Fuck cancer. Seriously, enough already. In just the past few months we’ve suffered some devastating losses and, frankly, it’s getting depressing. Lemmy, gone. Bowie, gone. Alan Rickman, gone Jason Mackenroth from the Rollins Band, gone at 47. Adam Roth from the Jim Carroll Band, gone at 57. It seems like every day we lose another talent, another legend, another loved one.
Thankfully, however, there is some good news, a light at the end of the tunnel that isn’t an oncoming train. Only eight months after being diagnosed with stage 3 throat cancer, Supersuckers frontman/bassist and all round good guy Eddie Spaghetti is back on the road and cancer free, and today we sit down with him, sink a few cold beers, and talk about kicking cancer’s ass.
Our story begins in June 2015 when Eddie discovered a lump on the side of his neck that his wife insists he gets checked out because it’s not going down. He has no symptoms, feels fine, but you don’t argue with Mrs S.
“I might still have it on my neck if I wasn’t married,” he admits. “So I go to a doctor in New York City because I was on tour, and they do a biopsy and tell me it doesn’t look bad, it looks like it’s something benign, don’t worry about it, go about your business. Then we were travelling with the family on a solo tour, heading to some Supersuckers dates on the west coast. We stopped at my mom’s house in Arkansas and I get a phone call from the doctor saying they found something and there’s some cancer in my lymph node.”
Like many of us, Eddie didn’t even know what a lymph node was, only later discovering that you have thousands of them throughout your body. Clearly there was some learning to do.
“The things I had to learn about going through this process were kind of ridiculous,” he laughs. “And still I learned the bare minimum: don’t take me as some sort of cancer expect and look at me to be learning shit. I’m probably way off base, but your lymph nodes are in charge of your white blood cell count. I had 49 of them removed from my neck. Only one had cancer in it.”
What were your initial thoughts when you heard the news?
“I didn’t know, and the whole not knowing is the weirdest thing,” says Eddie. “That was the worst period, that two weeks in between finding out I had cancer and finding out what kind of cancer it was: it could have been that I had a week to live or something like that. My two little kids are too young to know what was going on, but my oldest kid is fifteen now and he was freaking out because his dad could die. He definitely knew about it, and, of course, my wife was the one who went on the internet and started looking everything up immediately. My fear was that it was in my kidneys or my liver or something, because I’ve lived kinda hard. Or it might be in my ass or something awful. So I went to see another doctor in LA and they told me what kind of cancer it was, and then another doctor who I wound up going with to do the treatments.”
For readers in most of the western world this is simply a matter of going to the doctor. Unfortunately, in the United States this is not the case, American health care being all but non-existent without prohibitively expensive insurance. As great as they are, the Supersuckers are far from wealthy.
“In America it’s a right to own a weapon and a privilege to have health care…”
“No money, no insurance!” says Eddie. “That was a big nightmare. Now I’m insured and that was an equally big nightmare: they’re telling me all my appointments have changed and I can’t go to this place anymore because I signed up to this group. I had no idea how I’m going to pay for this, so I called this company called Music Cares, who hooked up a lot of the initial appointments, and they were going to pay for the surgery the way it was priced initially. It turns out that price wasn’t even a fucking drop to what it costs. I mean, you sit in the lobby for five minutes and you’re $200 in! I don’t know how they monetise health care, but America is the worst place to get sick.”
“I got lucky,” continues Eddie, “because I got charity care from the hospital and they covered all the surgeries. But I still have a lot of bills, and I’ll probably always have them. I don’t think I’ll ever get out from all these bills, but it’s not like I wake up in a sweat; they’re either gonna hound me or they’re not. In America it’s a right to own a weapon and a privilege to have health care, it’s ass backwards! I’ve always wanted to have health care and have never been able to. It took me getting cancer to get insured. I had to get it to be qualified for this charity care and I qualified by being low income.”
It wasn’t just the mounting medical expenses: with Eddie unable to perform, tours were cancelled which meant no money coming in. The Supersuckers set up a Cancer Fight Fund, and thankfully, the rock community rallied round, as it so often does in desperate times, with Capacitor Records releasing the 16 track compilation album, You Can’t Kill Rock N Roll, featuring the likes of Zeke, Mudhoney and The Ribeye Brothers, the proceeds of which went to the fund. It goes without saying that Eddie appreciated the support.
“Oh for sure.” he grins. “I couldn’t believe how many people were affected by the music I’ve made. After a while you just think you’re doing it for yourself, but people are actually touched by what you do and it’s cool to hear that. I likened it to dying without the dying! You got to hear how everybody thought you were a great guy, you’re a talented dude and all this kind of stuff. And I lost 35 pounds. Just get cancer, those pounds just melt away!”
Was there anyone in particular who stepped forward that surprised you?
“[Social Distortion frontman] Mike Ness really showed up, but no one has been more supportive than Eddie Vedder. We recorded some songs together in the past and had kind of a ‘How are you doing?’, text-each-other-once-in-a-while relationship, and he came out and steered me towards the City Of Hope charity. He was really concerned about the treatment I was getting because it’s my throat, which is my livelihood, and I’m really grateful to him for coming out and sticking his neck out for me. It’s not like I hit up, he just did it.”
But as much as the overwhelming support was appreciated, there was still the question of whether the Supersuckers would be able to perform again. Having played perhaps their last ever gig in early June 2015, Eddie began treatment at the end of that month. Once he found out what type of cancer he had, he never really thought he was going to die, but would he be able to sing or even talk?
“There were some dark days,” says Eddie. “I couldn’t swallow anything for a month, everything went into me through a tube in my nose! There’s this stuff called Jevity, which sounds fun, but it’s basically liquid shakes that I had to put in a tube up my nose that went down to my stomach. It didn’t feel good! This is where the cocaine is supposed to go! I didn’t have to have chemo, which was good. I just had to have radiation.”
Which, in case you’re wondering, is as horrible as it sounds.
“I was awful!” affirms Eddie. “You lay down on this gurney, and it’s like a cat scan machine, those big long tubes that you roll into. They zap you and you don’t feel a thing; you’re done in twenty minutes. The first couple of times it was like nothing and I was like, “Is this thing even working?” But after a couple of weeks it just kicks your ass! You feel fatigued the whole time, and then the skin on your neck turns black and starts to peel, it’s awful. They literally cook that shit out of you! My last scan was completely clear, I just have to get a scan every six months or something. I have one more radiologist appointment.”
And there we have it, ladies and gentlemen, Eddie Spaghetti is cancer free. He laughs that his wife hates it when he says he grateful all the time, but the fact is that he “gripes” less about the little things that used to piss him off, appreciates life more. The experience has also rekindled his love of performing.
“It made me grateful for what I have and to have this goal of even getting back to playing these shitty little bars,” he smiles, those cold beers no doubt tasting that bit sweeter. “The last two years of the band have been a real struggle, and it’s been really hard to keep the enthusiasm for it, but I looked at this tour like a big deal because I’d be ready to go out again. It’s not like an earth-shaking event, – the Supersuckers are back on the road – but it was great for me to have that job that I was looking forward to getting back to. I still wanna make music and live a happy life. I tend to let my freak flag fly a little easier now.”
Did the experience change any of his views?
“Well, it didn’t make me start believing in God,” Eddie laughs. “My dad said something retarded to me, “God has a plan for you and you’re in our prayers”, and I’m like, “God’s plan for me sucks right now!”
But it made you aware that you are mortal, right?
“Really?” grins Eddie. “I kicked cancer’s ass, I can do anything!”