed the subject instead.

"I'm kinda interested in your definition of 'Communist,' but I'm far, FAR more interested in your definition of 'middle class.’"

There was nothing – nothing at all – that would seem to indicate that Ms. Parrot was anywhere close to an economic status that she was claiming allegiance to.

"I work for a living. I have health insurance at work."

"So do I, but I'm not about to claim middle class until I can at least afford my own washer & dryer."

"My washer and dryer broke down. I live within my means," she replied defensively.

"So when your employer decides that he needs to cut your health benefits in order to compete with the same type of business down the street that doesn't provide any, do you continue to live within your means and die?"

"Well, I suppose at that point I would just go out an find a different job. That's what working people do."

"I wish you luck with that. I'd hate to see you die or, worse yet, become a Communist." I stuffed my clothes in the dryer and proceeded outside to join JOAT. She turned back towards the attendant. The attendant told her she wasn't in the mood to continue. Ms. Parrot called her "rude."

I think the definition for "middle class" just got expanded to "anyone with a job." I suppose there are a lot of garment makers in Bangla Desh who are just thrilled to know that.

In this world we live in today, corporations operating in the U.S. are cutting out jobs and benefits at a dizzying rate. The company I work for has lain off over forty in the last couple of months at our facility alone. The cost-savings are not figured out in wages. That is more than made up at time and a half as the additional workload is placed on fewer and fewer employees. It is the savings from health insurance from each laid off worker that increases the bottom line. It’s the reduction of safety programs. Benefits of all kinds are being erased. I was washing my uniforms because our company just discontinued uniform and laundry service to their employees and they have to be turned in next week. Beyond assuming another expense to an already depleted budget (work clothes), I’m dreading the day when they announce that health insurance must be cut back "in order to compete."

This is the world that Andy Griffith lived in. To his great credit, he chose to live there with the same amount of empathy and decency that Sheriff Andy showed in his fantasy world. Maybe Ms. Parrot should look beyond Mayberry as well.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Fred Wilhelms

Fred Wilhelms, who passed away on April 24,  was a beloved member of this blog and the email group that produces it. Fred was a music lover, an attorney, a tireless advocate for artists' rights, a truth-teller, a wealth of  "you couldn't make that up" stories, and the kind of human being we all strive to be like. We miss him terribly.  Stewart Francke writes:

Fred Wilhelms was like the older brother I didn't have, or more accurately a mentor and a father figure--both Fred and my Dad were tall, elegant, Catholic Republicans who were deeply honest about what that meant, honest about themselves and very knowing and honest about this world.  As Dave Marsh just said to me, "I don't even think Fred lied to himself."  There was no tolerance of bullshit, and there was erudition and knowledge behind every opinion or word uttered.  

I know this kind of grief (as we all know this kind of grief), and I cannot stop crying.  I spent one of the great afternoons of my life going around Nashville with Fred 2 days before my mother died, and he explained how to accept her death by not addressing it directly.  He was so smart and articulate--he told me what an apple was by telling me what an orange wasn't.  He always had time, or I should say he made time for me--he was busy but never deferred a call or ignored an email overnight--there was a response that day.

I thought I knew a little bit about publishing (songs) until Fred told me a litany of stories about his various dealings with heavyweights from Barbara Orbison to Bettye LaVette and everyone and everything in between.

One of our last phone calls was Fred in an unusual panic--he was talking very loudly about various medical things and details of his case and the clinical trial etc, until it just broke down to his fear of dying.  I did my best to encourage and comfort.  So I told him that as long as we're all alive, and Teri and his family and all others that know him and love him are alive, he remains alive.  Sharing the same gracious but to-the-bone honesty that Dave has, he said what I thought he'd say: "Well, I don't know about that, but I get what you mean."  I felt privileged to even be having this discussion with him, that he trusted my experience enough to hash it out, no matter how poorly I sought solace for him.  Because he knew, and i know...what really can you say?

He once took me to a famous diner in Nashville for lunch, and we stayed for several hours.  It was the most unusual ice breaker--Fred sat down, ordered a water or something, and just delivered his life story almost from birth.  And it was funny, fascinating, political, familial, great story after great story--how he got to be sitting here, right now, with me.  I fuckin loved it; more precisely, I fell in love with his life, with his stories and how he told them.  It was like one of those Styron or Baldwin characters defining the world with their own biography, and I just had to sit and listen.

