Here's what Brain Surgery is like:
. Nothing. You're not there
while they're drilling the little hole in the side of your head, then
inserting the saw and opening up the top of your head like a toy coconut,
your skull clamped tighter than Tim Allen ever clamped a board in Home
Improvement. The actual microsurgery is done under a microscope (duh),
due to the nearly infinitessimal size of the vessels being worked on.
I was lucky. Oh was I lucky. Let's take a second to thank the Lord that
these fingers are even capable of receiving the kind of detailed messages
from the brain required to spit words of wild and wacky wisdom onto this
page. Thank you, Lord. When I exited from surgery, and had a smidgeon of
consciousness, I remember the first thing I did was wiggle my fingers to
see if I was gonna have to get a real job after recovering, or if music still
would flow from them. They worked. Thank you Lord. In order not to
(further) alienate the athiests agnostics and communists in our reading
audience, as few or many as there may be, I'll make that the last prayer in
this chapter. Thank goodness those fingers still worked. Thank goodness
ANYTHING still worked. It's good that I wasn't "there" when Dr. Ratcheson,
Dr. Mapstone and Dr. Tucker, of the Cleveland University Hospital
Neurosurgery team were dissecting and reconnecting me. I woulda puked.
Here's how it all began.
Ian's band was 5 men this year, the 3rd of my stint. Ronson was
gone. It was a lower budget tour, but there was more for me to do, new
synths and freedom, and it was fun. But since it was low Budg, the band
and crew were on the same travelling schedule, resulting in significantly
less sleep for us. Things began to blur around Michigan; I remember some
girl in my room, but that might have been Mark Kaufman, the size 13 shod
drummer who roomed with me that tour. He's a pilot now; first came to
NYC and drove a cab, drumming when he could and worked his way up the
ladder the old fashioned way. He had a good feel, was funny and good
looking, but was a little too smart at times. Once, he fucked the boss's
daughter and it cost him a decent gig. As his rommie, I can attest to the
love that boy had for rhythmic activities other than (musical) drumming.
So back to the operating table. Anyway, it was Yom Kippur, and we
found ourselves in Cleveland. Sam Lederman, Ian's Manager didn't book us
for Yom K, being of the Sandy Koufax school of Judaism. Sandy Koufax, for
those of you too young to recall, was the best pitcher in baseball in the
60's, a Brooklyn-born Dodger, who, at the peak of his powers, refused to
pitch in the World Series on the day of Yom Kippur. We Jews are
commanded to do no servile work on that day, it's the Sabbath of Sabbaths.
So, if it was good enough for Sandy Koufax, it was good enough reason for
Sam and I. (I once turned Bryan and his manager down on a gig in Argentina
because it fell on Yom Kippur. An incredulous Adams put his manager on
the phone to hear for himself, because he knew he would think Adams was
joking if he told him that someone would turn down 4 figures for a
religious holiday. Bruce Allen is a deeply religious man himself. His
religion, as best as I can see, is Winning.)
So I went to the Cleveland University Hillel Society (College Jewish
Organization) services, fasted and prayed up a storm, made peace with my
Maker for the year to come, and then took the bus back to the hotel, and
got ready for the evening's gig, at the Richfield Colliseum. Ian's song
"Cleveland Rocks ", from Schizophrenic, had intensified his acclaim around
that city, already a hotbed of hard rock enthusiasm. I had a cheese and
tomato sandwich, a few peanut m'n'm's and it was SHOW TIME!
There's one part of the set, where Ian himself plays piano (he's a GREAT
rhythm piano player, beats the low keys with his entire left palm on beats
2 and 4 to imitate the snare drum backbeat that he feels, amidst his
swingin 8's. . .) "It Was JUST ANOTHER NIGHT ! On the "Other Side" of Life"
sang Ian. Since my piano seat was occupied by a Bitchin British Bum, I was
told to go over to the mike on stage left where Robbie Alter, Ian's new
guitar sidekick normally played and sang, and "make some noise." Robbie
went center stage, to Ian's normal position, and I turned into maraca
monkey man, trying, without shame, to make as much of a dancin fool of
myself as was humanly possible.
This night, perhaps my energy was flagging a bit due to low sleep, &
lower food and liquid intake over the past 24 hours of fasting; so I slipped
back to the drum riser, and stole a sip of the bass player's Pepsi for a
little spark of energy mid song. Little spark indeed. Back at the mike, I did
my falsetto "Ooooo" on A above middle C. The next thing I knew, the world
had faded to a pinpoint of light, like the old TV sets used to do when you
turned them off. Then it was back to normal again, I was shakin the
maracas at the mike and then it happened again. I was not fully conscious
of what was happening, it was more like I came back from somewhere and
realized that for a moment, I had been nowhere. The third time it
happened, I was on my back looking up at Berrick Wickens, our drum roadie.
They all thought that I had just been clowning around on my back. Me, I
don't even recall falling down. But I had the definite feeling that
something was very wrong. So they took me off to the back stage right
area, gave me water, oxygen, and I waited for things to right themselves.
But they didn't.
