About 10 years ago, I saw a documentary on 60 minutes about Dr. Jack Kevorkian, who was famous for performing assisted suicide, mostly on ALS patients. They showed a man who, gasping for air, said “I…. Want…. To… Die!” and began to cry uncontrollably. At that moment, being diagnosed with ALS became my greatest fear. Looking back now, I realize that getting ALS was the best thing that ever happened to me, because I could spend the rest of my life focusing on my music.
I’ve had problems with my nervous system all my adult life. I was diagnosed with bipolar illness when I was 18, and spent a good deal of my life depressed, and my manic episodes were so disruptive that I barely graduated from the University of Michigan. Ten years later, I started having trouble walking, and was diagnosed with spinal stenosis, and got a fusion operation on my cervical spine. My condition worsened after that, and I couldn’t play the bass anymore, which left me heartbroken. When I was 33, I had a fall in my kitchen and suddenly couldn’t feel anything below my neck. It was a spinal contusion which required a second surgery and left me in a wheelchair. About six months later my head started tilting radically to the left so my left ear was touching my shoulder. I went to the University of Michigan hospital to see if there was anything they could do. As a matter of routine, they gave me an EMG test, a very painful procedure that measures electrical conductivity in the muscles. That night my attending physician told me the results indicated ALS.
My first reaction was shock. I remember expressing a desperate need for spiritual comfort, asking for a Rabbi. My worst fear realized. ALS is a diagnosis of exclusion. There are about seven possible conditions, like heavy metal toxicity, that have to be ruled out before the diagnosis can be finalized, which takes about 3 weeks. They kept me in the hospital for about that long. Over that time, my feelings moved from shock to anger. I was angry at God. Hadn’t I suffer enough? After so much suffering, was this the way He wanted to finish me off?
When I got home, I fell into despair. I spent the next 3 months playing card games online among other ways of wasting my time. Then I got in touch with my college friend Errol who was the guitar player in the band I was in before I got sick. He told me that the only way I could get though this challenge was to start writing music. So I took his advice and started taking composition and music theory lessons from a music professor, and started to write little instrumental songs with my music notation software. By that time I was no longer able to type, and I was controlling my computer with one finger using onscreen keyboard.
Around that time, I discovered icompositions.com, a social networking website for musicians to collaborate on songs. I started writing their lyrics for my songs, and got people on the site to sing on them. I did this for about a year, but then decided that I wanted to move on to try to sell my music instead of just getting feedback on my songs in the musical social networking site.
So, two years after my diagnosis, I decided to hone my craft of songwriting by taking classes at Berklee school of music online. I took three classes in songwriting and one class learning how to use Logic Pro, the professional music mixing software for the Mac.
Then I got to work building a musical career. In 2009, I released my first CD Toxic Charm a piano rock album. In 2010, I released Rumi Music, a downtempo album featuring female vocals and the love poetry of the 13th Century Persian mystic, Vow to Silence, featuring “Shalom” the most awesome song ever, and Spices, featuring my ghostly bionic mouth version of the Leadbelly song, “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?” Two weeks ago, I released Abramsonium, my 19 song musical masterpiece.
At the moment I first picked up my mother’s guitar at age 11, playing “Satisfaction” within five minutes, I knew that I was born to be a musician. Even after losing my ability to play my instrument, losing my ability to sing, and facing my greatest fear, making music has been the one thing that has given me the courage to perservere. Now I am in the process of turning my musical career into a political career, running as an Independent candidate for the 2012 Presidential election. After all, there’s a guy in the Bible who did the same thing!
Enjoy Abramson’s Eternity’s Jar