Fred & I corresponded a lot, about many things--never charging me for legal advice or publishing ideas, and I hoped and pleaded and prayed that he would somehow live through this ugly, heinous disgusting matter, through this horrible cancer that takes no prisoners, but it was as I knew it would be, only sooner.  They all hurt, don't they?  But this one aches, a deeper bruise to the soul, a loss that affects how you walk and talk.

I loved Fred not in passing, or just a little; I loved Fred with my heart.  He was somehow a 6'5" guy who always looked you in the eye, always on the level.

The picture above appeared in a newsletter for for the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, in February, 2012.  At the time, Fred wrote, "I chose the picture ... because getting to hold him was just about the best reason in the world for joining the trial.  I am not above playing the pathos card, and I am not ashamed to say so."


Saturday, March 03, 2012

On "Jack of All Trades"

Bill Glahn writes:

“The wonder is, these songs bring forth such personal stories, the kind of detail you'd expect to be a journalistic staple somewhere--mainstream or alternative--because Bruce made it personal, rather than the "normal" which is almost clinical. You hear people HURT, you hear some of the consequences of the systemic collapse, and for the most part, first-hand, not third-hand.” (from a conversation with Dave Marsh on fans' responses to Wrecking Ball)

I didn't start digging into the album, Wrecking Balluntil yesterday. Jack Of All Tradeswasn’t the first song that grabbed me musically, but it is the song with the biggest connect. The biggest connect in a long, long time for me from a Springsteen song. And I think the reason for that is that it comes from the perspective of the lowest rungs of the working class – not the wider expanse of the middle class. I'm finally reading Daniel Wolff's 4th of July, Asbury Park: A History of the Promised Land,which IMO, is a great piece of literature to read along with this new album. Especially the parts regarding attitudes of the Asbury Park business community toward the "great unwashed" of the west side.

I've got a story...

The last time I saw Dave Marsh in person was at a gathering following SXSW in 2007. A few days later Dave posted something in an email discussion among friends along the lines of "Bill looks great, if exceedingly tired."

When I moved to Austin, about a month before I saw Dave, I was beyond broke and not quite over some ill health. I worked a lot of day labor jobs to get by. That's about as low on the ladder as you can get and still be working. But I learned a lot there.

I learned the best places for finding unfinished cigarettes and how to smoke them in a semi-sanitary fashion (strip the unused tobacco and re-roll them in fresh papers). I learned that it didn't take much cheap high gravity malt liquor (one 99 cent 24 oz Steel Reserve) to put yourself in a deep sleep and allow your body to heal for the next day. I learned that Austin has a good (and mobile) support system for feeding hungry folks. And most important, I learned that you never EVER admit that you never did any specific job before.

In fact, pretty much every person that showed up at Labor Ready was a Jack (or Jill) of all Trades. I mean - the worst that could happen would be that you wouldn't get sent back to the same job the next day, but you'd still make a day's wages on the deal.

"Anyone with carpentry experience?" "Fuck yeah, my dad was a carpenter. I grew up on that shit."

"Anyone ever run a commercial dish washer?" "You bet! I was the king of dish washing at the Denny's in my hometown."

And my favorite? "Who has a valid driver's license and a clean driving record? It WILL be checked."

Very few hands up on that one and I knew I'd be car hopping at the weekly Car Mart auto auction. If you could be convincing enough (and had a car) you could get work somewhere every day - often another shift at night as well - and even some weekend work in the bargain. But the pay was shit and the work (except for the car hop gig) grueling and everybody's hope was latching onto a permanent job and a return to some normalcy.

Eventually that happened with an underground construction company (sewer and waterline installation) where "Jack of All Trades" was escalated to a whole new level.

I lived in an apartment complex almost entirely inhabited by Hispanic construction workers - a mix of Texas natives, illegals with legal relatives, and green card immigrants, A couple neighbors worked for the same company I worked for and a few other co-workers lived in complexes near-by, so we hung out some both on and off the job. And I started to get some advice. "You work too hard, Beell. If you want to make better money, hop on a machine. Don't wait to be taught. Just hop on like you've been doing it all your life."