I had to start the next song, "All The Way To Memphis " on the piano
with powerful staccato 8th note seventh chords, and my cue was Ian
throwing a cup of water in the air. When the cup hit the ground, that was
my sign to start playing. So the progress of the show hinged on my
execution of this simple act, but I was way out of it. Conditioned beast
that I was, I managed to throw what seemed to be my hand at what seemed
to be a keyboard at the proper moment. What I played was anybody's guess,
but the important thing was that sound was produced, and the band could
chime in. They had rolled me out on a road case. I guess I flailed through
the end of the set, and back in the dressing room, this beautiful big fan
who was apparently a nurse cradled me. I puked my guts out. Whoever and
wherever you are, Big Nurse, I thank you and miss you! Hope I didn't get any
on you, but, hey, you're a nurse, you're probably used to that.
Mayfair Hospital in Cleveland wouldn't admit me, because they heard
the word "Rock Concert", and assumed that I was a druggie who had fallen
down and hit his head. They persisted in billing me for months for ER
services, even called in a collection agency, until I irately threatened to sue
them for the way they had mishandled my case.
There were two or three more big gigs, Cobo Hall in Detroit, another
city that loved Ian, and a big Chicago one as well, so I just tried to
maintain for a few daze. All I wanted to do was lie horizontal in as dark
and quiet a place as possible for as long as possible. There was a terrible
throbbing in my head with each pulsebeat, and I suppose I was
unconsciously striving to reduce the number of bombshells bursting by
reducing my pulse rate. Survival mechanix. Don't remember much else of
that period. My girlfriend was having dreams that something was wrong
with me, and Jon Rosbrook the tour manager, could see it as well. So after
the last big gig, before a twentysomething hour drive down to Thibadeaux,
Louisianna, Marty Mooney from the record company, fortunately located in
the Cleveland area, and Jean, my girlfriend/manager and a 2nd year
graduate student in Psychology, experienced in all forms of mental
abberation, showed up to see how we could get me looked at.
To make a long story short, Dr. Howard Tucker, this Talmudic
Neurologist, guru, music lover and, in my case, lifesaver, did a spinal tap,
which was not painful, contrary to the cliche. (at least not compaired to
the pain I was in at the time.) He found 5cc's of blood in my spinal fluid, a
small amount, but enough to tip him off that there had been a bleed in my
brain. CAT scan. Aha! A small leak in a bubble like growth off of a small
artery in my skull...Aneurysm of the Post Communicative Artery, for all
you BrainSurgeons out there.
So now my mom's there, my twin sister, Mady is there, Jean's there, the
record co's there, and something's gonna get fixed. Enter Dr. Robert Ratcheson,
head of the Neurosurgery Department at Cleveland University Hospital. Not an
old guy, seems to know what he's doing. But alas, he's gotta go to LA the next day
to deliver a lecture and he'll leave the operation to his assistants, the
very capable Drs. HackitUp and SewItback. WAIT A MINUTE! My mom goes
into action. First, she force feeds me piano for 10 years, making me feel
like a bit of an outcast, but setting up my glorious career. Then, she walks
Dr. Ratcheson out of the room. Minutes later, he's back, and guess what?
HE'LL DO THE OPERATION! For years my mom wouldn't tell me what she
said. Finally, I found out.
"I just asked him to imagine it was his kid," she told me. Thanks,
ma, good work.
The first time I saw my face after the operation, I thought they had
made a mistake and put both of my eyes on the same side of my nose! The
swelling was intense. Nuprin and steroids helped to ease the pain, which
was already considerably less than before the operation. One day, Jean
sneaked me down in a wheelchair, through the bowels of the hospital to a
little chapel where there was a piano. The first time I tried to play, it
felt like my fingers were travelling through molasses. But it was ok. And
improved quickly. When the dox found out we had done that they were NOT
pleased. "Blow your nose and you may blow your brains out," was one
phrase that I remember being told before the operation. The other, more
pleasant memory was of Seconal, that great equalizer, administered to me
before my trip to the scalpel palace. Boy I felt great.
So the deal was, if I wanted piano priviledges, at the proper
time I had to go and visit a few patients who were Ian Hunter fans, and
were awaiting surgery. I was wheeled into a colorful children's ward, and
met a girl who's skull had been drilled and clamped into place to avoid any
motion that might destroy her spinal chord. I guess I made her day. But if I
didn't feel lucky before that, I sure did then.
On Halloween, I went home with Jean. And believe me, I didn't need a
mask that year!
Sometimes I think that I was saved then because there was more for
me to do in life. My daughters may have been the reason. Ian thinks that
I'm just a gritty survivor. But at the time, I was ready to go, if that was
what was meant to be.I knew who would get my clavinet, my B-3. No kids,
no fears. Maybe Jean, Mady, and my mom kept me alive. They sure were pulling.
Speaking of Mady, she's my twin sister, I'm almost an hour older.
But she's been
ahead of me all through life: she was the first to realize that cassettes were
gonna be the new medium; me, I was like, "Yuck on that little puny tape? it
sounds terrible- reel to reel forever!" It was Mady's love of The West Side Story,
and her incessant playing of a broader range of music in her room that tempered
my AM radio Hitsville mentality with a wider influence. And curiously, the only
classical pieces that I remember from our childhood lessons, are the ones SHE
played, and I must have learned by ear, hearing her practicing them whilst I did
my homework or built model rockets.