“But this day came to be / when we carried you.” – Vaskula, “Procession”
I’ve come to realize lately that the central theme of this blog is not running — it’s grief, and what we do to take the grief life has given us and transform it into something meaningful, even beautiful. I’m running a half marathon in memory of 5 relatives who lost their lives to blood cancers, including my grandma Julie and aunt Marge.
In Part 1 of this blog post series, I introduced you to my aunt Marge’s daughter Jess, who started an organic farm to honor her late mother’s legacy of caring for animals and the earth.
Today in Part 2, I’d like you to meet another one of my cousins. Johan is nine years younger than me, so I have many memories of watching him grow up, especially going to his classical violin recitals with his mom Anne and our grandma Julie. In addition to playing guitar with Chicago black metal band Vukari, he just released a critically acclaimed new wave side project last month as Vaskula. The Chicago Reader describes it as “Peter Murphy meets M83.” (How cool is that??)
My cousin Johan, the man behind Vaskula.
When we were all together with Jess at Marge’s funeral last year, I knew he was working on an album but didn’t realize one of the resulting songs, “Procession”, was inspired by that event. Hearing it for the first time (during one of my training runs, no less) was an incredibly moving experience.
I invited Johan to share what inspired him to write the song, and what it would mean for all of you to support the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. I especially like how he described Marge’s spirit. He says:
“I had this arpeggio sequence that was very powerful and I found a way to make an entire song out of it. After working with the music for sometime I decided to start from scratch lyrically and go from the heart. I tried to avoid anything too personal on the rest of the album but I think this one needed it.
I’m not huge on talking about emotions (typical guy) but Marge and Grandma were very special women. I think the few times in my life where I’ve actually felt genuine emotions were at their respective funerals. Vaskula is music for reflection. I think I achieved that and ending the album with this piece was planned early on in my head. What you said about turning grief into something productive and beautiful is exactly what I wanted to achieve.
Both writing the lyrics and tracking the vocals were a swift process that I can’t describe better than just ‘happening.’ There was only one line of words I rewrote before vocal tracking and they just seemed to flow. The actual recording of the vocals was quite swift as well. After having a difficult time demoing all vocal recording I took a little time off and helped my collaborator Elizabeth get her parts recorded on the rest of the album. After working with her it just clicked for me that I didn’t have to belt everything out like I learned in classical voice lessons. I saved the intense, belted out singing for the very last line which seemed appropriate.
I put equal effort into writing the guitar solo as I did with the words. The notes had to match the power of the song and since I used a very magical guitar (it was one of the reasons my parents met, long story) as well as improving on certain parts at the studio I achieved something both calculated and spontaneous, just like how Marge was.
Even though Marge lived far away I always felt close to her. It was always nice having her visit and she brought her joy to us when she was around. Both Marge and Julie (Hoyer, my grandmother who was also lost to blood cancer) taught me how to be a caring person and how to laugh at myself and enjoy life. Marge could always brighten a room with her laughter and I won’t forget how important aspects like that are in life. Hopefully listeners can create their own story while listening to “Procession.” Without knowing the background on the song I still feel one would be able to tell it is full of positive meaning and reflection.
I’m happy I could honor her in my own way and hope that there can be some progress made in finding ways to combat blood cancer.”
Check out the song on YouTube.
You can join me and my family in the fight against blood cancers by donating here. Thanks for your support!