Canadian Musician - November/December 2017 - Page 9

FIRST TAKE Taking Care of One Another By Andrew King, Editor-in-Chief We all knew it was coming, but still, it hurt. News of Gord Downie’s death on Oct. 17, 2017 spread quickly the next morning, seemingly reaching every square kilometre of the country. If there was a silver lining to the numerous reports, it was the way many highlighted the activism and related initiatives The Tragically Hip’s beloved frontman had undertaken since his terminal diagnosis nearly 18 months prior. Several of those had to do with Canada’s reconciliation with its indigenous residents and communities – an issue Downie worked doggedly to inject into the national consciousness. It was inspiring as it happened – a man bravely and admirably dedicating his remaining days and, ultimately, his death to a cause so clearly dear to him. It also resulted in more music and poetry from a truly talented creator, and I’ll accept that gift, selfish as it may be. Coincidentally, the unwelcome news about Downie came at a time that we here at Canadian Musician were working on a few different projects with another very gifted Canadian musician – one with an impressive legacy in his own right who has also been struggling with his health of late. John Cody lost his singing voice to cancer of the larynx. Soon, he’ll have another surgery that will likely take away his ability to speak. He’s being treated for colon cancer and will soon undergo his seventh polypectomy in four years. He also suffers from a severe W W W. C A N A D I A N M U S I C I A N . CO M degenerative autoimmune disease that has robbed him of his mobility, is awaiting surgery to remove necrotic tissue and prevent potentially fatal infection, and has developed diabetes due to digestive issues related to his cancer. While you may not know John Cody as a household name, you almost certainly know some of his work. Throughout his decades in the music business, Cody has performed and co-written with the likes of Tom Cochrane, Bonnie Raitt, Joni Mitchell, Keith Urban, Holly Cole, Grace Jones, and many others. Earlier this year, he released his fourth and final solo album, Hard Won: The Final Recordings, which was cut just prior to his career-ending surgery on his larynx. This is a man whose life’s work in the music industry has brought joy to literally millions of people around the globe. This is also a man who has been forced, by no fault of his own, into poverty by a seemingly endless barrage of health complications. Whereas Downie – an icon of a bygone era in the music industry – was able to dedicate his time and creativity to important causes in spite of his health, Cody is struggling to simply survive and cope with his conditions. Despite a very modest living space and lifestyle, Cody relies on the generosity of family and friends to make ends meet. Fortunately, he’s received assistance from the Unison Benevolent Fund (more on that and John’s story in Mike Raine’s Indie Insider piece in this issue) and has shared his story to bring more attention to the increasingly important charity. Canadian Musician Publisher Jim Norris also spearheaded a crowdfunding campaign through GoFundMe to help offset some of John’s health-related expenses and bolster the $21 that’s left over from his monthly disability cheques after paying his rent and basic utilities. But here’s the thing. As it stands in our crazy and ever-evolving music industry, I think we’re moving into an era that will produce many more stories like John’s. It’s hard to make a full-time career in music these days. Damn hard. And while we at Canadian Musician remain committed to helping you do it, we also recognize that, collectively, as the Canadian music industry, we’re going to need some things to change for a “career in music” to still be something to which people want to – and can – aspire. The health, happiness, and well-being of the veterans of our industry, I think, says a lot about the state of said industry, and I’m not sure we’re going to like what we’re seeing in the coming years unless we work together to (re-)establish an ecosystem that can sustain a proper career throughout its proper lifecycle. I really wish I could spitball a few of those ideas myself, here and now, though the truth is, I’m only just coming to terms with the prospect of there being a lot more stories like John’s landing in my inbox or cropping up on my various news feeds going forward. What’s worse is that such tragedies – accidents, health complications, acts of god – could affect children or other dependants and thus be even more devastating. John remains optimistic, humble, and good-humoured despite it all, though not everyone can be that strong. As an industry, we need to come together and devise ways to not on ly take care of one another when such things are inflicted upon us, but more importantly, be in a position to better prevent them from happening in the first place. Unison is indispensable, and GoFundMe campaigns are great, though ultimately, they’re bandages and not cures. For the music industry to survive, and for those working in it to thrive, we need long-term solutions for economic security. How we go about that, I’m not sure, but I’ll definitely be thinking a lot about it, and would love to get the discourse started. We all miss Gord, though I truly hope other people forced into a situation like his aren’t so burdened by hardships that they can’t be as active, creative, and inspiring with the time they have left. Please visit www.friendsofjohncody.com for more about John and, if you’re so inclined, to help. CANADIAN MUSICIAN • 9