A Gift and a Whip

...and the roar of the crowd
By David Egan

The phone rings violently at 5 a.m., just when I have finally found sleep. It takes some confused moments to figure out that I'm in a Dallas hotel room, following a Bluebirds gig with the Flett Brothers. "Mr. Egan, there's been a vandalism involving your vehicle. The police are here."

Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2011
Written by David Egan

...and the roar of the crowd

The phone rings violently at 5 a.m., just when I have finally found sleep. It takes some confused moments to figure out that I'm in a Dallas hotel room, following a Bluebirds gig with the Flett Brothers. "Mr. Egan, there's been a vandalism involving your vehicle. The police are here."

Vandalism can only mean burglary for a 12-year-old Beemer wagon full of gear. I pull my funky head together enough to sleepwalk down to the parking lot. Fears are confirmed. They've taken everything: digital piano, amp, gig bag, mics, cords, stands and even the choo-choo train lamp that was intended for my 3-year-old son. The windows to the back hatch and rear passenger door are smashed into a blizzard of broken glass pellets everywhere, inside and out. The replacement glass would be back ordered in Germany for six weeks to come, meaning a gold star for the Enterprise manager trainee who would run my feeble credit cards into that special, most delinquent realm of VOID.

And this was the least of my problems. I had to get back to Lafayette in time to pick up my C-Scans from one hospital and deliver them to the surgeon that day, so he could assess them prior to our appointment on the following day. There was a confounding mass on my right lung, and the PET scan had confirmed in Technicolor that it wasn't good. The surgeon would give me a 20 percent chance of surviving five years, which would hit my wife pretty hard. Since the initial lung screening months before, there had been nowhere to go but onward, into the unknown.

The cardboard taped over the windows is flapping profoundly in the wind. All I can think is "Get me the hell out of Dallas." Nothing but dark clouds and lightning lurk ahead. I grab another handful of brown rice and tofu from my Tupperware. The macrobiotic road food does little to assuage the fear and hunger and exhaustion. The rain starts to fall. I turn on the radio, and so help me, it's the Beatles:

"I got to admit it's getting better
It's getting better all the time ... (It couldn't get no worse)"

Such wicked, bittersweet irony, and that's when I lose it. I'm drivin' and cryin' in the blinding rain. The windshield's nicked and cracked all to deadbeat hell and the dry rotted wipers are next to useless, of course.

With my family, I would somehow crawl my way out of this mess. First thing I had to do was to beg or borrow a gigging piano. I called my lifelong friend Don Teach at Shreveport Music, who, before I could say three words said, "Just get up here." I tried to speak again, and again he interrupted, "Just stop talking and get up here." The Fletts must have tipped him off, or maybe even a deaf man could sense the despair in my voice. Don would fix me up with all the needed gear on an open-ended, gentleman's agreement that I would pay as I could.

The surgery would remove the middle lobe of my right lung. The surgeon's macabre demeanor would give way to his rare joy in telling me that the cancer had stayed contained within a perfectly round 1.6 centimeter-sized ball and had not spread. Recovery would hurt like hell and I would wear an eternal smile between my ribs, but I would live to see my boy learn and grow (he's just made 11), and there were many more songs to be written.

Thanks to my darling, work ethic-driven wife, I had some of the best insurance a journeyman musician could possibly have, and we were still flat busted broke - from the incidentals, co-pays, replacements, rentals, penalties, interest and so on. Cynthia Simien urged me to apply to MusiCares, a division of the Recording Academy, for some assistance. I timidly applied for a reasonable sum and they came back with twice that amount. They directly paid doctor bills, hospital bills and music store bills. They helped me to find my feet. In the wake of Katrina and Rita, MusiCares would provide financial aid and or musical instruments to more than 4,700 affected Gulf Coast musicians, at a cost of nearly $4 million. For the most part, these funds are donated by successful artists who know so well the fickle, thin line between outrageous wealth and hard times, regardless of the enormity of one's gifts or flaws.

I think about hearing that Beatles song and other songs on the radio. Songs can be magic, and we often remember what we were doing when we first heard those songs that became Our Songs - how love was blooming, how we were groovin' with our friends. Songs don't magically appear on the radio. Someone with a face and a heartbeat created them, sometimes from the core of their soul, and it wasn't easy. And if it was anyone I know, it's likely they don't have health insurance. Whether they do or don't, and their number comes up, they're in for a rough ride. God bless anyone as they try to navigate through this God-forsaken system. It's not a character or ethical flaw or even a choice that may keep them from being insured. More likely, it's a selfless responsibility to provide for a family's more immediate needs that doesn't allow the luxury of health coverage, or it's being plain broke.

The Muses would never allow one of these Songbirds to cheer and jeer, "Let him die!" But even those who would holler such filth still enjoy their special favorite songs. An artist doesn't choose a life in The Arts to avoid hard work. As Truman Capote once said, "When God hands you a gift, he also hands you a whip; and the whip is intended for self-flagellation solely." If I ever have to choose between my music and being a guy with insurance, or even a rich guy with insurance, just throw me to the soulless, jeering mob.

David Egan is a Lafayette musician and songwriter whose songs have been recorded and performed by Irma Thomas, Etta James, Solomon Burke, David Egan, Joe Cocker and many others. David currently plays keyboard and sings with Li'l Band O' Gold, and as a solo artist with his backing band, 20 Years of Trouble. Learn more about David and his music at DavidEgan.net.