When the bosses weren't around I'd jump on a backhoe and start trenching (under the watchful eye of my compadres to make sure I didn't hit any underground utilities or such). When the bosses would show up they'd tell them "Beell's pretty good on a backhoe." I learned all kinds of shit. Cement work (I really WAS good at that!) Road patchwork (cutting old portions out with a concrete diamond saw and filling in). Front end loader work. Roller work. Jack-hammer work. Pipe fitting. Really - becoming a real jack-of-all trades provided a degree of sanity while I was in Austin - something I miss greatly in the mundane labor I now do in Springfield. But I have med benefits. A much less rewarding reward system now, but a needed one. Which, for the most part, does not exist in the jack of all trades world.

Back to the Springsteen song...

The "tired" tone of the song is perfect. Even more so from a day labor perspective. And you never really get over the hostility toward bosses - who are always content to watch you shovel your way to your next meal no matter what toll that backbreaking work takes on your body and soul. The only real way to get around the bosses at that level is another song altogether. We take care of our own.

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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

100 Years of Robert Johnson

Dave Marsh writes:

Somebody asked if Robert Johnson ever got to Chicago. I looked for the fact in a few places and then realized that what I was going to get was somebody's version but that it was more complicated than anybody's version. I'm not sure I have a version, certainly not one I'm married to, but if I did, this is what it would be.

There is no truth about hardly anything about Robert Johnson's travels. There are lots of stories. One is that he got as far north as Detroit and maybe even did a radio broadcast there.

If we could get our friend Greg Aldering to use his telescope for a beneficial human purpose in addition to the mere discovery of how new universes are formed, that broadcast is still out there, some minuscule distance--less than a thousandth of a parsec--out there, and you could hear it. If it exists.

In a certain sense, the Robert Johnson of our post-rock folklore never existed, and will always exist. The guy those mythologists found didn't smell unwashed or have bad breath and his back didn't ache and his fingers never scabbed and his shoes had soles and he was unhappy existentially but if he had another nickel he could get his ashes hauled so it was pretty close to happiness. And you can hear that. If you want to. If you want, you can hear something else, too.

One of those Robert Johnsons was in Chicago. Another one of them didn't get there 'til Johnny Shines did. And another not until Steven Lavere or whoever it is bought the copyrights. And another one, maybe further back, maybe more recent, never left the Delta--he left Mississippi, because you only have to cross the river to do that. But did he leave it riding in a Terraplane or did he swim it alongside Stagolee during the '27 flood or a weekend before he died? That's worth knowing too and you have just as much chance of being certain of the answer.

It's the same as figuring out a simple construct like "Homer was blind." He was? To what?

Friday, June 18, 2010

Los Cenzontles change the world one class at a time

"The only Mexico I knew was of photographs of my family. I found Mexico here, in the music." - from "El Pasajero"
One of my favorite CDs a few years ago was "
El Pasajero (The Traveler)," a soundtrack to a documentary by and about Los Cenzontles with violinist Julian Gonzalez. I picked up the disc at Down Home Music in El Cerrito, but my introduction was weeks earlier in the cafeteria of the children’s hospital where I work.

Los Cenzontles (the Mockingbirds) isn't a band per se, it is a performing group from a community center in San Pablo, CA located where the oil refineries belch into the mouth of the Sacramento Delta. The center was created by Eugene Rodriguez (who plays vihuela (oud) in the group) and Berenice Zuniga-Yap. (Eugene, Los Cenzontles, Lalo Guerrero, and Los Lobos received a Grammy nomination for the recording "Papa's Dream".) The touring group's music features sones jarochos and sones de mariachi, Eugene and Julian accompanied by Hugo Arroyo on guitarron, Tregar Otton on 1st violin, and Lucina Rodriguez and Fabiola Trujillo on voice and zapateado (foot percussion).

That day at the hospital was Cinco de Mayo, and with a neonatologist I'd arranged for Los Cenzontles to perform at lunchtime for patients, staff, and visitors. It was also the day that Mrs. Garner's 2nd grade class from Vallejo was visiting the hospital. Mrs. Garner's class held a penny fundraiser all year, collecting coins a fistful at a time to purchase beanie babies for our patients. I scheduled a visit to accept their donations, give them a tour, and share lunch.

These beautiful six-year-olds are as animated as I've met. I introduce myself and say I heard they had a special story to tell. One by one they hand me waxy gift bags covered with tumbles of curling ribbon, each bag sheltering a beanie baby and a hand-written note of encouragement for a patient. With only the littlest
prompting, each child tells enthusiastically tells why they picked the bears they did -- this one is my favorite color pink! this is a lion and lions are strong and a sick boy needs to be strong! this is a parrot like my grampa has at home, it swears in spanish -- and I ooh and aah. Oohing and aahing is an important part of my job description.

