Eight years ago (almost to the day, as I write this) we brought our son Joe home from Scottish Rite Children’s Hospital after he’d spent about a month there battling a vicious infection that almost took him away from us. And his timing could not have been worse!
We had big plans for my wife Jane’s birthday in early November 2012. People were coming from out of town to celebrate, including our daughter. Friends from all over the world had collaborated on a ‘happy birthday’ video message. Then Joe got really sick the night before her birthday. We took him to the hospital and there he stayed for four weeks. At one point, the clinicians had to induce a coma for a couple of days so his body could rest and heal. These were awful weeks, wondering when and if he’d get better, days spent balancing work with real life, nights spent sleeping in the van in the parking garage. There was a monotonous but edgy and unpleasant and alien rhythm to all of it.
I’d started working on the Bruce book about a year earlier, had been in almost daily contact with him. When Joe got sick, that all came to a halt as my family circled our wagons and worked out the complexities of living in an Atlanta hospital with our son and maintaining our house (and pets) in Northeast Georgia, while keeping our jobs and, for the most part, our sanity.
At the time, Bruce was trying to put me in touch with some of his old bandmates from the Code Talkers, particularly bass player Ted Pecchio and drummer Tyler Greenwell. Bruce was eager for me to work on the book, but we both knew it was a project that would take some time because of my work schedule (I was executive editor at a business magazine back then) and his (he was playing at least 40 weekends a year). And he also was aware of my occasionally complicated family situation, which often kept me close to hearth and home (and wife and son). Bruce knew Joe, had met him a bunch of times, watched him twirling in his wheelchair around festival fields and venue dance floors, and understood that Joe’s needs made it challenging for his old man to run off with the circus.
“You’ve got responsibilities, man,” Bruce said in that confidential, deep timbre. “Gawd, I don’t know how you do it.”
So when Joe went into the hospital that time, Bruce didn’t hear from me for days. Then I get a text message from him wondering where I’d been. I texted him back, explaining. Then I get this sweet text from him (the punctuation is mine): “Best. Sorry sir. Grace. Let’s make good happen. Can I bring you anything at all?”
I told him the grace was appreciated and to send some good healing vibes and we’d catch up later. I’m not sure what specific vibes Bruce conjured, but within days we got a visit from the Lilies of the Valley, one of Joe’s favorite musical groups. The Lilies are a group of local musicians here in this goodly portion of beautiful Northeast Georgia, all women, all friends, who perform a series of concerts one weekend every year, always in November. Joe loves these shows, and the Lilies love Joe (who often will sing with the Lilies during a performance from his place in the audience; in fact, I think the Lilies have grown to expect this).
When they saw that Joe wasn’t sitting in his usual place in the front row for that year’s concert, several Lilies took it on themselves to bring the music to Joe. It might have been a day or two after he came out of the coma that these wonderful sirens, instruments in tow, came to his room in the ICU to sing ‘Ripple,’ which is Joe’s favorite Grateful Dead song. God bless all the Lilies of the Valley (we recently enjoyed their first virtual concert, and it was another smashing success).
And God bless the Rev. Jeff Mosier. Joe got out of the ICU on Thanksgiving. A day or two later, our dear friend Jeff (the guy who introduced me to Bruce, and one of Bruce’s oldest, closest friends) showed up in Joe’s room, carrying a banjo. He sang some of our favorite songs from Blueground Undergrass (Joe basically grew up seeing Jeff’s band play live music), and created some healing sonic momentum as Joe was now in the home stretch of his recovery.
And God bless Sautee Nacoochee, my community. When we took Joe home the first week of December, a throng of 50 people from around here (including some of the aforementioned Lilies) gathered in our woody front yard to sing Christmas carols. We love our community.
I wanted to end this post with something smart about the healing power of music, something about the scientific evidence that proves music can have profound effects, can improve recovery in stroke patients, or reduce symptoms of depression, or enhance healing after surgery.
Instead, let me cap this true life episode (now wrapped within the story of making a book) with the next phone message I received from Bruce, the day before Christmas: “Have you talked to Ted yet? He knows! Hey, your friend [name withheld] got drunk and danced naked last night. Call me.”
In other words, it was time to get back to work.