SONGS IN THE KEY OF
SONGS & BACKSTORIES
I wanted to share the backstories and lyrics for each of my songs so that you would have a better understanding as to how they reflect my experiences as a cancer patient. My sincere hope is that through my music, I have created moments that resonate and connect with you so that you may be inspired on your journey to health and healing.
TWO FOR TWENTY
When my original lymphoma returned, I was told that I needed a second bone marrow transplant with a third party donor. The more I learned about the treatment process, graft versus host disease and other complications that I could expect to experience, the more I knew that I would be embarking on an arduous journey of at least two years. There was no certainty that I would survive, or if I did, what lasting toll the ordeal would take. So I made my own single entry bucket list. I would endure everything that I would have to face in the next two years in exchange for twenty years of life. “Two For Twenty”, as both a hope for the future and a solemn remembrance of the past, epitomizes my journey and my promise to take my chances and stay alive through lonely days, restless nights, shifting shapes and changing lights.
SLOW MOTION RAIN
I had my second bone marrow transplant in July of 2012. During the summer and fall of 2012, the San Francisco Giants baseball team was making its run to the playoffs and eventually to a World Series championship. It was not so much that they were winning games, but how they were doing it. With a team of non-superstars, they bonded together to win many close games and several elimination games. For all of us going through bone marrow transplants during this time, the Giants symbolized perseverance in the face of great adversity and a don’t give up attitude that inspired us in our own ordeals. And then it happened. In the last inning of the last elimination game at AT& T Park, after it was clear that the Giants were going to go to the World Series, the heavens opened up and it began to rain, something that almost never happens in October in San Francisco. I was watching this on television and then suddenly the network began showing the players on the field in slow motion. I immediately turned off the sound and was mesmerized by the sight of rain in slow motion. But this was no ordinary rain. This was euphoric rain – a rain that not only celebrated results, but also the long hard journey that it took to achieve them. No matter what you have to endure during your treatment, may you experience moments of slow motion rain that will shield you, heal you and reveal you.
Angelina is the story of my second bone marrow transplant journey from the first moment that I found out that “something was living in blood” and I declared my independence one day at a time. Through the dark harbors of my treatment, I knew that if I sold myself short, I would sell out my soul to my cancer. I refused to succumb and refused to surrender. As I have done throughout my decades of cancer treatment, I drew a line in the sand where the cancer could ravage my body but it could not touch my heart and my soul. This is the way to my world – yours is on the other side. Angelina – my muse – free me from these chains, bury the remains and I will rise again.
THE ROAD TO YOUR HEART
Despite everything I could bring to the table to help me in my recovery and rebirth, none of that could have occurred without my caregiver – my wife Shelley. She had to give up her life to save mine. I felt completely helpless to assist her or to adequately express my love and admiration for her. But in keeping with my mission to not allow the cancer to affect my creative inspiration, I wrote “The Road to Your Heart” for Shelley to in some small way let her know how grateful I am for the road to her heart that is never ending and always takes me home.
BACK TO THE CITY
During treatment, as every cancer patient knows only too well, you have a great deal of one on one time with yourself. On one occasion, I began looking through old black and white photographs of myself when I was about three years old. At the time, I was living with my family in New York City in a place called Stuyvesant Town. This was a residential community of brick buildings and playgrounds that had been built after World War II for veterans and their families. One photograph of me caught my attention which shows me on winter’s day dressed to the nines in a playground in Stuyvesant Park. I began to think what if I could return to that exact place and meet up with myself as the toddler who became me?
“Back to the City” is the story of reminiscing about my life and getting back to where it all began. When my daughter moved to New York, I made my imaginary adventure into a reality. I visited her and found the exact place where I was in the photograph. Standing there, I met up in my mind with the little man in his Sunday best. We hung out together along the same streets that we had walked so many years ago. After every bridge we’ve crossed, every fork in the road, and every tear we’ve shed for every seed we’ve sown, who we are in our heart and soul doesn’t change. Here’s looking at you kid!
FOR WHOM THE BELLS TOLL
As part of my musical journey following my second transplant, I reminisced about songs that I had written previously. One in particular, “For Whom the Bell Tolls”, struck me as to how true the lyrics were both then and now. Many years ago, I had written “For Whom The Bell Tolls” for my young daughter after her beloved cat was killed in front of our home. I had tried to protect her from pain and sorrow, but now I had to shatter her world and bring sadness to her life. At that moment, nothing had prepared me for how to deal with the situation and the bell tolled for me.
