“Music is the universal language of mankind.” ~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
It was my parents who first inspired my love of music and art. My mother, Ilene, is a painter. She recently went back to school at the age of 62 to get her Masters degree in Painting, Fine Art. That's one of her paintings at the top of this post...
My father was a gifted guitar player who studied philosophy in college. After graduating from Syracuse he chose to cut his hair and join the family business selling jackets, and his inner hippie remained.
When I was a young kid my Dad would play his old Martin acoustic in the living room of our New York City apartment while I danced in circles on the rug. Rocking songs on the stereo like “Come Dancing” by the Kinks – it’s only natural… growing up, there was always music on. My Dad taught me how to play the piano by using my ear. He would play guitar, and I would follow along as best I could at the piano. I learned to play by listening, then followed up with proper lessons.
Michael Spiewak was 54 when he was diagnosed with leukemia. A brutal fight against cancer lay ahead, though the silver lining on that dark cloud was the time he and I spent together in the hospital. I am still grateful for that opportunity to get to know my Dad better.
My Dad fought cancer with all he had – many disgusting and painful rounds of chemo, stem cell transplants, biopsies, a rainbow of destructive pills and medications. We hung together through all of it. He was hospitalized for weeks at a time during that two year span, and I went to spend time with him every day, as did my step-Mom Carol.
One of the major questions surrounding my Dad’s illness was whether or not he would live long enough to see the birth of my son. Fortunately, my Dad was able to hang in there long enough to meet Jacob, even attend his first birthday party. My Dad fought hard to hang in there. He wanted to live. My brother David and I wanted him to live too. We both donated platelets many times, which completely fucking sucked.
Big Daddy Spie was a force to be reckoned with – a charismatic and likable guy, though he always found a way to be at war with some part of the environment around him at all times, long before cancer struck. My Dad hated the food at the hospital, and got so fed up with it that he successfully led a patient boycott of the food. Essentially he felt that the patients were unloved based on the food being served. It lasted a few days, at which point the head of food services for the entire hospital came to my Dad’s room to sort things out. Typical of my Dad. Always stirring the pot, trying to get “the system" to bend for what he felt was the greater good.
Once a week, a volunteer would come to the cancer ward at NYU with an acoustic guitar. I think he was supposed to be making rounds but for a few weeks he would only make it as far as my Dad’s room. My Dad would keep his trusty Martin in the closet, and the two of them would jam and I would sit and listen… it was so beautiful to see my Dad happy in those days. These jam sessions were also healing my father from the inside out. His blood counts would go up after a jam session. His appetite would come back. His infections and his gout wouldn’t effect him as much. Music truly helped him get through.
My Dad also had an iPod, loaded with tunes that we compiled for him. His favorite at that time was “What If God Was One Of Us” by Joan Osborne. I still cry every time I hear it – the lyrics soothe and comfort me the same way I imagine they soothed and comforted him. “just a slob like one of us?” yeah, that was my Dad. And me. And many. I stood by his bedside when he died, holding his hand and telling him that it was ok to go. Shit. Fuck.
After the funeral I began to look more aggressively for opportunities for my management clients to perform at hospitals, or to do other charitable work while on tour. To give other patients the same benefit that my Dad enjoyed. I wanted to do what organizations like Musicians On Call (http://www.musiciansoncall.org) were already doing so well.
We scheduled these charitable activities for off days, so if we had a client playing a show in St. Louis on a Monday and in Indianapolis on a Wednesday, we would call the Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital and arrange to come by on that Tuesday to play acoustic music for the kids. Easy. No social media posts, no press releases – just doing it to do it, to give of our time, to share the love. I’m proud to say that these hospital visits and charitable efforts still take place today as part a charitable organization that I co-founded, The Music Is Love Exchange.
Throughout my Dad’s life, illness and his death, I was taught, directly and indirectly, that music is love. It is a lesson that inspires me every day, and so we at The MILE are busy spreading it.
More info on The MILE: http://www.gomile.org