I ask what they think are the two most important things a child needs in the hospital. Hands shoot up urgently. Bandages! surgery! shots! a new brain! Good answers, I say, sick people need good medicine; but what's the other thing? It's as important. Their mother! comes a late answer. I nod. Then I say that a child in a hospital needs the same things they have when they’re at home: family, games, friends, toys to play with.

I tell them our hospital is non-profit, and explain we don't have money to buy toys and beanie babies, we need donations of those so we can buy the bandages. They've done something important by thinking about what other people need and acting to fill that need. I tell them I am proud of them and I hope they feel that way inside.

Their eyes are big that they've made a difference, that they can make change happen. Within those wide eyes I see doors swing open.

I pass around a micropreemie diaper and demonstrate a baby that size by cupping my hand. One girl asks cautiously "Is this clean?" before touching the diaper. We chuckle and I assure her it's an unused diaper. "I was a preemie," says a black girl, the one who likes pink, her hand constantly shooting in the air. "I have diabetes," says a Pacific Island girl, the tallest in the class. "So do I" add a chorus of others. "I have asthma" says a smiling, skinny black boy in a football jersey and soon half of them, hands testifyin’, them too.

Then I show them the footprint from the smallest baby we've had, delivered at 22 weeks gestation, eyes fused, stomach unable to process food, lungs unprepared for months. I don't share those details; instead I show that the footprint is the same size as a paperclip. They're quiet. "Did it die?" asks the girl with glasses. "No," I answer, not offering more, but it comes anyway. "Was it okay?" "Many times children and babies may still need to come to the hospital some more." "That makes me sad," says a very small Hispanic girl who has been absorbing every detail of this visit. So I address her, "But maybe if the baby comes here again, it will be your beanie baby that makes it feel better!" A smile bursts through her dimples and she swings her braided head around to look at her classmates, her ponytail decorations clacking.

I show them where the emergency helicopters land (one puts on a show as it departs), and we go to the family resource center to look at displays of sugar in food and to touch the fake five-pounds-of-fat. They wonder aloud whether they should eat the chips and cookies they've brought for their lunch.

With that, the teacher retrieves their lunches -- carefully labeled paper sacks and a spare package of cookies and fruit juices -- while I seat the children at a large cafeteria table directly in front of the plywood floor Los Cenzontles have set up.

The band strikes up, the tumble of stringed percussion and melody I love so much, and the two female dancers smile at their young audience, encouraging them to dance. Several kids jump up without hesitation. One little girl looks at me for permission, and I nod, but she can't take her eyes off the dancers and the big guitarron. They shout and squeal when the players bring out the quijada, a donkey jaw bone used for percussion. Finally, the shy one gets up and dances til she throws back her headful of braids. I chuckle, imagining how the kids will describe this visit: the miniature footprint and the giant ass's jaw, the helicopter and the fake fat.

My answer arrives a week later in a manila envelope filled with hand-written letters.

Dear Mrs. Martinez, My name is Keith. I'm one of the class mates. Thank you for letting us watch the concert. The footprint was so cool that it changed my life. Thank you very, very much. Love, Keith

Dear Miss Martinez, Thank you for giving us an opportunity to learn about life. I've been to the Children's Hospital before because my Antie accidently dropped her hammer on my head. Now I have a lump in my head and I was only one year old. I will never forget that day. We went on another field trip to the Oakland Zoo and we all had fun. Love, Caiyante

Dear Mrs. Martinez,
My name is Viridiana and I am in Room #7. I enjoyed seeing the little diaper and feet print. Thank you for taking us on the tour and showing us the building of the helicopter and the pad. We hope you like the Beanie Babies. Thank you for letting us go to Children's Hospital. And I liked dancing with the Mexican band in the cafeteria because I'm Mexican. I hope we come back soon. Love, Viridiana

Dear Mrs. Martinez,
I liked the tour because it was pretty important. I liked the beanie babies. Oh, and I forgot to tell you. I'm Mexican. I hope you speak Spanish. I have pride for what I've done. I can never believe every thing I've done. I'm just so happy, I can Never forget. Did you know I play baseball? Love, Patty

--Susan Martinez

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Friday, May 21, 2010

Oliver Schroer's Last Show on His Tour of This Planet

Susan Martinez writes:

So this is the way it's going to be?

