Do the Gods of Arrhythmia like music?

I think perhaps not.

Here’s the thing; there’s a party at the end of July and I’ve been wondering if I’d be able to sing with the band.  I’ve made some progress on the vocal front – I can sing – although quietly and with a somewhat limited range.  So back in May I see Neil (Fat Freddy’s top cat) for a brief session along the lines of “if I sing like this, will it be embarrassing?”   I know that he will give me an honest assessment.  He listens while I wade through half a dozen numbers – mainly slower ones – I don’t have the breath for anything vaguely up-tempo.  His response is encouraging – he joins in and so it seems possible that Fat Freddy’s Cat may yet wake from its 2-year hibernation.

That night I have a visit from the Gods of Arrhythmia – nothing dramatic – just a few ectopics.  I try deep breathing because I know that can work, but after an hour or so resort to the Pill-in-the Pocket.  A few days later Annie and I go on holiday to America and the heart – in spite of the huffing and puffing and the lack of oxygen around the Grand Canyon¹ – is on its best behaviour.  All is quiet on that particular western front.

Fast forward to July.  Three days before the party the band gets together for our first (and only) rehearsal.  It’s a very emotional meeting – I didn’t think I’d be playing with these folks again.  The magic is still there – and collective memory gets us through half remembered arrangements.

Rehearsals always seem to take longer than the actual gigs – going over things again and again – and by the end of the evening I’m exhausted.  I’ve barely put my head on the pillow when the Gods come knocking.  Much more dramatic this time – a full blown arrhythmia.  It starts with relatively slow ectopic beats and then suddenly switches into tachycardia mode, like a nervous, fumbling get-away driver who’s finally found the gas pedal.  The heart rate monitor shows 134bpm.  There’s nothing to do but take the pill and wait it out.

I begin to wonder if the two things – singing and arrhythmia – are linked – although can’t imagine why.  But if it happens again after the party …..

And so we come to it.  I’m very nervous – standing up in front of people is not the same as playing in someone’s front room.  I feel as if I ought to apologise to the audience for what they’re about to hear.  My throat is dry and the first number sounds forced (a friend later mentions that she thought I was not going to last the evening if I carried on like that).  But after a while my voice warms up and I calm down.  And we put on a good show.  The audience cheer, a few people cry and we all have a good time.  As we pack up, Chris (guitar player Fat Freddy) asks me if I’m up to doing this again.  Yes, I’m going to do this again.

Singing is exhausting; by the time we get home I’m sore along the left side of my body and there’s a pain in my chest around where the ‘tubular enhancing structure’² sits.  (Note to self; if I am going to carry on doing this I need to exercise more).  For the first time ever – and if you’re a musician look away now – I leave my guitar and the rest of my gear in the car; it can all wait until morning.  I’m so tired; I just want to get to bed.  But that’s not quite how the evening ends.  At 2.00am the Gods return demanding tribute.  And they throw the book at me.

So there we have it – I sing three times – I have three arrhythmias, with the last two occasions separated by just 3 days.  Coincidence?  I duly note it all in the diary for the cardiologist; my next appointment is at the beginning of October.  I’ll see what he makes of it; I think the medical profession has moved on from superstition and coincidence.

In the meantime I resolve not to let this stop me – I cock a snoot at the Gods of Arrhythmia in the only way I know how; I buy a new guitar.  For those interested in these things, it’s a Martin.  Second hand, but a Martin nonetheless.  For those not interested in these things, it’s made of wood.

It’s taken two years to get to the point where I can stand in front of a microphone again.  Two years of frustration and disappointment and three operations on my vocal cords.  I am so encouraged by the response – this is a life-changing moment.  One friend – very ‘tired and emotional’ – grabs me at the end of the party and says “it’s a miracle – you couldn’t even talk last Christmas”.  Yes it is a miracle.  Thank you Mr ENT.

¹ See When Mother Earth meets Father Sun
² See if the nurse comes in we’re doomed
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5 Responses to Do the Gods of Arrhythmia like music?

  1. Mike Freeman says:

    Whilst an occassion audience. I have the two CDs and look forward to some “new vresions”. Emotions are a strange thin. Brian Jones had a close scape with the grim reaper and was in intensive care for 3 weeks.. When I visited him for the first time when he was allowed to speak it was quite emotional. I am not having that response here, but I am pleased for you and the lovers of your music.

  2. Frank Monaghan says:

    Miraculous, yes, but miracle no. You did this all by yourself (with a little help from family and friends and doctors and nuses) but you’re no saint!So well done you and I’m only sorry I couldn’t get to the paty to witness it myself.
    As coincidence would have it, I’m currently in Castiglione del Lago, Umbria, and was today on Isola Maggiore where Saint Francis of Assissi took refuge fm the plague, calmed a stom, groomed a rabbit, and when he bent down to scrape at the earth lo a well sprung at the spot, and just to rub it in, his arms left their mark embedded in the very stones he leant on. Now that’s a miracle. This latter day saintly Francis of Liverpool just had an icecream and a cappucino (which didn’t turn to wine, not even a frothy Lambrusco). Quotidian, quotidian…

  3. JJ says:

    Talking and singing (tunelessly in my case) are things we normally take for granted and yet you’ve lived in a world were you didnt have that luxury, and where your normal world involved putting a great deal of importance on doing these things. Singing and making music with your friends has been a big part of your life and self concept, so losing that for 2 years sounds heartbreakingly hard. Even more so when, from the other end of the time span you didnt know you’d be able to ever do this again
    I cannot think of the right words, and these are probably all the wrong ones.
    I have known loss and the feeling of that loss being for ever, then being able to claw something back….something too much to dare hope for ? cancer can take so many things from us and it isnt just flesh it can be less tangible things of what we do and what makes us who we are.
    Music doesnt have the same meaning for me as it does for you, but the underlying feelings I have had some experience of and I am so very glad for you.
    Pathetic words that don’t do any justice to those feelings

  4. Ann Hewings says:

    This is wonderful and amazing. I’m really happy for you and like Frank wish I could have been there to hear it.

  5. wererogue says:

    I wonder if the effort or the nerves could also be to blame – on each occasion sounds like it was terrifying, and your heart was probably going flat out…

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