Music Inside Out
Music Inside Out
He’s movin’ on . . .
By the beginning of April, Spencer began experiencing pain in his hip. It persisted and deepened, preventing him from participating in a couple of planned appearances. Eating became more and more difficult until it was obvious we were not going to be able to turn his situation around by ourselves. By mid-month, Spencer was in the hospital, where he was hydrated, nourished, and scanned for the source of his pain. It turned out that the stage IV part of his cancer (the part in his bones) had grown, particularly in his hip. There was a fracture, as well, perhaps from some sort of stress or perhaps because the bone was weakened too much by the cancer. The decision was made to radiate the joint to lessen the cancer and thus give the fracture a chance to heal.
WOW! This was not how we ever envisioned this all going, and yet here we were in the hands of medical professionals, outside of our home, going to the radiation clinic five days a week for ten treatments. Quite an adjustment! We’ve got to say, though, that all of the caregivers, from the housekeeping staff to the nurses and technicians to the oncologists ~ every single one of them ~ showed such caring and cheerful attentiveness that it was easy to feel positive about the entire experience. Even when another cancerous site was discovered and another ten days of radiation was recommended, we understood the gravity and trusted the decision to move forward in the hands of these fine people.
In the midst of all of the medical changes, Spencer realized that performing was going to be a supreme challenge. The reality hit hard: he had to cancel commitments that he had booked several months back with the understanding that the progression of his disease might get in the way of fulfilling the contracts. There was a bit of panic as we realized that it was truly time to STOP and give every bit of our attention to Spencer’s physical condition. I mean, musicians NEVER cancel gigs! There weren’t many bookings left, but each one was extremely meaningful to us. This was a tough step.
The last shows that were not cancelled were three performances and an interview for the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. Thanks to the encouragement of Spencer’s radiologist and our son Andre’s foresight in hiring a guitar tech to make sure Spencer took as few steps as possible, plus Spencer’s concentrated preparation, it all came together beautifully! Our emotions ran exceedingly high during those days as Spencer played his heart out, letting the music and the audience buoy him into the stratosphere. It was a beautiful and loving way to pause Spencer’s memorable career.
I am ashamed to say that I have fallen behind in keeping you up-to-date with this health blog. At times it feels like we are slogging through the days. Other times the days fly by. Let me catch you up on a couple of things.
The last day of January was the fabulous fund-raiser at Tipitina’s. Organized by our son Andre, a full house of friends, fans, and family rocked to some of the city’s best musicians while also enjoying a silent auction and some luscious food. The love in the room was palpable. Our whole immediate family was there, along with friends and associates from 45+ years of our lives. Absolutely incredible! Our thanks to everyone for their generosity and good wishes.
The month of February was a time of tending to our diet and energy work. At one point we visited a nutritionist to be sure we had as many bases covered as possible. She helped us tweak a couple of things after running some labs. We were encouraged to see that some of the numbers had improved. There were just a couple of shows in nearby Baton Rouge and New Orleans, but the focus was on healing. In early March, Spencer performed a concert at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation Center. In addition to his performance with his occasional band, The Whippersnappers, he was invited to exhibit his Reliquaries in the foyer of the Foundation Center. This was the first time his art has been shown in New Orleans.
So many folks associate us geographically with New Orleans, but we also have a large and loving community in and around Fairhope, Alabama. In March, these kind and generous friends launched a fundraiser concert and silent auction at the inimitable Frog Pond in Silverhill, Alabama. It was a beautiful day filled with all the love and care southern Alabama has to offer. Our good friend Ray Bonneville also flew over from Austin to drive over with us for the song circle that day. Ray’s and Spencer’s musical association dates back to 1974, when they played in a band together in Boulder, Colorado. When Ray heard about Spencer’s illness, his first response was to write a song directed to the cancer: You Can’t Live Here. That song debuted at the Frog Pond during this performance. We were all awe-stricken with the depth of emotion displayed on stage that evening, a perfect cap to a beautiful day in the country.
Within a couple of weeks, Ray recorded basic tracks for You Can’t Live Here at King Electric Studio in Austin. These were sent to Spencer and Andre, who went into the studio to complete the recording with Marc Paradis on electric cello. I like Andre’s description of what he envisioned as he was producing it:
“Lyrically, the song is a one-sided conversation directed to the cancer, but there is also a musical storyline that was created, wherein Ray’s raspy harmonica represents almost a snakelike cancer and Spencer’s lap steel responds with cautious yet steady pushback, while the cello’s haunting sound stands as a reminder of the seriousness of the situation.