This is the way it's going to be. We don't know the how or the when -- sometimes we get some advance notice -- as did my friend, fiddle player, producer and inspiration Oliver Schroer -- but we know the deal's going down.

Along the way, on a good day we treat each other well, love and feel loved, and treat strangers with kindness also. It’s the living that matters, and the quality of each breath.

These words came from Oli, upon learning his leukemia was end-stage and he’d been removed from the BMT list:
Hi friends,

I have wanted to write more to all of you about my situation. I sentout a letter last weekend, but it was a pretty plain letter, and did not include a lot of stuff I feel is important to talk about at this point, for me and for everybody.

The gist of that first letter was that the doctors have run out of ways to treat my disease, which is particularly aggressive and ornery. They have thrown every combo of chemotherapy and nasty drugs at my cancer, and in incredibly high doses. The doctors admitted that they were surprised already that the chemotherapy had not actually killed me. It turns out that I am very tough. (My friend Teresa says I’m tougher than a boiled owl.) So if there are no treatment options left for me, what they can and intend to do is make me as comfortable as I can be in the time left to me, so that I am not in pain and not suffering in any way.

What I did not talk about in that first letter was how I feel about all of this & I guess I feel that life is not only about quantity. It is about quality as well. We all have to die some time. None of us will live on this planet forever. I think some people live very intensely and burn very brightly during their time here. I think
I am one of those people. A shining star while I am here. So I look at my life as I have lived it, and I feel very satisfied with all I have achieved and gone through. As a musician and artist I have found my voice on my instrument of choice. That is what any artist wants to do. Whether you are a musician or a painter or a dancer or a writer, the bottom line as a creative person is to find that unique voice and express it in your art.

I got to record many albums of my music, and to get that music out there, instead of just thinking about it. I had many great adventures with fellow musicians and travelers along the path. I have had a beautiful bunch of teaching relationships with a lot of students, not only individuals but entire communities of learning musicians -- the Valley Youth Fiddlers and the Twisted String in Smithers. I never got to have biological kids. But I did get to pass on my music in important ways to a whole generation of young people.

So between finding my voice on my instrument, and being able to share my music directly with so many, I feel like a very lucky guy. There is also the fact that in life, I like to concentrate on the positive aspects of reality. Look at what you do have, and thank the Creator for that, and enjoy it all to the max. This is a stance you take in life. With just a little bit of practice, that becomes an attitude you can easily stick to. Let’s put it this way: if I can think like this in my present position, I would hope that you all can do the same. I would even ask you to do this for me. Take that stance in life for me and from me, and concentrate always on the positive.

I have burned brightly in life, and lived life very fully. I feel I have achieved a great deal in life. And as I look back on the life I have lived, I am concentrating on all of the positive aspects, on all of the beauty I have experienced and generated, and getting a lot of satisfaction and pleasure from that. And the fact that my life is shorter than it might have been ceases to trouble me very much.

One very amazing thing about my position right now is how I get a clear insight into my own situation at this exact time. In the time left to me, I get to contemplate my life, and to ponder about what I would like to do in the time left to me. I can make a wish list of things I want to do in my last days here. Who do I want to spend time with? Are there things I want to finish up? Things I want to see? My end is near, but I have the feeling that it is also not going to happen super quickly. I still have time to focus and be myself and live as myself for the time left to me.

The very best, from the very edge,

A couple of weeks later, a new letter from Oliver: he wanted to perform one more concert. He booked Trinity St. Paul's in Toronto, hired the techs and equipment, and tickets sold out in a flash.

It was billed as Oliver Schroer's Last Show on His Tour of This Planet.

I would have given anything to be there, but I'd already made plans to take my mom to the Big Island, her first trip, for her 70th birthday. The night of his show, mom and I were hunkered down in Kona in the wildest storm I've seen, a combination of a Midwest tornado-comin' thunderstorm with the crackling of an east coast August electrical storm. Beautiful and violent, it stayed on top of us for hours, stuck against the top of Mauna Kea, lightning and thunder never becoming more distant, never moving on. I remember looking at my watch and calculating the time in Toronto, realizing that Oliver was onstage. Somehow, that calmed me. Finally, at what would have been his encore, the storm simply stopped. No drifting off in the distance, it just stopped as if clouds and rain and electricity dissolved into Madam Pele.

