Local Punk Doug "Sluggo" Cawley on His Son Blixa's Leukemia and Tonight's Team Blixa Benefit at Bottom of the Hill
Bay Area punk musician Sluggo, aka Doug Cawley, has worn many hats over his more than 20 years on the local scene. Besides being the principle force behind over a decade of hilarious, cross-dressing trash punk with faux-geriatric reprobates The Grannies, the guitarist also played in '90s outfit Ain't with future wife/singer Laurian Rhodes, and had a hand in the imprints Dead Teenager Records (co-founded with Zeke drummer Donnie Paycheck) and Wondertaker Records. Unfortunately, earlier this year Sluggo was faced with an unforeseeable new challenge when his four-year-old son, Blixa, was diagnosed with leukemia.
Blixa has faced the disease with an uncommon bravery that can be seen in a series of photos Sluggo has posted on Facebook documenting his treatment. The social networking site has also given rise to Team Blixa, a community that's spearheading fundraising efforts to help support Sluggo and his family with an assortment of Team Blixa/Fuck Cancer t-shirts as well as getting the word out about benefit shows both in the Bay Area and abroad. The second local benefit for Blixa being held tonight at Bottom of the Hill features a stellar three-band bill topped by S.F. garage-psych heroes Thee Oh Sees and featuring rare sets from Doug Hilsinger and Caroleen Beatty's acclaimed Enorchestra (performing songs from Brian Eno's landmark Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) album) as well as Bay Area hard-rock favorites Dirty Power. All Shook Down talked to Sluggo this past weekend about how his son is feeling and the outpouring of support Blixa has received from around the world.
So how is Blixa doing?
He's doing good. He's hanging in there. He doesn't really ever complain. He's actually kind of a good age, because he's old enough to understand what's going on and that it's serious. After the initial horrible diagnosis, which was a big shock, we felt like everything after that was kind of the best of what we could have gotten. He got the best kind of leukemia he could have gotten; he could have gotten the worst kind, AML (acute myelogenous leukemia) instead of ALL (acute lymphoblastic leukemia), which is what he has. As far as the time frame, he's going to miss his first half year of kindergarten, so there's worse years he could miss.
If I remember correctly from the Facebook posts when I first learned about this, you were vacationing up north in the spring when you first got the diagnosis?
Correct. We were up in Portland, Oregon, where my wife Laurian and her family are from. And luckily we had an old friend of hers who is a pediatric nurse. Blixa had a bunch of weird symptoms and they were kind of adding up, but nothing that had really clued us in. He didn't have a fever, which is usually what you'd check for to see if something is going wrong. The last thing he had that was kind of weird were these things called petechiae, these little red dots on his chest in a weird pattern that was almost like a rash, but with no bumps. We were at dinner with Laurian's friend and said "Mary, would you mind taking a look at this?" We showed her and she said "Well, you should probably take him in have him checked out." And Laurian was like, "You mean when we get back to Oakland?" and she said "No, probably tomorrow while you're here."
Of course, I talked to her a couple of days later and she knew. It's just not the kind of thing you bring up at dinner. But we caught it early. It can be much worse if you let it go on undiagnosed, so we felt lucky again. Like I said before, it's not the best thing to hear when you're at the doctor, but it could have been a lot worse.
And then you flew back to Oakland immediately afterwards?
We have Kaiser and they flew him and my wife back in a little tiny plane. They said, "We're not letting you drive. We're not letting you get on the road for 12 hours." I headed back with my other son in the car, but Laurian and Blixa were ambulanced to a small plane that held five people. He was on a stretcher the whole way. [They took the] small plane to Oakland and ambulance to Oakland Kaiser, where he was for the first week and a half.
And then there was a big learning curve for us as parents, because you have to learn how to do all these things. Because he has a catheter going straight into his chest, connecting directly to an artery that goes right to his heart and you have to learn how to care for that. There are prerequisites they have before they'll let you take him out of the hospital. You need to show you're proficient in dealing with it. So it's a lot to learn.
It must have been an immediate crash course, beyond just the logistics of just day-to-day care...
Yeah. I guess you get used to it like anything else. Now we're just kind of used to it. We have to put this stuff called Heparin into his line every night. It's basically blood thinner that goes into this line that dangles out of his chest. You have to keep that clean, because his blood wants to coagulate in the wound, so you have to keep it open. So we kind of feel like we're in a groove, although every month or so, his meds change and you learn a whole different set of symptoms and ways to deal with things.
But the outpouring from the scene has just been amazing. I've said this a bunch of times, but I've gone from a "People suck!" type of person to "Wow, I'm actually wrong. People don't suck." They're actually really nice. They're really kind.
I know this is the second benefit held locally for Blixa, but it sounds like there have been a number of other events out of the area and abroad. How many total events have there been?
We did the first one at the Uptown in Oakland in June. [Owner] Larry Trujillo was the first person to come out and say "You can do it in my club!" which was pretty awesome of him. He was the first one to step up, but tons of people have followed. A bunch of punks I know from different bands in Bremen [Germany] held a show and send us $1,600 out of the blue one day last month. A woman who is a Grannies fan in Reno and works in a bar had a fundraiser and sent us a bunch of money from that. We usually go on a family trip every year to Maine where my grandmother was born, but couldn't because of Blixa's compromised immune system. But they had a big event there to raise money for him and sent us like $2,500.
And then there's this event, which is pretty awesome. I mean, Dirty Power is broken up and getting back together to play for it. Enorchestra is playing support and I'm pretty sure they've sold out the Bottom of the Hill on their own before. They do all of Taking Tiger Mountain by Brian Eno, and even Eno has given them a thumbs up on that. I have to admit, I don't know much about Thee Oh Sees, but all my friends are stoked they're playing and they were just at Outside Lands.
Are you setting the benefits up based on who gets in touch with you and expresses interest in helping out? Are you on the organizational front for all of them...
I'm not really. The only one I had much to do with was the first one at the Uptown. But even for that, there was a friend of mine, this personal chef I know named Gregor, who took over that one. Truthfully, I don't have time to do all this. I have to keep my business going [a Fast Frame franchise in S.F.'s Marina District] and my wife hasn't been able to go there as much now because she's home more with Blixa, so we've got to try to keep that going. So these are all just coming to us. They ask my permission, and all I do is say "That's awesome."