“While it is not exactly an uplifting song, it sets a very heavy and cool vibe which aptly represents both artists, and is a true collaboration between Ray and Spencer.”
You can listen to You Can’t Live Here and download this fabulous song from Spencer’s website
Spencer and I are honored to be on the receiving end of this much love and kindness. Our son Andre has put together an incredible night of music by our friends and associates to help raise funds as Spencer is healing from stage IV prostate cancer that has found its way into his bones. The healing process is intense and time-consuming, making it impossible to tour at this time. And as you all know, this is how we make our living.
In addition to the music, Scott Edwards will be serving a WHOLE HOG & sides outside of Tipitina’s for this event. There will also be a silent auction that has some really amazing packages, including B&B stays, bar tabs, artwork, food gift certificates, a handmade guitar, photographs from some of the city's finest photographers, and more! We will also have a good supply of Spencer's newest music, Makin' It Home To You, available, along with back catalog CDs.
And the musicians! They include friends from the gamut of our life in New Orleans from our first New Orleans friend Dave Malone of Raw Oyster Cult to the spectacularly talented members of Sweet Crude.
Here's the schedule of music for the night:
8pm: Rory Danger & the Danger Dangers
9pm: Anders Osborne/George Porter Jr/Johnny Vidacovich Trio
10pm: Sweet Crude
11pm: Raw Oyster Cult & guests
midnight: Johnny Sketch & the Dirty Notes plus Mike Doussan & Tommy & Darcy Malone.
And here is the link to buy tickets at Tipitina’s: http://www.tipitinas.com/calendar/singing-for-spencer-a-benefit-to-support-spencer-bohrens-cancer-recovery/
We look forward to seeing you there ~
When people learn that Marilyn and I are choosing a rather more holistic approach to treating my cancer than they’re used to hearing about, most of them applaud our decision and often share an anecdote from their personal experience to support our choices. Many people think we’re courageous, though I hardly feel brave, and I’m sure some think we’re crazy, which just may be true. No matter the reaction, everybody is curious about exactly what we’re doing, so I’m going to walk you through a typical day around our little shotgun house on the Esplanade Ridge in New Orleans. Remember that our goal is to get my immune system cranking at full steam while alkalizing my diet to make the cancer cells in my body as unwelcome as possible. The way we are eating sounds very narrow and severe, and probably boring in conversation, but nothing could be further from the truth.
Weather permitting, I like to get up and out of the house fairly early for a morning walk and ideally, a stretching session in City Park. About seven blocks from our house, the park maintains the largest collection of live oaks in the world. Its morning soundtrack includes ducks, geese, and in these winter months, there is also a variety of pelicans, ibis, herons and white egrets.
Of course, just because I’m not touring at the moment doesn’t mean there’s nothing to do in the office, so I still spend a certain amount of time with my laptop maintaining my business. One of the main goals this year is to reduce stress and pressure in every way possible, though, so I’m trying extra hard not to sweat the small stuff. I’ll be playing the occasional gig, but the overarching idea is to concentrate on healing and to follow the regimen we’re designing.
On the spiritual plane, I am doing my best to keep a peaceful demeanor, spending time in contemplation and cultivating an attitude of gratitude as my mother says. One of the most surprising of all the surprises this cancer has brought into our home is a pervasive sense of gratitude. Speaking with and hearing from so many others in similar situations, I am very grateful to be pain-free. We cannot begin to express our gratitude to all of you who pushed our Go Fund Me site to more than fifty percent beyond the original goal which will enable us to concentrate on healing for as long as necessary. We feel surrounded and protected every minute of the day by the uncountable thoughts and prayers that are being offered on our behalf. Thank you all for holding us in your hearts. Words alone can never say how much we appreciate your being on the team!
Anyway, here’s that schedule. Welcome to our world.
WAKE UP, FALL OUT OF BED . . .
~ Upon arising I drink a small glass of water with immune support
~ More water with mega-dose of vitamin C with herbal tinctures
~ Dry brush and shower or bathe
~ Rev up the slow juicer to make a couple shots of super-fresh wheatgrass juice
~ Continue making fresh vegetable juice using approximately 2/3 greens (kale, chard, spinach), carrots, cucumbers, celery and other veggies plus ginger, turmeric & lime juice.
~ Drink one tall glass of fresh vegetable juice.
