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Descendents' Bill Stevenson Keeps Rocking After Grapefruit-Sized Brain Tumor, Blood Clot and Diabetes
- Posted on Jul 15th 2011 12:30PM by Theo Bark
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The revered drummer and producer has since pulled off a miraculous recovery, surviving a record-sized pulmonary embolism, diabetes and debilitating side effects that almost cost him his life. To offset the cost of the surgery, Bill contacted his old friend, Desecendents singer Milo Aukerman, to reunite the band's original lineup for the first time in a decade and play a series of spot dates and music festivals. With Descendents shows in Austin and New York already under his belt, an All show in Las Vegas and a slew of upcoming performances for both bands scheduled, Bill Stevenson is back, kicking ass like he never left. We recently spoke with Stevenson to discuss his newfound enthusiasm for performing, his astounding recovery and the surgery that saved his life and renewed his storied "eternal quest for All."
How does it feel to be playing Descendents and All shows again?
It's extremely well-timed, from my personal vantage point. In 2009 and 2010 I was severely ill. I had four different life-threatening things trying to kill me, and I conquered each of them. I started with a brain tumor that had been slowly growing over several years that was benign, but at a certain point reached a size to where it was creating pressure on both my frontal lobes and my optic nerve. It was affecting me psychologically, mentally and physically, and it was debilitating me, so then I became unmotivated and inactive and developed a lot of other poor habits. I got up to 400 lbs. and on came the blood clot in the leg, which then shot up into my heart and almost killed me. My heart passed this Johnsonville bratwurst-sized pulmonary embolism, which is a blood clot, and then into my lungs it went, and I was on oxygen for four months. On came the diabetes, and on came the sleep apnea, where I stopped breathing at night because I had gained so much weight.
Now, I've lost 160 lbs. and everything's back to normal. As soon as they took the brain tumor out, which was one year ago this week, everything just fell into place. To say that I'm back to my old self would really be to shortchange it. I feel like I'm 20 now.
So, it's very timely for me to be playing shows with guys that I've spent my whole life with, and Milo is my best friend in the whole world. I feel like I have a whole new life now.
Does that inspire you to write music?
For me, songwriting is a continual process. Over the years that I've never really stopped and started, but this impairment started to rear its evil head in 2008, and it kind of quelled my songwriting. I joke with people and say that in 2008-2010, the quest for All was on a temporary hiatus.
And now it's back.
Oh, it's back in droves. I mean, it was like a miracle. As soon as I woke up it was like "Boom! Let's go!" The predictions were that I would have to relearn how to walk, relearn how to talk, but I woke up outta that anesthesia and it was like I went from 47 to 20 in 36 hours.
And what was going on when you had the tumor? How did you feel then?
It was just crazy. I just thought I was getting old. I was like "What happened to me? I suck now." The first thing to go was my emotions. I became flat-lined, not happy, not sad. Emotions are what drive people. It was if I was aging really rapidly, I felt like a 70-year-old. I couldn't even get up and play ball with my kids and stuff. But I didn't go to the doctor because I didn't care. It was like, just picture not caring about anything. Not even in a "Oh, I don't care, like, I'm a teenage brat and I don't care." No, I mean just really not caring about anything, because that part of your brain has been impaired.
So, my health got really, really bad. Like I said, I got up to 400 lbs. I was like Snicker-bar man. Eventually I ended up in the ER, and when the blood clot broke loose outta my leg and slammed into my heart, that should've been the end of me. I have the record at the hospital here in Ft. Collins [Colo.] for having survived the largest pulmonary embolism in their history. I guess all the drumming gave me a very strong heart, because I was able to push this sausage through to the other side, which landed into my lungs. Then people started examining me, but it was still three months until they found the brain tumor. Even after all that.
How could something that big go unnoticed?
My wife told them they should give me a brain scan, like when I was first in the hospital, but they didn't do it for some reason. She said "This isn't my husband. He's not right," and they're like "Well, we don't know your husband," so they put me on various psychotropic drugs and things. I was like "Hey guys, I know I ain't what I used to be. I mean, I was an honor student, but why you giving me f---in' Ritalin?" Then I woke up one day with double vision, so I went to the eye doctor and the eye doctor looked at me for five seconds and went "You need to go get an MRI," because he knew that there was a tumor pushing my f---in' eyes outta my head.
Did you have health care?
Yeah, I did. The funny thing is this tumor just left a wake of destruction such that I had kind of stopped working for several months before I went into the ER, so not only did I not have any money, but I was letting my bills be delinquent. And the day I went into the ER, my sister flew in from Oregon, dumped $40,000 into my bank, paid three months worth of past-due bills and the health insurance was going to expire the next day.
That's crazy. It seems like for most punk guys, health care is not really ...
Yeah, my sister saved our f---in' butts. I got the health insurance around the time my wife and I were becoming pregnant, for the purposes of baby-birthing costs. I consider myself a healthy, strapping young lad, and I'm never gonna get sick. What the f--- do I need health insurance for? But actually, since you mentioned most punk rockers don't have health insurance and all, I probably should give some props too. I hadn't worked effectively in probably a year,when I went in the hospital, so I had debts that were accumulating and mortgages that weren't getting paid, and this organization called MusicCares, who Kevin Lyman from Warped Tour hooked me up with, they actually helped me for a couple months. Then ultimately it was Rise Against and Milo who really stepped up to the plate. Rise Against, you know, I produced their record, so they arranged for me to get money way up in front of it, because they knew that I needed it. And then Milo flew out and he said "What can I do to help?" and I said, "Well, let's do some shows." And he said "Alright, let's do some shows!" So, between Rise Against and Milo, they've kinda gotten me back on my feet financially.
So are you working on new material with Only Crime, All or the Descendents now?
Answering chronologically, Only Crime [his newest band] starts recording in a week. Descendents don't have any concrete plans to record, but just given the kind of momentum, the kinetic energy, or the gravity of what we've been doing, and we've been having so much fun, I wouldn't put it past us to try to record something sometime in the near future. And you know, Karl [Alvarez], Stephen [Egerton] and I too, we've been having a good time. We played an All show in Vegas a few weeks ago where all the [past] singers sung. Every singer -- Scott [Reynolds], Chad [Price], Dave sung, and we had a great time, everybody just had so much fun. I really couldn't see us not recording more. Long as I can finish out this year and try to get the IRS paid off, I'd love to spend some time just songwriting and trying to record. I have a lot of song ideas and I know Karl does too, and I think Milo even had a few too, and plus he had some from before, some backlogged ones. So, I don't know. I 'd like to do a lot of recording. I'd like to record with all the guys!
What's it like playing shows in front of kids now?
We've been really blessed. It seems like the older we get, or even the more inactive we get, kids come out in droves to see us, and if you read the reviews it'll be like "Descendents got out there and just kicked the f---in' s--- outta every band. Descendents sounded like the band that had been on tour all year and the other bands sounded like the bands that had come out of retirement." There's the perception like, "Oh, these guys are 45" or "These guys are 50" but it's like f---, I don't give a f---! I don't care how old I am. I'm 20, you know? I'm 20 let's f---in' go. Bring it!
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