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Columns > John Zinkand - Improvise

Published: 2005/11/12
by John Zinkand

Sick Shows

As I finally sit down to write this article tonight, moe. and Govt Mule are kicking off their national tour together at the Roseland Theater here in Portland, OR. Why am I not there, you ask? Good question, humble reader. The reason Im not at the show right now rocking out to Warren, Al, Vinnie, and Rob is quite simple: Im sick. Yes, the seasons have changed rather abruptly this year in Oregon. One weekend it was sunny and 80 degrees, the next it changed to rainy and 50 degrees and has pretty much stayed that way ever since. Add the serious lack of sleep Ive been experiencing lately as well as the additional stress from some personal situations, mix liberally, and you get me one sick jam fan. I hate missing shows due to sickness, but sometimes you have to bite the bullet and suck it up for your health. Even if I was at the show, I wouldnt be fully enjoying it since I just dont feel all that well. Ive a scratchy throat, Im pretty run down, Im all stuffed up, and I even have a sinus headache. Woohoo! Love that cold season. So here I sit, hunting and pecking out an article for jambands.com.
At least I have the option of just skipping it, though. I cant help but think what it must be like for a touring band on the road when a band member falls ill. The live show is their lifeblood, and skipping a show is not really an option. Skipping a show can mean the loss of several hundred dollars, which for the smaller bands on the scene can mean missing a few meals. And how miserable is that for these guys in small bands when they do get sick? I mean, being sick sucks any way you slice it. But being sick and having to perform music in front of people while breathing in copious quantities of second hand cigarette smoke sucks monkey balls. And after performing all night in a smoke-bath, they have to pack out all the gear, stay up late, and drive in cramped conditions to the next show while munching on unhealthy road food. It makes me shudder to even think about it. But Ive been to many a show while being sick. Most of these, however, were in my younger days when being sick couldnt keep me away from a show I had been planning for and looking forward to for weeks or months. After I had planned out a Northeast run of Phish shows, no sickness in the world could keep me away from a show. Sure, the show would not be as enjoyable, but at least I was thereespecially if the band happened to kick down some tasty treat of a musical tidbit that night. At least I could say I was theremaybe sitting down and drinking lots of water, but there nonetheless. Lets roll the clock back even father to when I was seeing the Grateful Dead. I was a high school student at boarding school in rural Pennsylvania when I saw most of my Grateful Dead shows. I did not even know there were other smaller bands that toured at that time. I knew only that I loved seeing the Grateful Dead live, and I planned months and months in advance to get to see them when they came remotely close to where I lived. In March of 1991, the Dead were scheduled to play the Capitol Center in Landover, MD. This just happened to be over my Spring Break during my senior year and there was no way I was going to miss this show. Especially considering my girlfriend and some other friends from school lived relatively close by in DC. We begged parents, mail ordered tickets, made travel arrangements, and ultimately got everything worked out. I happily arrived at my friends place a few days before the show. I was happy even though I could feel a slight cold coming on.
As the days leading up to the show progressed, my slight cold turned into a raging, blistering, powerful illness. My throat became red and raw. I could barely swallow. I coughed and hacked up bright yellow mucus which eventually had streaks of bright red blood in it. The day before the show I was totally wiped out. I was exhausted, stuffed up, hacking and coughing, and generally pathetically sick. I looked in the mirror at my bright red throat to see white matter on my swollen tonsils. These are usually good signs that one is extremely sick, but I just wasnt buying it. Yes, I felt like total ass, but I had planned for so long and I loved the Dead so much and rarely got a chance to see them. I just couldnt miss the show. Friends told me I was crazy, but I said Ill be ok. So when the day of the show rolled around, I piled in the car with my box of tissues and pocketful of cough drops next to all my heady friends. The drive over was pure Hell. I felt so bad and knew I had no business being at the show. Swallowing water hurt so bad that I would tear up with every swig. Upon arrival at the lot, everyone filed out of the vehicle to enjoy the merriness of the lot scene, whereas I opted to stretch out in the back of the truck and try to sleep. I rolled around and moaned in pain. People brought me booty they had scored in the lot, and I turned my nose up at everything. I just had no interest. With the pain I was experiencing, I was actually having second thoughts about being there at all. Suddenly I realized this was a very bad decision and I was extremely sick. Not only should I not have been at a Dead show, I probably should have been on my way home to see a doctor.
After what seemed like days, show time finally rolled around. I felt like death warmed over, but somehow managed to get inside the venue and find my seats. Of course, I sat down immediately. Even when the band came on I stayed seated, something I had never done up until this point at a Grateful Dead show. I did manage to stand once during the first set when the band busted a premier version of Ruben and Cherise. But my joy was short-lived when I started to get dizzy and sat back down with my head in my hands. A kind older head noticed I was greenish-yellow and totally bumming. He leaned down and offered me his water. No, I said. Im really sick, you dont want to catch it. He replied, Yeah, I can see that, man. You need this much more than me. Keep it and I hope you feel better. This was really the only light in Dead show filled with darkness and pain. Well, I did manage to stand one more time during the second set when the band brought back New Speedway Boogie after a long absence. I sure did not enjoy the Black Peter near the end of the second set that night, though. I just wanted to die myself. The rest of the experience is somewhat blurry, but we made it back to my buddys house after the show. I could barely sleep because I could barely swallow. I hadnt been eating much and my health was in an extremely bad place. When the next day arrived, I had to drive the 2 hours north back to my parents house in Pennsylvania so they could drive me back to boarding school. My girlfriend could not drive stick, so I had no choice but to drive myself. Each breath hurt, and each swallow a knife to the throat. I used up reams of tissue paper blowing bloody snot load after snot load. I was so tired that I nodded from time to time, but my girlfriend kept me as awake as possible. Finally I got to my house and opened the front door. So how was the show? my parents asked. I didnt say a word. I just opened my mouth. My mother, a nurse anesthetist, looked at my throat and her eyes widened in horror. We are going to the emergency clinic right now! she screamed. On the way there she asked how I could even try going to the show feeling the way I must have. I could only manage a meager explanation about wanting to see the Dead. She replied that I was going to be dead soon myself if I didnt take care of myself. She was actually more correct that I thought. I was diagnosed with both strep throat and mono. I eventually got healthy again, but it was a see-saw of sickness and health until I had my infected tonsils removed about a year later.
In hindsight, it was probably one of the dumber things Ive ever done. I knew I was sicker than I ever had been at the timebut for some reason it just didnt seem that important at the time. I was 18 and invincible. And of course hindsight is 20/20. So as I sit here at home tonight instead of attending the moe./Mule show, I feel some regret. But I also know that Im probably doing the right thing by keeping myself from getting even sicker. Hey, it is a two night stand after all, so maybe Ill feel well enough to catch the show tomorrow night.

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