I am using this occasion to officially re-start Book of Jubilations. I had been keeping a fairly steady journal going until last year, when things went off the rails and couldn’t quite seem to get back on. I started Book of Jubilations because I saw a real lack of first-hand advice on making a life in music. People would ask me questions after shows, write me letters or send me albums that they’d made, wondering aloud how they could make a career in music for themselves. I always wanted to answer them in greater detail than time allowed. So I got the idea for Book of Jubilations. You see, making a living doing something you love isn’t only about making a living (in fact for many that’s not even a possibility) its about making a life. That means building friendships, respecting your own limitations, taking pleasure in your own creativity and in the creativity of others, and always, always, always reminding yourself to enjoy the moment you’re in. I felt that lots of musicians getting started had all the same questions I’d had when I first began playing, and I wanted to I wanted Book of Jubilations to offer up some pragmatic advice and encouragement that those just beginning might find useful. Book of Jubilations would also help me, I thought, as an ongoing reminder to keep my eyes open and to stay interested and feeling fortunate for all the aspects of this weird life that has become my own. Things got very busy last year, however, and I had to put Jubilations aside for awhile. I was just thinking about when and how I would start it back up again when I woke up one morning a few weeks back in more pain than I’ve ever been.
As many of you know, I’ve been a runner for a long time. Running is a perfect exercise for me. I’ve done three marathons and have made an hour-long run part of my daily schedule for years now. But a few weeks ago, I pushed myself a bit too hard in my workout. Over the course of a few days I got increasingly sore. I had difficulty pulling my clothes on by myself. It was tough to fall asleep and even tougher to stay asleep. That morning in inched painfully out of bed and saw that my muscles had begun to swell up. Not aware of any specific top-secret government Hulk-serum I might have been given, and notwithstanding that I was looking pretty damn good, I took the sudden change in physique as mildly disturbing. I told my partner, Haley, and after a quick perusal of my symptoms on the Internet, she dragged me kicking and screaming out to the car. A short time later I was in the emergency room.
All kinds of tests followed, and with the results came a flurry of activity around the bed. I.V.’s were set up to dump saline into my body, and I was sent down the hall for chest x-rays. My teeth had begun to chatter and, most alarmingly to me, my muscles had continued to swell and were now looking truly freakish. My body was beginning to look like someone else’s. What had begun with a nice day at home was turning into something terrifying.
A doctor came in and told me what we’d suspected. I had a case of acute exertional rhabdomyolysis, a condition caused by a breakdown of muscle fiber content into the bloodstream. The level of muscle breakdown can be measured by the presence of creatine phosphokinase (CPK). A normal, everyday walking around level of CPK in the bloodstream is between 60-100 units. At time of admittance, my blood levels measured 270,000 units. Human kidneys are good at a whole bunch of stuff, and mine have seen me through a good thirty-five years with nary a peep. But kidneys aren’t designed to handle the outrageous amounts of muscle fiber protein that was floating around in my blood. My liver enzymes as well were skyrocketing. Unfortunately, there was little that could be done but keep the I.V.’s going full throttle and hope that damage to my kidneys was minimized. It was all wait and see. One thing was for certain however: if I’d spent the night at home my kidneys would have failed and I would have died.
So, over the next six days I watched a lot of daytime T.V., read a bunch, and got my blood taken by a lot of friendly nurses. I also spent a lot of time thinking about mortality. Here I’d been muddling through a day, a little sore but generally feeling fine, and all the while I was only hours away from death. There was no moment of clarity, no life flashing before the eyes, no drawn-out struggle or jet malfunction. The edge was close and I had skated along it, never knowing that it was there. I’m still thinking about that.
And what role did my songs and my writing play in those thoughts? Very little. I didn’t think about work. I’d been writing up a storm in those past several weeks, working on my new album and deep in the second draft of my second novel, but none of those things had any space in my mind during those hours between blood tests as I waited to find out if my kidneys were still working. As you can imagine, it’s hard to write when preoccupied with kidney failure. In addition, I was so swollen up that it was just plain uncomfortable to do anything but wonder at Wendy Williams. I got calls and visits from my friends and family. My band was in close touch day and night, and I heard from hundreds of people who wished me well. It drove home to me just how huge the Life part of making a life in music really is. It’s easy to forget, in the midst of writing songs, recording records and playing shows that none of these things on their own constitute a Life. That, my friends, is what brought me back to Book of Jubilations. While I was in the hospital I got the chance to see just how many good people I am lucky enough to call my friends. Many, if not most, I have met through doing what I love. Musicians, novelists, promoters, graphic artists, chefs, tax accountants, business managers, booking agents, managers, and above all avid music lovers. Somehow, along the way toward making a career writing and performing songs, I’ve also met an extended family that has made my life incalculably richer. I wish that outcome for every new artist and I hope that Jubilations will help them as they move forward.
Today I’m sitting in my own kitchen very happy to be alive. My CPK levels are almost back to normal, and while I haven’t been allowed to exercise for a little while, I’m feeling a little less sluggish than when I first checked out of the hospital. And I’m looking forward to what this year is bringing! There are going to be awesome shows all over the world, a new album and novel on the way and lots of cool ideas about what I want to do next. Through all of that I’ll be continuing Book of Jubilations in the hope that it is inspiring, interesting, and useful.
My huge thanks to all of you for your support, goodwill and generosity. I count myself profoundly lucky to know you.
Next week: Exercise! It won’t kill you.