December 6 - December 12, firstname.lastname@example.orgCancer gets a beat-down
Jon Henderson continues to battle cancer and make music with the 4th Annual Beating Cancer Benefit
by Carey Murphy
It is Saturday afternoon and Jon Henderson has invited me to his house to watch the last 30 minutes of the Henderson Brothers Band’s practice session. The 4th Annual Beating Cancer Benefit, scheduled for Dec. 7 and 8, is less than a week away, and the four band members breeze their way through some last-minute adjustments to potential songs for Friday night’s set at Conor O’Neill’s.
Henderson settles into his duties as rhythm guitarist, setting the pace for Dave’s lead. The two brothers synch with the rest of band and crank out some bluesy jams in the back room on the main floor of the house. (“That room is the reason I bought the house,” Jon notes.) The practice area is strewn with all of the expected accoutrements: amps, cords, effects pedals, spare guitars, monitors, mixing boards and a Mac Pro. For added inspiration, there are Beatles posters and stuffed Beatles dolls on the mantle.
One thing is clear: the band means business this afternoon. No surprise, given the gravity of the event for which they prepare.
Certainly the significance of the two-day benefit contributes to the no-nonsense approach of the afternoon, but it is difficult not to recognize the greater purpose. Jon’s present energies, shown through the band’s quick jaunt through the afternoon’s final number, the Allman Brothers’ “Jessica,” almost make one forget the daily battle he has fought since 1999. But it is one he knows he cannot quit fighting, not now.
“Let’s be done,” he finally says, and the practice session comes to an end. Removing his Gibson guitar, Jon appears tired.
Once he begins to speak about the BCB and his other recent projects, particularly the Big C documentary, a notable change occurs. He becomes animated and candid, all the while still connected to his supplemental oxygen source. “I’ll be pretty winded for about an hour [after the band practice],” he says. However, he shows few signs over the next 40 minutes. Discussing the origins of the event, Jon notes: “The most fun thing I could think of was getting together with my old bandmates… [and] it started out to be a celebration of my five-year survival. But we had so much fun, we thought, ‘You know what, we ought to do this all the time.’”
The one-time summer celebration, which marks Jon’s significant successes in his battle with cancer, transformed into something much larger. And given his work with Boulder-area musicians, both as a former booking agent for Conor O’Neill’s and as a performer, he found tremendous support throughout the community.
The summer event has shifted to a winter one due to Henderson’s health complications last year. Following a surgical procedure, Jon slipped into a coma that lasted 45 days. His recovery took a great deal of time and effort due to the severe atrophy he experienced during those six weeks. But Henderson sees this change in the calendar as a positive because the focus for the event shifts to one that allows for a distinct level of community involvement, thus ensuring the BCB achieves a city-wide identity.
“There’s really not much going on between Thanksgiving and Christmas of any consequence, and this year we were able to get [Conor O’Neill’s, Lazy Dog Saloon, The Catacombs, Redfish, The Foundry and Trilogy] involved and CU involved. A Boulder-wide event takes the [benefit] to another level and the idea is, for next year, to take the next leap and get the Boulder Theater and the Fox involved. There is a willingness to get involved as long as we start planning in June.”
Henderson embraces his role as a cancer advocate, and many groups are looking to help. The aforementioned student involvement means a great deal to Henderson on personal and philosophical levels. Members of the Kappa Sigma fraternity from CU, the Colorado School of Mines and San Diego State University (Henderson’s alma mater) will shave their heads as an act of solidarity with cancer patients who invariably lose their hair during treatment. This level of awareness and involvement from his fellow fraternity brothers further excites Henderson because it represents a notable change in the focus of the Kappa Sigmas. When Henderson was a member of the fraternity, the much-loved movie Animal House debuted in the theaters. “Now to all of you guys, Animal House was a comedy. To everybody in Greek-land, it was a documentary.” The changing times have shifted the fraternity’s focus away from parties and hijinks to that of social service and responsibility — and that makes Henderson proud. He recognizes that the friendships he made during those years in the fraternity have lasted a lifetime and have been essential to his fight over the past eight years. “With some of these people it is a lifetime commitment, and they are there for you. They are my support system.”
Because of this support, Henderson has been able to complete his Big C project. Envisioned as a musical and visual montage about the various stages of living with cancer, the documentary, according to Henderson, allows the viewer to understand “the topics associated with the roller-coaster journey from diagnosis to prognosis.” He continues: “We talked with over 30 people — patients, family, friends, doctors, social workers — to really tell the cancer story. Each song from the soundtrack is about a different aspect of the cancer experience. We mix traditional sound bites from the interviews with lyrical sound bites. We shot all the interviews in green screen and projected appropriate visual elements behind the people speaking.” Henderson screens a few minutes from the documentary to clarify his points. Though many of the scenes are difficult to watch, none stands out more than the one where Henderson identifies two speakers in the film who have recently passed away, a sobering reminder of those less fortunate in their struggles than Henderson himself and of the significant moments captured by this creative venture.
Though he speaks of mortality with a great deal of candor, Henderson acknowledges the advances in treatment and medication. As a result, cancer patients are living, and this fact changes the way all people must think about the disease. “Cancer, in my case, has become something of a chronic disease instead of a killing disease. And the whole secret is that you have to hang on long enough for the next group of drugs with fewer [damaging] side-effects to come out.” He pauses. “I’m not worried about imminent death, and that changes the way you think. I don’t feel the gun pointed at my head anymore. I face challenges, but there are a lot of people facing challenges, and I’m certainly not alone.” Nor will he be this weekend.On the BillThe Beat Cancer Benefit will take place at 9 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 7, at Conor O’Neill’s, Lazy Dog Saloon, The Catacombs, Redfish, The Foundry and Trilogy and at 3 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 8, at Conor O’Neill’s, 1922 13th St., Boulder, 303-449-1922. For more information, go to the Big C Project’s MySpace page.
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