We know he lives, of course, but the magnitude of the cancer is almost beyond comprehension.
I’ve read memoirs written by musicians before and, while I always seem to gravitate toward them, I never seem to fully enjoy them. As a huge music fan (you’ve already guessed that, haven’t you?), I enjoy these peeks into musicians’ lives, the behind-the-scenes looks at their experiences with the industry. Yet often these musicians can’t write very well, or they think every detail is important when it really is not, or—let’s face it—they’re neither likeable nor sympathetic.
But Rob Rufus’s Die Young with Me is different. For one, it’s the life-or-death story of his cancerous tumor, discovered when he was 17. We know he lives, of course, but the magnitude of the disease is almost beyond comprehension. How could so many doctors miss this? How could a young man beat this? And look at all he lost as a result.
Rob and his twin brother, Nat, lived in West Virginia, far outside the realm of “cool” music. When they discover punk rock, it’s like the heavens have opened: They’ve found their calling. Together with a friend, Brody, the brothers form a punk band called Defiance of Authority and begin booking and playing gigs in their small town. But they have bigger aspirations, and soon book a cross-country tour with the help of their self-appointed manager, Paul.
The Warped Tour is still new, and is, to the boys, the Holy Grail of punk rock. With stars in their eyes, they send a demo to the festival organizer—and they get in. There’s even talk of Epitaph Records looking at them. Could there be any better achievement for three high school kids from the middle of nowhere Appalachia?
But then Rob’s persistent cough worsens; he’s coughing up blood. His mother sends him to one doctor and then another, who diagnose little things, like bronchitis and pneumonia. But it gets worse, not better.
Finally, a new doctor finds it: a large, cancerous tumor on Rob’s lung. It’s Stave Four. And, worse still: If it hadn’t been caught then, he would have been dead within a week. Although the doctor doesn’t tell him this, Rob’s chances of survival are close to nil.
And so begin months and years of treatment, of driving three hours to a children’s hospital in Ohio, receiving chemotherapy that makes him so, so sick. While Rob suffers through his treatment and fights for his life, the band has to tour without him.
Rob and his brother are cocky and rebellious, skipping school and defying their mother’s orders to not get tattoos (they get plenty). Even so, they never cease to be sympathetic, likeable guys. We root for Rob throughout his treatment; we feel his pain and torment; our hearts break at all he’s lost.
But somehow, even with a crushing setback, he pulls through. Of course, the fact that most of us have never heard of Defiance of Authority means, well, they didn’t make it big as they perhaps should have. But the boys have continued to play music, even to this day—and let’s not forget: He has his life. So despite everything, he has succeeded. | Laura Hamlett