Monday, November 16, 2009

Review: PBS Independent Lens, “D Tour”

The PBS documentary opens with a brief introduction by the quirky Maggie Gyllenhall. and then dives immediately into the story of Pat Spurgeon, drummer of Rogue Wave and his illness, an unfortunate one-two kidney punch – he was born with a single healthy kidney that began to go into failure in his teens. He does okay until he is in his twenties, scraping out a life as a miserly drummer in Indiana. But after a string of flu-like illnesses from which he never recovers, his mother comes from California to rescue him. This was a critical move, born from none other than motherly spidey-senses that literally saves Spurgeon’s life. He then becomes dependent on daily peritoneal dialysis, a time-consuming procedure to filter and cleanse his blood. At this time he begins to play with Rogue Wave and as the band’s popularity rises, they are forced to make serious decisions on whether to allow Spurgeon to tour given his health.

Meanwhile we get a sense of Spurgeon’s passion for music. He never wanted to commit to any alternative careers in the chance that he would be able to find a great group to play with. So he carried on doing odd jobs and playing in uninspired bands until he found Rogue Wave. He is portrayed as a fairly simple and likeable guy, not particularly insightful or articulate, but clearly a man who is devoted to his craft and has a good understanding of his illness.

In spite of the risk, the band decides to go ahead touring with Spurgeon. Scene after scene there are images of Spurgeon dialyzing himself in the back of a van, backstage, on a porch, in a living room with a dog chasing his dialysis bags. To maintain a sense of privacy for Spurgeon, they encode talk related to dialysis, referring to his “D-Bags” and thus coining the term, “D Tour.” The story takes on an added layer as bassist Evan Farrell’s wife offers to donate her kidney to Spurgeon after finding out she is a perfect tissue match for him. Sadly, this possibility dead-ends as she is found to be unable to donate and Spurgeon is relegated to have to wait up to five years on a kidney match list. He faces the harsh reality that he may die before receiving a kidney. The band then tours to raise awareness of Spurgeon’s plight. Some familiar rock faces emerge, including Ben Gibbard, John Vanderslice, Nada Surf, the Moore Brothers showing their support of the cause. Throughout the movie you can see Spurgeon’s body change, sometimes slightly swollen and sallow-faced, but always undeniably thin.

In a stroke of luck, or hitting the “organ lottery” (misunderstood by Spurgeon’s family as the Oregon Lottery) Spurgeon gets a perfectly matched cadaveric organ. In hours he’s whisked away to UCSF Hospital and gets his brand-spanking healthy new kidney. He recovers well. Happy ending, right? Hardly. In the same year, bassist Evan Farrell dies in an apartment fire. In a twisted turn of events, Farrell’s wife, who just a year prior offered her kidney to Spurgeon, decides to have her husband’s organs donated. The movie’s most poignant moments come when Farrell’s wife gets to meet the four recipients of her husband’s organs and when Spurgeon meets his donor’s family. (I cried like a baby during these parts.)

Interspersed in this weighty story line we hear bits of tracks from Asleep At Heaven’s Gate, which keep our soundbyte-trained ears perked and reminded me how it’s just a great album. The music took a relative backseat to the main focus of the movie that seemed to be more on Spurgeon’s illness, the organ donor program and the absolute heart-wrenching losses and the strange healing that can come from it.

--Audrey Wen


Alex said...

It should probably be disclosed that Audrey's a doctor and knows what she's talking about with this stuff. Btw, about time there was a post. Who's in charge of this place anyway?

Audrey said...

Should we be concerned that the other contributors to this blog are not rock experts and so we may not know what we are talking about?

Thanks for outing me again in my profession, last time it was in front of a man who passed out at Pitchfork, and you actually expected me to put my beer down during the Walkmen's "The Rat" give some mouth to mouth.

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