‘I Ought to Have Died’: Dave Alvin, Seminal California Nation-Punk Guitarist, Talks Personal Most cancers Battle


By the top of 2019, Dave Alvin knew one thing was mistaken. He’d spent 11 of the previous 12 months on the highway, and for the primary time in his profession, he now not felt bodily able to maintaining his livid touring tempo.

“I began feeling like, ‘I don’t suppose I can do that anymore,’” Alvin says. The next month, in January 2020, he was hospitalized for 9 days with a sepsis an infection. By the subsequent month, Alvin was feeling simply barely ok to carry out at a profit tribute present for the Lovin’ Spoonful on February twenty ninth, however he nonetheless didn’t really feel proper.

Two month later, in Could of 2020, Dave Alvin was identified with prostate most cancers.

“And that,” says the singer, “started the subsequent two years of my life.”

It was a interval outlined by a fog of sickness and restoration: Alvin acquired three separate most cancers diagnoses and spent months present process chemotherapy and radiation. He suffered from neuropathy, a typical side-effect from chemo, which left him unable to play guitar for months — He nervous he’d by no means once more decide up the instrument. “There was a track of mine known as ‘King of California,’ I couldn’t play it,” he says. “My fingers wouldn’t go there. That’s such a bizarre feeling.”

Alvin did muster up the power to play guitar on two information over the past two years: a session for his previous buddy Jon Langford, and an upcoming tribute album to the late drummer Don Heffington. “OK, this can be my final recording session,” Alvin remembers considering, “however I gotta do it for Don.”

Aside from his accomplice, his brother, his bandmates, and a few shut associates, Alvin instructed nearly nobody what he was going via.

“In a black humor type of means, it was like, ‘When you’ve obtained to choose a time to get most cancers and never have the ability to tour, that is actually the time to do it,’” Alvin, 66, jokes of the pandemic timing of his diagnoses. “I didn’t wish to make an enormous deal out of it as a result of coping with most cancers places worry into folks, and I simply didn’t wish to take care of all of the type of stuff that comes together with everybody understanding.”

At present, Dave Alvin is totally cancer-free, although he’s nicely conscious it might return at any level. The California singer-songwriter and guitarist — influential within the worlds of nation, people, and punk — is worked up to be on the verge of taking part in his first correct exhibits this summer season, with previous buddy and collaborator Jimmie Dale Gilmore, in two and a half years. Like so many who undergo the expertise, he says his analysis has modified him completely, and he lastly desires to speak about it.

“I’m pretty optimistic, and I’ve obtained a couple of extra years, you realize?” Alvin says, erupting into fun. “I’m cancer-free at present, and hey, tomorrow? Who is aware of.”

Did you make a fairly intentional determination to maintain your well being points non-public whilst you had been nonetheless actively coping with them?My brother Phil [Alvin] has had a variety of well being points the previous few years. We needed to make his well being points public, and I knew how a lot it harm his pleasure and ego. On one hand, he cherished the truth that folks cared about him, however alternatively, he didn’t wish to appear needy and weak. So I simply determined to not inform anybody. But it surely’s gotten to the purpose now the place not telling folks is extra of a burden than telling them. It’s a indisputable fact that I needed to take care of three completely different cancers and, knock on wooden, I’m free of all of them. You’re type of in an Alcoholics Nameless state of affairs the place it’s, “Sooner or later at a time.”

What was your precise analysis?
The smallest one was prostate, and the most important one was colorectal. It was stage 4, and it had moved onto my liver. Final yr I had an enormous surgical procedure the place they eliminated all of the tumors and every little thing. Then, in late June [2021], I used to be instructed I used to be cancer-free, and a part of me didn’t consider them, which was good, as a result of actually two and a half weeks later they had been telling me I had a yr to dwell. They discovered one other tumor creating, and it turned this Kafkaesque factor: One of many oncologists thought I could have most cancers in my lungs, so that they began me on chemotherapy for most cancers in my lungs. Then, attributable to one other uptick on Covid instances, I couldn’t go in for a lung biopsy for some time, so I had chemotherapy for a most cancers I didn’t have after having chemo for and radiation for cancers I did have. 

What was the toughest a part of the entire course of?
The large factor was the colorectal most cancers. When Chadwick Boseman handed away [from colon cancer], that was such a intestine punch. I couldn’t perceive how he might do all the good work that he did and undergo these remedies. My admiration for him went up much more than it already had. He turned considered one of my heroes via all this.

After which it was the reactions I needed to chemotherapy, the most important one being neuropathy in my ft and palms. For about six months, I couldn’t play guitar. Some folks would say I’ve by no means been in a position to play guitar, however that’s neither right here nor there. As soon as the neuropathy obtained to a tolerable stage, the one means I can describe it might be that the guitar strings had been like razorblades. Then, a couple of months later, I used to be in a position to contact guitar strings however my fingers had been numb, so I couldn’t inform what fret or string I used to be on. I needed to stare down at my palms like I used to be a newbie.


What was the final time you performed onstage earlier than the pandemic?
I did this profit present proper after I obtained out of the hospital for sepsis. It was a tribute to the Lovin’ Spoonful. I had stated sure as a result of the primary rock & roll present I ever noticed once I was 9 years previous was the Lovin’ Spoonful, the Bobby Fuller 4, the Turtles and Thee Midniters and Herman’s Hermits. The 2 bands that had the largest influence on me had been Bobby Fuller 4 and the Lovin’ Spoonful. I bear in mind their performances fairly crystal-clear. John [Sebastian] did this factor that night time known as “Night time Owl Blues,” and I had by no means heard blues harmonica earlier than. I used to be like, “What’s that sound?”

So it was an enormous factor for me to play “Night time Owl Blues” [at the February 2020 benefit] with John Sebastian, eight million years later. However that scared me. As a result of I used to be like, “I’ve come full circle.” My first gig was the Lovin’ Spoonful, my final gig was the Lovin’ Spoonful. If I had fallen off a mountain the subsequent day it might have been like, “Effectively, you wrapped up that circle.” However considered one of my most cancers associates just lately stated, “It’s not a circle, it’s a determine eight.” I simply completed the underside half of the determine eight, so now we’re going to the highest half. 

How have the final two years modified you?
I simply at all times felt like I wasn’t going to die. “You’ll be able to’t kill me, not but.” my profession, I’m a cussed previous canine, and one of many causes I’ve a profession is that I refused to stop. There’s been a variety of occasions when a much less cussed particular person would have, or ought to have, stop. What modified me, the largest change, is that I at all times form of caught to my very own weapons creatively and lived outdoors the margins of the music trade, like a variety of my heroes did. This has all simply satisfied me to observe that path much more. 

However the main psychological change, and that is going to sound cornball, is that it’s all frosting now. I ought to have died. I had a profession and a life stuffed with cake, and now every little thing I do above that, even the shitty days are OK. I’ve at all times been a bit of bit snarky, sarcastic, cynical in some methods, and I’m nonetheless that, however once I’m cynical now, it’s being cynical however with a, “Gee, isn’t life freaking stunning? Isn’t it valuable?” Persons are merciless, and justice is one thing we’ve got to try for, however, God, have a look at these bushes. Take a look at these flowers. Wow, I by no means seen these earlier than. 


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