By Bob McMahon
By Allison Babka
By Kelsey McClure
By Carolina de Busto
By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Steve Brennan
By Joseph Hess
By Allsion Babka
Kirk Rundstrom, 37-year-old songwriter, singer and guitarist for the Wichita, Kansas, punk-grass band Split Lip Rayfield, has built a career on clever and graphic country-esque tunes about drinking, death and devastation and has a reputation for blasting through them with a joy as manic as his string-shredding strum. But to quote Merle Haggard, "Things aren't funny anymore." In January, Rundstrom was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. Despite four months of nonstop chemotherapy, the cancer spread to his aorta and lymph nodes. The doctors gave him two to six months. He called off the radiation and started making plans not for a funeral, but for another tour, a tour he plans to see through to the end.
I've never interviewed someone living under a death sentence.
I'm still alive. If you think about it, we're all living under a death sentence.
Do you have a history of cancer in your family?
I was adopted, so I don't really know. My mother died of cancer at 56 years of age. I saw what chemo did for her.
The disease hit you very hard and very fast.
I had symptoms before I was diagnosed. I was rotating in and out of tours. I'd just done 58 shows in a row. I thought it was because I was singing every night, and the pain in my back was from the road. I was healthy. No drugs, no fast food, no alcohol.
Were you a smoker?
I used to do drugs, drink and smoke. But for the last few years, I've been clean and sober. I know all that stuff had an effect. You are what you put into your body. I'm a firm believer of that.
What alternative therapies are you trying?
I get Vitamin C intravenously, acupuncture, very strict diet, no sugar. I am planning on living and not dying. For the majority of cancer patients, you get diagnosed, it's such a scary thing. The doctor says they're going to do chemo, which is a little bit of hope, and you jump at it. I think chemo is America's form of euthanasia, for the most part.
It can be brutal.
They can't find a cure for cancer. It's ridiculous. One woman with breast cancer can walk into a hospital, and she gets chemo, and it clears it. Another woman gets the same treatment and it spreads through her body. The doctors don't change the course. They give her the same chemo. I don't know if that's because drug companies took doctors out on a Caribbean cruise and said, "This is the drug we're pushing this year." But if something doesn't work, you have to try something different.
Do you feel strong enough to tour?
I haven't left home since January. I'm a human pincushion. Every day I am off the chemo, the more I get the drugs out of my body, the better I feel. I'm just now getting the strength to form the chords. But if for some reason I only have a little time left, I don't want to spend it in a bed.
Roy Kasten 9 p.m. Thursday, August 24. Blueberry Hill's Duck Room, 6504 Delmar Boulevard, University City. $15. 314-727-4444.
Unhappy TrailsWhat's the worst thing you can imagine happening on tour? Stolen gear? Van breakdowns? Drummer busted at the Canadian border with a poorly hidden drug stash? Bad news, all of it. But how about being stranded for two months in a Texas truck stop's parking lot?
Meet nerdy, naughty indie-pop duo Cars Can Be Blue, who last fall spent three months enduring what must be a front-runner for Worst Tour Ever. Upon releasing their fine first CD, All The Stuff We Do, they quit their jobs, hopped in a biodiesel-powered school bus and left their native New Hampshire. The plan was to drive down the east coast, out to California, up the west coast, swing through the Midwest (including a planned show at Frederick's Music Lounge) and finally land in Athens, Georgia, where they planned to live, play and record.
Well, singer-guitarist Becky and drummer Nate did make it to Athens eventually but not before enduring the kind of hell ride that makes Black Flag's legendarily penny-pinching tours seem plush. Using all of the sophisticated reconstruction methods our budget would allow (OK, mostly postings from their MySpace page, www .myspace.com/carscanbeblue), we've retraced when and where it all went wrong.
9/24/05: Tour begins.
10/17/05, somewhere on the east coast:Blown fuse on the fuel-transfer pump and trouble with air in the fuel lines at first because of a loose filter. It was an easy fix. Becky writes, "[T]our is great...I don't want it to ever end." But be careful what you wish for...
11/5/05, Jackson, Mississippi: Becky and Nate have been stranded for almost a week with a clogged injector pump. It took their mechanic three days to diagnose the problem; they have been staying at a rundown motel in a bad part of town in the meantime. They are rescued by a member of a band called The Scurvies.