Raves: Grushecky’s music can offer inspiration not to ever give up


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My wife, Helen, and I were liv­ing in Erie in the sum­mer of 1994.

Be­lieve it or not, Erie was (still is!) a pretty nice town: friendly peo­ple, good restau­rants, beau­ti­ful sun­sets along the lake shore, lots of his­tory, low cost of liv­ing.

Back in those days, Joe Gru­shecky and the House­rock­ers even got up there two or three times a year to play at a bar called Sul­li­van’s. It was a good life, and we were happy.

Our first child, Wil­son, was just 6 months old that sum­mer when Helen was di­ag­nosed with a se­vere form of breast can­cer. Sud­denly, we were faced with the very real pos­si­bil­ity that our 6-month-old baby would never know his mother.

It was with­out a doubt the scar­i­est time of our life to­gether, and we had to draw deeply upon our faith, our friends and our fam­ily to suc­cess­fully weather the im­me­di­acy of sur­gery and che­mo­ther­apy, fol­lowed by the phys­i­cal and emo­tional af­ter­math of a can­cer di­ag­no­sis. At the end of the or­deal, the doc­tors in­formed us that they were pretty sure they had “got it all” and that Helen could guard­edly ex­pect a long and ful­fill­ing life.

The emo­tional re­lief that I felt upon leav­ing the hos­pi­tal with that news was sim­ply over­whelm­ing. I went home, picked up my baby son, held him tightly in my arms, and played “Don’t Give Up The Ghost” (from Gru­shecky’s “End of the Cen­tury” al­bum) over and over and over and over about 30 times.

It was ther­apy, it was prayer, it was a tes­ti­mo­nial to our vic­tory over breast can­cer. The lyr­ics were like the voice of God speak­ing di­rectly to me:

You can take your pos­ses­sions and throw them away

We all stand here na­ked come judg­ment day

And your re­sume won’t mean a damn thing

Be­cause He gives us a gift to see what we’ll do

It’s a bur­den I know but some­how we’ll get through

If we fol­low the river right down to the sea

But don’t give it up

Don’t give it up

Don’t give it up

Don’t give up the ghost

I re­mem­ber call­ing my dear friend Bill Toms, who was play­ing gui­tar for the House­rock­ers at the time, to tell him the good news. The band was on its way to New York City, and Bill as­sured me that when they played “Don’t Give Up The Ghost” they’d all be think­ing about Helen and me.

A few months later, I was in Pitts­burgh for a week­end visit and headed out to see the band at Nick’s Fat City on the South Side. Joe came up to me be­fore the show started. He didn’t say a word. He sim­ply kissed me on the fore­head and pro­ceeded to the stage, where he and the band blew the roof off the club with a blis­ter­ing ver­sion of “Don’t Give Up The Ghost.”

Why do I share this per­sonal story? I guess be­cause as I re­flect on the past 20 years, Joe’s mu­sic has al­ways re­minded me that de­spite the dark­ness, de­spite the crap, de­spite the proph­ets of doom and gloom ... hope is never in vain.

Hope is a very real, very pow­er­ful force that we need to con­stantly nur­ture in our­selves and share with the peo­ple around us. We need to bol­ster each other’s hope and en­cour­age each other to never give up the ghost.

For me, Joe’s mu­sic is es­sen­tially about the power of the hu­man spirit to tri­umph over the many chal­lenges that life throws at us on a daily ba­sis. I don’t want to be melo­dra­matic — there are plenty of times when I just like to crack open a beer and crank up the vol­ume on House­rocker party songs like “Pumpin’ Iron” or “Turn It Up” or “One Chance is All You Get.”

But the bot­tom line is that in a world short on hope, a world search­ing for a voice — a hope­ful voice, a crit­i­cal voice, a fun voice — Joe Gru­shecky’s voice is, and al­ways has been, a voice to be reck­oned with!

Keith Kon­drich of Swis­shelm Park, a non­profit ad­min­is­tra­tor, can be reached at kkon­drich1@msn.com


The PG Port­fo­lio wel­comes “Raves” sub­mis­sions cel­e­brat­ing some­thing Pitts­burgh-re­lated, in ad­di­tion to other reader es­says. Send your writ­ing to page2@post-ga­zette.com; or by mail to Port­fo­lio, Post-Ga­zette, 34 Blvd. of the Al­lies, Pitts­burgh PA 15222. Port­fo­lio ed­i­tor Gary Rot­stein may be reached at 412-263-1255.

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