But I have been playing the guitar since I was a kid. The picture above is proof. It was taken at my Bar Mitzvah, the day when I apparently became a man (in some distant galaxy). I remember it like it was yesterday. I blew the roof off the shul with my high-decibel power-chord rendition of Hava Nagila, a crowd favorite (in an even more distant galaxy).
Actually, I was playing George Harrison’s My Sweet Lord because I was, after all, a long-established diehard fan of George even at 13 years old. And I still am.
Here Comes the Sun was among the first songs I learned to play note-for-note faithful to the original recording. This song stands out as one of the greenest of George’s evergreens. Its sublime melody and words deliver the listener from the melancholy of a cold and lonely winter to a crescendo of hope and possibility that things will be alright as that ice melts away. Its intricate picking and jump to odd tempos make it a great, fun guitar song.
And now a lifetime later, it’s taken on a new personal meaning.
Here’s why. Back in 2014, a routine blood test at my annual physical led to the discovery that I have chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). I felt completely fine at the time so my response to the cosmos was something like, “You’ve got to be shitting me. Really? I want to speak to your supervisor — NOW!!” I had made a similar demand back in my early 20s when an out-of-the-blue spinal vascular bleed left me permanently paralyzed from the chest down. Alas, no one got back to me.
Paralysis and I stopped bickering with one another a long time ago. I no longer feel alienated from myself because of it. It was a long journey to arrive at a place where I felt comfortable in my new skin. It was that journey that made absorbing the discovery of having cancer – and I presume future unpleasant events – more assimilable. The diagnosis surprised me but it didn’t stun me.
Fast-forwarding to February of this year, after a three-year period of “watch and wait” – the time following the discovery of leukemia where the absence of symptoms means that it’s not yet time to begin treatment – I started on a regimen of two of the new breakthrough, non-chemo drugs to treat CLL. The results thus far have been nothing less than profound. I achieved a partial remission after only one infusion of a powerful monoclonal antibody drug. I have every reasonable hope – but no guarantee – of achieving a complete remission in a matter of a few more months of treatment.
Back to Here Comes the Sun.
Prior to beginning treatment, my oncologist described another patient of his who was receiving the identical treatment regimen. I was told that his “CLL melted away.”
“I feel that ice is slowly melting,” couldn’t help but pop into my head – and my hopes.
I’m strumming my heart out here – I’m singing for my supper.
If you enjoy my take on this Beatles classic, I hope you’ll consider dropping a few Washingtons or Lincolns (or maybe even Jeffersons) into my guitar case as a donation to the CLL Society.
The CLL Society is a nonprofit that provides invaluable educational and community support to people with chronic lymphocytic leukemia. They contribute greatly to the knowledge base to thousands of people around the world coping with CLL. Any size donation is greatly appreciated.
I work as patient educator volunteer and am the group facilitator for the CLL Society’s Los Angeles support group at the City of Hope Hospital.
PUSHLiving Wants to Know: Interview
Men often say that they became musicians “for the girls.” How is that working for you?
How does music help you spiritually, emotionally?
From the professional musician to the everyday way-off-pitch shower vocalist, there’s something very soothing and healing by generating sound from the voice. For no deliberate reason, I had not sung much at all for a very long time. When I tried firing up my throat again I was dismayed to discover that my singing voice had completely shut down. It was G-O-N-E gone. I came face-to-face with “use it or lose it.” I felt like the Tin Man in desperate need of an oil can. In the process of resuscitating my voice – and I’m at best an OK singer – I felt reconnected to some of my earliest memories of childhood when I loved to sing, especially along with my Beatles albums. Add to that the vibrations of a great acoustic guitar pressed flat up against my body. The synergy of the two – voice and guitar – sparks as satisfying a sensation for me as anything I can think of. When song and performance come together it’s transporting.
How was this video produced? Can you describe the process?
To get the best performance and sound fidelity, I chose to first record the song at a studio rather than attempt a live-to-video take, with its inevitable clams. Craigslist was my friend. I located a nearby studio and, separately, a videographer. The guitar part sounds particularly rich because it was double-tracked, meaning I played the same guitar part twice. At the time of the video – shot at Coldwater Canyon Park in Los Angeles – I did my best to play along to the audio recording. For the most part it synced up pretty well. My not-highly-ambitious oxymoronic goal was to leave with a “professional amateur” quality video. Nailed it!
What are your goals for this video?
Goal one is to have fun and spread the George & Stephen gospel. Then it occurred to me that I could tack on a second goal – making an appeal to raise for the CLL Society, a nonprofit very dear to my heart that provides support to people like myself with chronic lymphocytic leukemia. A third goal is to help alleviate the stigma of having cancer. I’m deeply aware of the stigma associated with having a physical disability and the psychological and emotional toll it can take. I had years to put that to rest in my own life and I refuse to allow myself to go down that path again with this new diagnosis. Understandably, though, not everyone shares the same comfort in announcing to the world that they have leukemia – or any other kind of cancer – because the mere word is just so freighted with fear. Those who feel they can share their journey provide comfort, hope and community to those who feel they cannot.
- Stephen Feldman – Here it comes. . . and it’s alright - August 28, 2017
- A wheelchair-using paraplegic starring in the Life Story of Actor Blair Underwood - November 19, 2014
- “Thou Shalt Never Again . . .” - November 12, 2014