|From the cover art of Wain’s 2001 release That Was Then, This is Now
These days, my good friend Wain sticks mainly to cranberry juice. He jokes now about his bar tab. Not long ago, he’d drop a twenty at the most on a night out, because so many people would buy him drinks and the bartenders would do him favors. But no one gets anyone a cranberry juice, even good friends. He has to buy his own. And at a bar they charge you like it’s a cocktail. So now he spends much more not drinking than he ever did drinking.
He’s no alcoholic, and this is no 12-step program. Trust me, if he had his druthers, Wain would be back to the booze — free or not. But he’s got a problem with his kidneys that makes alcohol highly … um … disagreeable to his system. He’s on doctor’s orders. (And when that doctor is from the Mayo Clinic, one doesn’t argue.)
Wain’s kidneys are functioning at roughly 6 percent capacity. He needs a new one pretty badly. And as a musician, he doesn’t have heaps of disposable income and he doesn’t have great health insurance. He does have three things, however, in abundance: luck, friends and connections.
The luck came in at a bar in Walker, Minnesota, out in the north woods. He plays up there sometimes. At this bar, by chance, he met a doctor. That doctor knew a kidney specialist at Mayo. And suddenly there was Wain’s golden opportunity. Introductions made … 87 miles each way between Minneapolis and Rochester, Minnesota … tests taken … and voilà! We have a surgeon and we have a donor (one of Wain’s brothers).
The friends came in shortly thereafter. A bunch of musicians decided to get together to produce a benefit concert on March 10. Wain fronted a funk/reggae band in the ’80s and ’90s called Ipso Facto, and he’s been around the block a few times, having played with Prince’s band, Dave Pirner, Jonny Lang, UB40, Tracy Chapman and scores of others. This is where connections come in.
A few years back, Wain’s brother was Cyndi Lauper’s tour manager, and she became friendly with the family. Wain tells me he once saw her at a party in a gorilla costume. A musician he mentored toured with her. When she performed at the Minnesota State Fair in 2004, she let Wain sing “Time After Time” with her, letting him ad lib a verse dedicated to his late sister. She brought him back out on stage for “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” which Wain and her bass player spun into an impromptu reggae jam.
So, we are told, Ms. Lauper has graciously agreed to lend some of her time and abundant talent to the cause. And many other people he’s worked with are helping out, too: Lifehouse, Mint Condition, Soul Asylum. You can read about it on her Web site.
Wain was our neighbor for more than three years. His wife Catherine, another good friend, was our landlady. He sang at our wedding. We planted vegetable gardens and herb gardens together. They babysat our cat. We’ve had Easters and Thanksgivings. We’ve dined on curried goat. We’ve toasted aquavit. He once gave us 15 lbs. of crab legs (there wasn’t enough room in his freezer for 30 lbs.) because the parents of a kid he tutored are fishmongers and they paid Wain in fish.
We just saw Wain right before Christmas. And I guess we’ll be back in March. Apparently he thinks we don’t visit enough, so he’s hauling out the heavy ammunition. I’ll take any excuse to go back to my adopted home for a visit. Even in a month as c-c-cold as March. But it’s not Cyndi Lauper who’s luring us back. It’s the prospect of being part of a concert full of people who are there to give their love to my friend.
(Truth be told, having Cyndi Lauper there, too, doesn’t hurt.)
To all my Minnesotans: Please buy tickets!