~ Take immune support caps
~ Morning smoothie with coconut water, soaked chia seeds, ground flax seeds, almonds/walnuts, protein powder, kale or other greens, wild blueberries, pomegranate or raspberries
~ Take minerals with water or smoothie
~ Matcha tea
~ Vegetable juice
~ Lunch - nut butter with fresh veggies, a salad bowl, or left-overs from the night before with a salad
~ Vitamins & minerals
~ Mega-dose of vitamin C w/ herbal tincture
~ Matcha tea
~ More immune support
~ Almonds for snack
~ Vegetable juice
~ Dinner - Definitely vegan (except for fish a couple times a week). We’re eating a lot of raw food, and it’s surprisingly delicious and adventurous!
~ Vitamins & supplements
~ Vegetable juice with immune support
~ Mega-dose of vitamin C w/ herbal tincture
So, what’s the result of all this rigamarole, you ask? Well, I have to say that all the symptoms that originally drove me to the doctor four months ago have disappeared. I’m resting well all night without interruption because my prostate has shrunk. Score one for our team! Our doc also says my bones no longer ache because the cancer has stopped pushing on the inside of the bones. When I get the sniffles, they disappear quickly, so I know my immune system is working better than a year ago. Now, I will admit to feeling weary some afternoons but, as our son André says, “Dad, you’re nearly seventy!” He’s got a point.
In any case, we are very encouraged and excited by my progress. I feel vastly better than when diagnosed with stage IV prostate cancer at the beginning of September, and I plan to continue perfecting the regimen we have chosen. Thank you so much for taking this journey with us. We need you. We appreciate you. And we love you.
Like so many in America, we are on the holiday countdown: finding the perfect gift, planning meals for a few days, sending out some Christmas cards. And like so many New Orleanians, we are also finishing up the holiday shows. Yes, Spencer still has cancer, but he has nevertheless filled the past week with music.
Many of you no doubt were at least aware of the Christmas show Spencer put on at the Snug Harbor for twenty years in a row. He would invite a dozen guests, maybe soloists or duos or maybe a small choir, to do a couple of songs with him in the course of a night. There were so many gems among these many shows and truly memorable moments. Corinna would come in on high heels to hover over her dad while she belted out “I’m a Woman,” and Andre would play his latest classical piano piece, so there were many family moments for us, as well. However, last year was our first year we did not do this show. This year Debbie Davis asked Spencer to sing in her holiday show, Oh Crap, It’s Christmas! She and Spencer reprised the duet, “Gift of the Magi,” followed by Spencer solo on lapsteel playing his version of “Silent Night.” Stellar!
The week continued with a few rehearsals and recording with Rory Danger and the Danger Dangers, culminating in a night at Tipitina’s. The tableau of the night was Moby Dickens, the Great White Whale, complete with gift-giving (rubber chicken anyone?) and a new song or two.
But that wasn’t all. The week ended with a recording session for Alex McMurray, with Spencer going toe-to-toe with Susan Cowsill on vocal parts.
Does this sound like someone who is ill? Contrary-wise! When Spencer fills his lungs to sing, his whole being becomes the song. When he slides around on the lapsteel, he is transported to a place of extreme beauty. For my money, these are the most healing moments of the week for Spencer Bohren.
So while touring is out for the moment, music is IN. There are a handful of geographically close shows in the next few months. Check it out at https://www.spencerbohren.com/schedule/
And here’s to a Happy New Year filled with peace, truth, and good health!
It’s been a good week here on Ponce de Leon Street. Lots of juice, lots of veggies, drop-ins from the kids and a couple of friends. I thought maybe you’d be interested to hear what we had to eat today. I won’t even touch Spencer’s regime of supplements, as that’s another story.
One of the best parts of the week was getting our first delivery of wheat grass to turn into fresh juice. This is how it comes ~ our own little garden of greens!
We have had 2 shots each so far. We trim the grass, put it through our slow juicer, and then drink it immediately. The color is a brilliant green, and the taste is what I would call ALIVESince the juicer was already in operation, we continued by making a few bottles of fresh vegetable juice for Spencer to drink throughout the day. Here is what the juice looked like before we ran it through. Actually there was about 3 times as much kale, but I wanted the photo to show the array of veggies.
Because of the cabbage and carrots, it turned out a kind of chocolate color, still packed with nutrients from this array of kale, beets, carrots, celery, cucumbers, red cabbage, fresh ginger, fresh turmeric, and fresh lemon juice. All but the turmeric is organic. The juice is ultimately about 2 parts greens to 1 part everything else. It has just the right zip from the ginger and went down smooth as can be.
