“Don’t make friends with the rock stars.” Such is the advice of the fictional version of Lester Bangs passed down to young William Miller in the now seminal rock movie, Almost Famous.
Of course, William Miller does make friends with the rock stars, which is both perilous and rewarding for the young scribe. In a town as small as Seattle, and as involved as we have been in local music, it is impossible not to become friendly with some of the people whose skills we admire and whose songs we sing along to. We don’t set out to write about our friends, but many of the people we’ve written about have become friends. We have broken Lester Bangs’ rule … and when it comes to having folks like Jake Hemming, the lead singer of Big Sur in our lives off stage, as well as on … it was well worth it.
Hemming, a towering man of intimidating proportions, is Seattle music’s biggest and most vocally loving and loved teddy bear. When Hemming’s guitar was stolen last year, over twenty friends and fans raised over a thousand dollars, presented on stage with a giant guitar shaped check, to replace it. Hemming sings sad, sad songs with a sweet timbre … leading another friend and talented videographer Adam Pranica to quip on twitter (and I’m paraphrasing, as I can’t find the original) – “Jake Hemming sings such sweet, sad songs I don’t know if I want him to play at my wedding or my funeral.” To which I say, I’d like Jake to play at both. Somehow Hemming sings devastating personal songs of woe, troubles, lost love, debilitating drinks, but they are delivered with such passion and joy, these songs that should make you sob, make you smile.
And in 2012, no musician has personally played a larger role in my life than Hemming. You see, Hemming wrote my mom and dad’s favorite song of the year with “I’m Not Leaving” on his EP Two Songs. My parents’ affection grew for Hemming as he saved them a spot to sit at a sold out Tractor show this spring, where Hemming’s band Big Sur stole the show from my father’s favorite, Zoe Muth and the Lost High Rollers. An autographed copy of the band’s EP with a sweet note from Hemming to my parents only cemented the mutual admiration they share for each other.
It is fitting that last Tuesday these two men, who admire and adore each other for what they’ve brought to the world, would both be facing major medical events. Hemming, who had been suffering through a herniated disc in his spine, making him unable to play music or do much without pain, was undergoing major surgery which removed his larynx and voice box to insert a cadaver bone to repair the herniated disc. The possibility of losing his voice, the source of his passion and his music, was terrifying. At the same time, my father was undergoing major neurological testing after he fell suddenly ill.
While both men were on the edge of enormous struggles, they used me as a conduit to send the other well wishes. My father was more worried for Jake’s surgery than his own outcome, and Jake more concerned about my father. Less than 24 hours after his surgery Jake called to check in on my dad. Even as they both were fighting for their own lives and livelihood, their love was being sent to each other.
So it is with great joy that we can share this video for both men now on the mend today. Hemming’s surgery was a success, he has been without nerve pain since the moment he woke from sedation and is eager to begin playing music again soon. And my father is better by the day and expected to make a full recovery. Through their illnesses, their recovery and hopefully the rest of their healthy lives, it is music and love that got them through. This video, shot on a sunny day on Mountain Lake at the base of Mt. Constitution is filled with that love. Hemming boldly strummed and sang in a canoe as band mate Steve Norman paddled. In an inflatable (and deflating) raft, sound guy Chris Proff paddled with one hand and mixed with the other, as videographer Ty Kalberg perched on wet knees to capture the beautiful setting and songs. Curious children watched on and swam towards the canoe as Hemming belts, “cause there’s more of me to love than you’re ever going to know.” And I can’t help but feel grateful that when it comes to Jake Hemming, we here at Sound on the Sound have all broken Bangs’ rule and know how much of Hemming there is to love, as a friend and a performer. We and Seattle music fans have better lives for doing so.