Monday, December 19, 2016

Twenty Years Ago This Month: "Mr. Reno, You Have Lymphoma!"

Twenty years ago this month, I lay silent, scared and shaking in a cold, antiseptic surgery recovery room with a warm blanket wrapped tightly around me waiting for an ear, nose and throat doctor to tell me whether or not I had cancer. 

A few weeks earlier I had visited his office to check out a walnut-sized lump on my neck about three inches to the right and below my Adam's Apple. While cancer did briefly cross my mind when I first discovered the lump, I quickly dismissed it. Not possible, I thought. I'm just too healthy.

The doctor initially did a needle biopsy of the lump, which came back inconclusive. But when I came into the exam room he was holding a folder on which the word "LYMPHOMA" was written in large type, all caps. 

Obviously I wasn't meant to see that. My heart started beating super fast. Tears welled up in my eyes."Oh, shit," is all I could say. He reassured me it wasn't definite, and that only the surgical removal of the swollen lymph node would tell us for certain. 

When he entered that chilly recovery room, with no emotion on his face and in a monotone voice, he said, "Mr. Reno, you have lymphoma. I'll contact the oncologist," and walked out. Yes, he flunked Bedside Manner 101. 

Throughout the cancer diagnostic process, I kept thinking it was a bad dream from which I would awaken. At other times, I honestly felt like they had the wrong guy and that they were looking at the wrong chart.

But it was all real. I was 35 years old, living on the beach in San Diego and engaged to the girl of my dreams. I was an athlete and surfer who had a great career as a correspondent with Newsweek. I didn't smoke. I was very health-conscious. I was, in a word, happy.

After doing the subsequent scans and tests, the oncologist gave me the official diagnosis: Stage IV follicular non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. It was bad. There was a very large tumor in my nasal pharynx. 

There were also tumors in my neck, abdomen and pelvis. The oncologist said I could live three to five years.

I started chemotherapy a few days after Christmas. But not before my girlfriend, Gabriela, and I got married. The wedding took place 20 years ago today: Dec. 19, 1996. Needless to say, it was the most bittersweet day of my life. 

I was so freaking scared of the chemo and of dying. But I was ecstatic that Gabby chose to be my wife as I headed down that dark road. I know for sure that I would not be alive without Gabby's love these last 20 years. And I am even more in love with her today than I was the day we recited our vows and I prepared to start my treatment.

We had a big, bold, beautiful Gatsby-themed wedding planned for the following April, but we canceled that and instead went down to the San Diego County building and had a quick, no-frills wedding. Just me, my wife, and my sister, Michele. 

The chemo was even worse than I expected. It was brutal for me. Thankfully, not everyone gets as sick as I did. I got very, very sick. But I got through it. And I kept working, at least through most of it. I've never stopped working in fact.

My Roller Coaster Life Since the Diagnosis

Since my initial diagnosis, the cancer has recurred, a few times. I've fought it off with a combination of integrative/holistic things and traditional pharmaceutical treatments. 

I opted to enroll in a clinical trial for an experimental radio-immunotherapy treatment called Bexxar, which, along with all the dietary, lifestyle and supplemental things I was doing put me in remission for about five times as long as the chemo gave me.

There have been some very high highs and some very low lows in the past 20 years. I've had many difficult health issues related to the cancer, and some that are perhaps not related. 

I've learned a lot about myself, and about human nature. Perhaps the most surprising thing I've learned is that in the eyes of others, even those you love and who love you, you at some point become your cancer.

Despite all your successes post-diagnosis, despite all the things you overcome, including sickness, fear, physical pain and emotional turmoil, people eventually stop differentiating between you and your illness. 

People conclude that if you're sick, that is just who you are. You essentially become your illness. If you're unable to do something in your life, whether it's taking your daughter to school or attending a family reunion or wedding of a close friend, at some point people in your life inevitably no longer think it's because you were dealt this bad hand. They just see it almost as your choice, and as your flaw.

At some point, people simply see you for your inabilities. They blame you, not your illness. It's not a conscious or mean-spirited thing. It is I think largely involuntary. It's human nature, I guess. And it is based on both ignorance and fear. Everyone's afraid of getting cancer, of getting sick.

We're Still Here!

So, for every cancer patient and survivor or anyone reading this who has battled any serious illness, I want you you to please remind yourself these very important words: you are not your illness!

You didn't ask for any of this. You don't deserve any of this. You are not to blame for any of this. And it is not your fault that sickness and pain prevent you from doing the things you want or even need to do. 

You are not the things you can't do. You are in fact all the amazing things you can do and have been able to accomplish despite being sick and in pain -- no matter how inconsequential they might seem to someone who has never battled serious illness or chronic pain. 

Despite being scared, despite being in physical pain, despite everything, you are still here. From the moment you hear those words that you have cancer, you are a survivor. And everyone who has heard those words is my hero. 

This month, as I celebrate 20 years of survival, I want to express my admiration and love to all my fellow survivors. Not just those of you who've survived cancer. But those of you who've survived any illness. 

And I want to send specific love and congratulations to anyone who's battled massive chronic pain. It isn't easy, y'all. But I remain a relentless optimist. Even though I'm often either sick and/or in pain, I still love my life. I still love my family. I still love my friends. I still love my career. I am a  proud cancer survivor. And I am not my illness!