Fast forward twenty years later. I found out that that the original life-threatening cancer had returned and I had to undergo a second bone marrow transplant to save my life. I had tried so hard to protect my family from another health crisis that would shatter their world, but I was unable to do so. Two different situations twenty years apart in which I found myself in the same place - the bell tolled for me.
IT'S NEVER TOO LATE FOR TOMORROW
“It’s Never Too Later For Tomorrow” was written shortly after I returned home from my last transplant when I was still in a very compromised state. It had truly been a hard year, a hard time and it was hard to be myself. A very dear friend passed away from leukemia and a family member was diagnosed with cancer. Coming home was a crossroads of uncertainty and more tests of my will. One for the money, two for the show, three to get ready but where do I go? All I could do was face this as I had faced everything else – with a guitar pick in my pocket and a song up my sleeve. The chorus is my way of being true to myself, true to the realities of what I was facing and true to my commitment to not only experience a recovery, but also a rebirth.
ON THE WINGS OF WORDS
My musical soul mate Joshua and I have been strongly influenced by the Beatles in our songwriting. Early in their careers, when John and Paul started writing songs together, one would write the verses, the other would write the bridge and they would collaborate in writing different parts of the vocals and the music. Joshua and I had often talked about writing a song this way, but it was not until I was recovering from my second transplant that I decided it was time to make this happen. In the true spirit of collaboration, I wanted the song to be about something that meant a great deal to both Joshua and me. “On the Wings Of Words” is about our commitment to capturing and expressing our lives through the lyrics of songs. So many times during my treatment, when I was trying to get some distance on what had occurred, I would drift away into a land of words and rhyme. My goal was not to create an entire song at one time, but rather to free my mind to reflect on different thoughts and feelings that I was experiencing. Often times, I would come up with a phrase or a few lines that I would save and use later in a song. At every stage and page I turn, whenever I begin to feel the urge, I let myself fly away on the wings of words. True to the John and Paul, the lyrics to “On the Wings of Words” were written by me, Joshua wrote the music and we both sing throughout the song.
MY LAST DANCE
“My Last Dance” is a song about celebrating love even in the face of hardship and adversity. The chorus is a tribute to one of my favorite songs – “Save the Last Dance For Me” by the Drifters. The story of how that song was written is heartwarming, inspiring and made me think of Shelley.
The original “Save the Last Dance For Me” was written on the wedding day of a man who was wheelchair bound from polio and could only get around minimally with crutches. His wife was a Broadway actress and dancer. True to his love for his wife, he wanted her to fully celebrate their wedding day by dancing with other people. In his heart, he knew that no matter who danced with her, she would dance her last dance with him because she would be coming home with him as his wife.
In “My Last Dance” I am the one who has lost my health and who has fought so hard to be able to come back to Shelley as a husband and a man. Somewhere along my lonely flights through the night and my tears of constant sorrow, Shelley gives me a reason to believe and the strength to persevere. I cherish the day that I chanced upon her and surrendered my defenses to the desire to spend the rest of my life with her.
There were many times during my treatment when I felt as if I existed in a separate world from the one that everyone else was living. While I had once been part of that other world, it was now just a memory. I understood their world, but they did not and could not understand mine.
One of my strong beliefs during my life has been that the universe exits because it is in harmony with itself. It is the duality and balance of all things that makes everything possible. The fact that cancer patients must exist in two separate worlds made me think about the idea of living parallel lives that are virtual windows in a perfect disguise. Who is to say that there isn’t someone with whom we are in universal harmony not by name or physical attributes, but by something deep within us?
SEVEN BRIDGES ROAD
Hawaii, and particularly the island of Kauai, has always been a place of grounding and rejuvenation for Shelley and me. I wanted to write a song that would remind me of Hawaii and inspire me in my recovery.
On the north shore of Kauai, there is a road that connects the town of Hanalei to Ke’e Beach, the farthest point you can go on land. To get there, you cross seven small bridges. At one point you come to a place where according to Hawaiian legend, a community of small but very strong and skilled people called the Menehune lived in ancient times. The Menehune were driven north along the Hawaiian Islands to Kauai when they were invaded by a large army of Tahitians. Instead of fighting and being slaughtered against a clearly superior foe, they disappeared without a trace as no remains of any of the Menehune have ever been found.
As a cancer patient, I saw a part of me as also escaping from my cancer into the sacred pool of my soul and inspiration. In that place where there was no competition, no politicians and no videos -where I could hear the ocean, feel the motion and follow rainbows - I lost myself along “Seven Bridges Road” and the let the beauty of Kauai fill me with positive thoughts and soothing memories.