Within the next hour, I made our usual smoothie: coconut water, soaked chia seeds, protein powder, almonds, ground flax seeds, more kale, and organic frozen wild blueberries. We generally play a game of Bananagrams while slowly drinking this concoction.
I was visiting friends at lunchtime, and had a raw foods education for lunch. Wow! Spencer ate some left-overs. For dinner I shared some of the Three Pepper Soup and homemade almond crackers from my visit earlier in the day. I also roasted a thinly sliced head of cauliflower, which we ate with a sauce made from soaked cashews, white miso, lemon juice, and a few other ingredients.
Our general strategy is to boost Spencer’s immune system and alkalize his body. Yes, it takes extra time planning, shopping for greens, and trying out new recipes. But, as you know, the stakes are high. So we are on it!
And we are diggin’ it!
Having cancer is an odd thing. You get a diagnosis after deciding that some aspect of your health is not right. You consult with an array of doctors and get some labs done, and then you enter a whole new world. Although we wouldn’t mind having our old world back, we are in a curious space where Spencer feels good a majority of the time. We spend a great part of the day together as usual: get out for a bit of exercise in the morning or evening, I prepare meals, we play a daily game of Bananagrams, we work at the computers and spend some time reading, and sometimes we go to the movies. This, in fact, sounds a lot like our days at home before the diagnosis.
But there are differences. Walks can improve any mood at any time of the day, meals have been calibrated to boost Spencer’s immune system and alkalize his system (cancer does not thrive in an alkaline environment), our word game can reflect our current concerns, reading and computer work include the continuing study of cancer, and movie choices are more upbeat in a bid to bring in more happiness. Life is not as casual ~ we are breaking old habits of taking life for granted, hugging often in glee because we are together and also to lubricate our lives with gratitude. We are shedding stress that we didn’t know we had and filling that void with deep appreciation for the lives we have experienced and nurtured. We are fine-tuning our lives, even though we thought we had it all figured out.
There have also been some interesting additions around here. You might find this curious, but except when Spencer has had a specific project going, he has seldom played a lot of music around the house. Now that we are not touring, there is a line of guitars out of their cases just waiting to be picked up. Spencer has been obliging his instruments, making more music than he has in many years.
Many of you likely visualize Spencer dressed in black, as he often does for a performance. These days, though, he has been donning more colorful clothing, which paints life with more cheer. Good move, Spencer!
And how about more rest? Americans are notorious for not getting enough. These days Spencer often retreats in the afternoon, deep breathing for an extended period of time. Sometimes it leads to a bit of a nap. His sleeping habits have changed, too, from restlessness and an inner alarm waking him at 4:30 am, to deep quiet sleep until a more civilized hour. We have read that the body works on eliminating toxins during sleep. That sounds pretty important under the circumstances.
The point is that you can always do more to enhance your awareness. I wouldn’t say that I am grateful for the entry of cancer into our life. But I can definitely see where it is changing certain aspects in a positive direction. And for that I am grateful.
I keep thinking about how difficult it would be to research this cancer episode of our lives if we didn’t have the internet. Our go-to med site is the Mayo Clinic, but sometimes I check in with MD Anderson. We have been given various other sites, which I also peruse on occasion. There also are our dear friends from the middle of the country, a married couple who are doctors and parents to some of our favorite (now-grown) children. They have helped us weigh the information we have taken in and nudged us forward to dive into another layer of our reading and steered us if we were taking a left turn rather than a right one. Everyone should be so fortunate!
We have also had an advantage in the doctors we have visited. Our Medicare/insurance supplement opened the doors to caring people who have steadied the ship and given us an opportunity to learn more on the issues at hand.
Of course we wouldn’t be “us” if we didn’t investigate the cancer issue through the lens of our oldest healing connections. This includes our acupuncturist, midwife friends, others who work in the healing arts, and the many authors we have been reading for years.
Then there are the folks who have walked though our door: friends who have overcome cancer in a variety of ways, friends who have brushed up against cancer through family and friends, buddies who send books and cookbooks that have appeared on our doorstep and replaced my old cookbook library as we adjust Spencer’s diet to combat the cancer in his body.
The initial outpouring of support and concern came in response to an email that was released by an acquaintance as we were still digesting the info ourselves. Now that the GoFundMe https://www.gofundme.com/spenser-bohren-cancer-fund has been up for a almost a week (thank you Katie!), we are touched to tears many days with the breadth of people who have so generously responded. And the envelopes that appear under the door and in the mailbox ~ Wow! y’all! All of this points up what a large and caring community exists out there in the world through Spencer’s music and travels, as well as the connections made by our children.