When I got home from Hawaii, friends had written about Oliver's show. It was a sauna. It was spellbinding. It was magical. One person wrote "...pushes and pulls and lulls and held breaths. It seemed a lot more tonal than usual though. Less tension-and-release and more smooth, flowing washes of sound. Pure joy all around. I find that Oliver has ghost notes...either they are purely scientific overtones or the result of imagination, notes created in my "mind's ear". Ghost rhythms, too. Rhythms that are there, but almost aren't. It really makes it sound like his music is all around you. But the second to last piece really did it for me - suddenly fiddlers popped up all over the audience (real, not ghosts), each playing the little melody that Oliver had started. It was a huge sound. And then little bursts of singing began, and soon the whole audience started singing too, just intuitively. Wow."

Another person wrote "The tunes seemed to last forever, but were over all too soon. At the end of the evening, Oliver closed his final encore with his love march -- first played on the fiddle, then joined with whistling, humming, clapping, harmonizing, singing, all quietly, then more quietly still, the audience making the music last long after Oliver had left the stage. What a wonderful way to give each and every member of the audience their own Oliver song to take home with them. Unforgettable is such an

A few days after the show, Oliver sent this:

Well, today is a special day, in a strange kind of way. Today is the day I was admitted into the hospital last year. I remember my feelings of trepidation, my nurse coming in with the first round of chemo, dressed in a full body protection suit with goggles and all, because the stuff was so toxic they couldn't even afford to get a drop on their skin. And this was the stuff they were injecting right into me.

I have been so looking forward to the show, it is hard to believe it is over, and I am looking back on it. Well, what a concert it was. I was so happy with the way it went. Once I got to the venue, I remember thinking to myself: 'What did I get myself into here!' I sat on the couch in the green room and stared at the wall for 45 minutes before the show.

And then, suddenly it was showtime. It felt wonderful to be on that stage. I could feel a wave of love and beautiful friendship coming my way from the audience. We all felt quite emotional, and then I just dove in and started navigating through the music. I felt very much on my game, musically and performance wise. I will admit that about 2/3rds of the way through the second half, I was ready to tear my clothes off and jump in the pool to cool down. I understand that the upstairs was like a Bikram Yoga studio.

I feel like the concert left people in a good place -- there were lots of tears, but there was lots of joy as well, and it was not a bleak affair. There was one thing I forgot to say in the show. It should have gone in the intro to the friendship song. One of the things over the past year that has given me great joy is to see my various circles of friends connecting; I can only hope that that will all go on. That is human connective stuff of the first order.

Fiddlingly yours, (and resting up or a few days)


On Sunday, June 29, 2008, Oliver left the hospital long enough to attend a performance by three of his young fiddle students, his pride and joy. He sat in the front row beaming, giving the thumbs up as they played.

That Wednesday night, he wrote his last tune, entitled "Poise."

That Thursday morning at 11:30, he was carrying on with the nurse in his usual fashion and said “Well, I guess no excursions today!” and left the planet. Peaceful, very fast, no suffering. And giving us one more joyous laugh.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Oli these days, journeying through my own cancer diagnosis this spring. Oli’s friendship and positive attitude have stayed with me these years and his music and spirit have been part of my fuel as I go through my own chemo treatments.

When I read the news of his diagnosis some time back, I pulled for him. My heart broke when he wrote he'd been taken off the transplant list and that his end approached; but that night I had the most beautiful dream. I dreamt Oliver had written his wishes on a piece of yellow notebook paper. The handwriting was flowing, relaxed, spirited, elegant, strong. It was like his bowing and was beautiful to look at. And the words were beautiful too, and at the end of his list he requested that his friends get three little tomato seeds. He wanted his cremated ashes to feed the tomato seeds, and when the plants bore fruit he wanted us to have a late-summer bbq and cook and chop the tomatoes a thousand ways to feed our spirit and to celebrate rebirth.

That dream still makes me happy. Those little tomato seeds are the dozens of young fiddle students he nurtured across Canada. I'm grateful for the memories and stories I had with Oliver, and for the thousands of tunes he wrote, but most of all I'm grateful for the joy these young fiddlers will find, and spread, in musicking.

I told him at the time, how odd that such devastating news gave me a dream that made me happy. But Oliver was transformative that way, and this is a journey about living, not a journey about not-dying. He and I, and everyone who reads this now, are kin in that.
“SILENCE AT THE HEART OF THINGS,” a documentary about the late Canadian fiddler Oliver Schroer, is available on DVD from Borealis Records,

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