Living till you die


Last updated 7/25/2023 at 11:03am

Dave Alvin is a hero of mine.

He was an early standard-bearer for the hybrid of country, folk, blues, and roots rock & roll that folks call “Americana” music. He played here at the Sisters Folk Festival a decade ago.

Marilyn and I traveled to Portland earlier this month to catch him with another stalwart, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, at the Aladdin Theater. It was a show we couldn’t miss because there’s no knowing how many more chances we’ll get. You see, Dave Alvin should be dead.

Diagnosed with Stage 4 colorectal/prostate cancer in the midst of the pandemic, he not only survived arduous treatment, but battled back to his native environment — on a stage ripping out blues-based licks on a Stratocaster and spinning tales of dry rivers, a doomed bluesman, and a long, white Cadillac.

The show was a stunner — the band blew the doors off the Aladdin for over two hours. But the most striking thing about the evening was the pure joy that radiated off the stage. Dave Alvin has always lived for the road, for night after night of what he self-deprecatingly calls bashing on a guitar in front of an audience, large or small.

He said that when his surgeon consulted with him about cancer treatment, his only question was what he needed to do to get back on the road playing music.

The surgeon said, “Oh, Mister Alvin — you’ll never do that again.”

“So I got a different surgeon,” Alvin said.

There are lessons there for all of us.

One — never surrender your passions, even in the face of death. Squeezing out a few more days on the planet doesn’t mean much if you aren’t doing the things that make you who you are. Sure, age, infirmity and illness may force modifications, but never give up what you love.

Les Schwab Tires Sisters Oregon 541-549-1560

I know several people who, facing their mortality, simply decided that they were going to carry on and die with their boots on. They determined to live until they die. Last weekend, Willie Nelson closed the FairWell Festival in Redmond — 90 years old and still out there on the road again. There are accommodations for an old man, but he’s not quitting. He’s going to live till he dies — and then skip his funeral.

Dave Alvin sermonized a little from the Aladdin’s bully pulpit: When you have teetered on the brink of death, you recognize that every single moment is precious, not to be wasted. And when you recognize that, a lot of trivial BS just slips away.

Sisters Oregon Guide

It would behoove all of us to remember that — without having to look the Mother of Bones in the eye.

It’s all too easy to get caught up in meaningless dramas, and modern life offers a virtually limitless array of options for wasting precious time and energy. We can’t afford to fall into that trap, because we don’t know when the road ends.

We each have different passions and priorities. Maybe you want to make one more quilt, spend another season in the garden, climb that mountain, make that long ride, learn to play an instrument — whatever. Don’t wait.

I don’t have a bucket list. I just want to continue doing what I do. I want to read good books and enjoy good music and share those things with friends and family. I want to spend time in the woods hiking and slinging kettlebells and lead. I want to write things that add value to people’s lives. Anything that distracts or detracts from those important matters needs to be pushed aside.

SFF Presents: Big Ponderoo June 29 and 30, 2024

As Dave Alvin himself said in an interview with The San Diego Union-Tribune: “I’ll sound like a cheerleader or a self-help guru. But what it really boils down to is that — if you can get through it — everything else is frosting, I should have been dead from the stage-four cancer, and I’m not. So, even the crappy days I have now are not crappy.

“Yesterday, I was out hiking in the hills. Two years ago, I couldn’t do that and a year ago it was questionable. Now, I’m out touring, playing gigs, recording. And every time I’m doing these things, I think: ‘Am I really doing this?’

Sisters Area Chamber of Commerce

“But that applies to everything, including eating a meal or starting the car. ‘Hey, the car’s starting!’ Every little moment now is a triumph.”

Hats off to you, Dave Alvin — and to Willie, too. That’s a good way to live.

Author Bio

Jim Cornelius, Editor in Chief

Author photo

Jim Cornelius is editor in chief of The Nugget and author of “Warriors of the Wildlands: True Tales of the Frontier Partisans.” A history buff, he explores frontier history across three centuries and several continents on his podcast, The Frontier Partisans. For more information visit


Reader Comments(1)

Dude1394 writes:

Well said. Let ‘er rip Dave.


Powered by ROAR Online Publication Software from Lions Light Corporation
© Copyright 2024