Speaking of which, our children and their wonderful partners/spouses have added their loving support individually and as a group. They question and investigate, visiting us even when they live out of town. A couple have come along on doctor visits. Their energy and love uplift us daily.
For ALL of this ~ we humbly give thanks.
Spencer Bohren isn’t going anywhere.
It’s an odd thing to look at the calendar and not see it speckled with names of far-off places where the New Orleans musician will go to thumb his guitar. But there’s a big reason he needs to stay put at the moment: He’s been diagnosed with stage IV prostate cancer that has metastasized to his bones.
The world first found out accidentally. When doctors told him earlier this year about what was making him achingly tired — the kind of tired that made getting around to all those far-flung gigs particularly difficult — he let some folks in Germany know why he was canceling a tour there. The news traveled, but Tuesday (Nov. 13) he and his wife, Marilyn Bohren, brought everyone else in on the thing they’ve been dealing with for a couple months. The reaction, including the financial kind, has been “overwhelming.”
“It was very moving, to be honest. We would have been a lot more private about it, but the truth is it was really touching to see the amazing outpouring,” Bohren said. “I can really feel the support more than I would ever have thought. It’s very palpable.”
When I called Bohren about the diagnosis, he said the last time he’d looked at the GoFundMe set up to help make ends meet while he’s not working, it was right at $6,000. I gave him the update that it was now north of $20,000.
“You’re kidding me,” he said, laughing. “That’s just going to make such a difference.”
Like anyone who’s self-employed, a musician facing the prospect of taking a year off, as Bohren intends to do, presents steep challenges.
“It’s not the same as everybody else’s job,” Bohren acknowledged. “It’s more of a calling.”
For now, Bohren and his wife are approaching his medical care with a holistic approach. Though he and Marilyn are posting some updates to their blog, they’re keeping many medical details close to the vest — getting sick has a way of eliciting lots of advice from folks — Bohren did say he’s found some success in changing up his diet.
“Caterpillar food” is what he calls it, but the point is clear: Don’t eat anything that cancer likes.
He’s also finding time to pick up the instruments laying around his house that don’t get much love when he’s on the road.
“Every one of those guitars is teaching me something,” Bohren said, marveling at the things he’s discovering while each note doesn’t serve any purpose other than to be heard. Nothing’s getting recorded. Nothing’s being rehearsed.
Still, there are a few things on the calendar that aren’t getting moved. Among them is a December show with Rory Danger and the Danger Dangers, and a March event at the Jazz and Heritage Foundation with the Whippersnappers. He’s also looking forward to returning to teach guitar at Fur Peace Ranch in south Ohio next spring. It works out to about a gig a month, a sharp decrease for this routine New Orleans performer.
“When I do come back onto the streets,” he said, “I’ll be ready.”
Chelsea Brasted is a columnist on the Latitude team at NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune. Latitude is a place to share opinions about the challenges facing Louisiana. Follow @LatitudeNOLA on Facebook and Twitter. Write to Chelsea at email@example.com. You can also call or text with story ideas, tips and complaints 225.460.1350.
For 50 years now Spencer Bohren has been sharing his musical heart with friends and audiences throughout the world. And for 44 of those years I have shared that wild ride. Early on we discovered that we traveled well together as we spent nearly a year exploring the coasts of America, making a few bucks here and there to finance the adventure. It was a fortuitous journey, pushing Spencer into becoming a soloist and infecting us with a love of New Orleans. We shared further adventures as we began a family, which in turn nudged us into our seven year odyssey in the Airstream trailer pulled by our 1955 red and white Chevy Bel Air in order to keep our family strong.
All along Spencer and I have been a team, sharing the work of raising our family and keeping this musician moving forward. It has been a glorious life filled with challenges as we turned roadblocks into new opportunities. And now we have perhaps the biggest bump in the road:
Spencer Bohren has cancer
As with everything else in his life, Spencer doesn’t just have cancer; he has stage IV prostate cancer that has metastasized to his bones. It is a big one, and It has our full attention, you can be sure. After several weeks of studying and talking with doctors, healers, survivors, and friends/family of survivors, we see our path to better health. Like everything else we do, we are both throwing ourselves into Spencer’s healing full time, and we realize that we need to take a year off from touring in order to give Spencer full advantage to overcome the cancer.
To facilitate such a move, we ask your kind indulgence to help us out by clicking here to contribute to his GoFundMe. Contributions will go directly to the expenses of healing, as well as covering our basic living expenses for the year dedicated to healing.
Many thanks to all. We love you ~