Staying Alive

In 1997 I learned I had cancer—and that it had been trying to kill me for at least four years. The doctors can’t figure out why I’m not dead already.

THE CONTINENTAL CLUB in Austin was packed and the music was loud and it looked like people were having a good time. It was around midnight on Thursday, May 21, 1998. I was playing my black Fender P-Bass Deluxe and singing my heart out, and it felt good.

We were making a hell of a racket for just three guys, but people had always said that about us. The drummer, David Green, was pounding out a rock-steady groove, and Jon Dee Graham, my old pal from way back, was ripping monster chunks of sound out of a gold Fender Stratocaster. There I was, tall, pale, and paper-thin, dressed in black from head to toe, my hair falling in my eyes just so.

I must have looked like a shadowy character from one of the hard-boiled detective novels I wrote a few years ago. I’m sure some people thought I was a junkie, shuffling through the night from riff to riff, fix to fix. But the gorilla on my back wasn’t the big H. It was the big C. Cancer of the tonsil, to be exact.

At the time, I was not only battling the disease itself but trying to survive a triple whammy

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