Friday, November 11, 2016

Renowned Gulf War Illness Researcher Urges Americans: Don't Forget the Men and Women of the "Forgotten War" on Veterans Day

Beatrice Golomb is one of my heroes. While you may not immediately recognize her name, she is one of the world's leaders in the study of the causes of and potential treatments for Gulf War Illness (GWI), the confounding condition that plagues hundreds of thousands of our veterans who served in the 1990-1991 Gulf War.

The Gulf War, also known as Operation Desert Storm, has been rightly called "The New Forgotten War." People think because the conflict was so short that there were relatively few casualties. But GWI, which studies now show was caused by our troops’ exposure to a variety of toxic chemicals while on active duty in the Gulf, has been as devestating to our veterans as exposure to Agent Orange was during the Vietnam War..

Gulf War Illness is a horrible condition that is accompanied by a large number of often debilitating symptoms. And it's shamefully taken the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) more than a generation to even begin to adequately recognize that this condition is real and that it is affecting the lives of so many of our brave men and women who honorably served. The VA, at virtually every turn, has downplayed GWI and accused our veterans who suffer from it of being liars.

Golomb, who's leading the way to find treatments for GWI, is my favorite kind of scientist. She cares about people. She gets it. She understands that her work in the lab has human, very real-world ramifications and potentially improves health. She is relentless in her pursuit of knowledge that will help our veterans live better lives. 

Golomb, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), served as a primary care physician for a panel of veterans for more than 15 years, and has served as a health consultant at RAND. 

Her research is broad and accomplished, but she is best known for her work on Gulf War illness, statins, placebos – and chocolate. Dr. Golomb has a very urgent message to share, and I’m honored to have her as our guest blogger on this Veteran’s Day 2016:


Beatrice Golomb, MD, PhD
This Veterans Day is a good opportunity to remember veterans of the 1990-91 Persian Gulf War, who have borne singular challenges. Of the 700,000 US personnel deployed in that War, an estimated one-quarter to one-third of them developed chronic health problems, attributable to their service, that evidence shows have not abated in the 25-plus years that have followed.

Fatigue, muscle pain, weakness, cognitive challenges, gastrointestinal, sleep and respiratory problems are among the symptoms most often experienced. Characteristically, multiple domains are affected in veterans with “Gulf War illness” (GWI), with symptoms that are moderate to severe.

Rates of this symptom complex are markedly higher among 1990-91 veterans who were deployed to the Gulf than among veterans who weren’t deployed, or who were deployed in other conflicts. Though routine blood tests are normal, affected veterans show objective changes in a spectrum of tests, ranging from autoimmune and “autonomic” functions (like heart rate control) to clotting and inflammation.

Studies have also shown heightened risk of health conditions, some serious, like ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, a fatal muscle-wasting condition), and, for some, brain cancer.

A quarter century has elapsed since the Gulf War, and many who served feel they are the forgotten veterans – and feel an urgency to see GWI understood. The Holy Grail to these veterans is effective treatments, to alleviate the problems they developed, as a consequence of their service to their country – while they are alive to reap the benefits.

GWI is not synonymous with the signature conditions of more recent conflicts. Post-Traumatic Stress (PTSD) is due to psychological injury; Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) to mechanical injury (e.g. blast injury from improvised explosive devices or IEDs).

For GWI, convergent evidence implicates chemical injury. Stress does not significantly relate to GWI, while again and again, key chemical exposures do. The strongest evidence implicates “acetylcholinesterase inhibitors” (“AChEi”), a class of chemicals that encompass nerve gas (~100,000 were exposed when US personnel demolished an Iraqi chemical munitions depot at Khamisiyah), pesticides, especially organophosphates and carbamates, used widely and sometimes overzealously; and a nerve agent pretreatment pill, pyridostigmine bromide (“PB”) given to ~250,000 of those 700,000 deployed.

It was thought that PB might protect soldiers in event of a nerve agent attack. My 1999 RAND report showed these pills would be expected to harm rather than protect – for all nerve agents except possibly one, which Iraq did not have. This led to a change in US military policy regarding use of this drug, which subsequent deployed US veterans have not taken.

The ground war for the 1990-91 conflict lasted just four days, and rates of PTSD were lower than in veterans of other conflicts. While psychological stress has no relationship to GWI in analyses that adjust for other exposures, the aforementioned chemicals show a clear “dose-response” relationship to GWI: 

Those taking more PB pills become ill more, and became more ill; those closer to the nerve gas demolition show more brain abnormalities on MRI imaging, worse cognitive function, and increased risk of brain cancer.

Specific enzymes detoxify these chemicals: genetic variants of these enzymes that are less good at detoxifying (resulting in a higher de facto exposure), are linked to heightened risk of GWI. Because veterans declared their exposure and health status without knowing their genetics; and because veterans cannot manipulate their genetics based on suggestibility or media influence, which some have tried to claim accounts for GWI, this is especially powerful evidence for a causal link to chemical exposure.

Evidence now shows that civilians occupationally exposed to these chemicals – again, particularly those whose genetics heighten their vulnerability to these toxins – show similar health problems, providing important “triangulating” evidence. 

This underscores that research to understand GWI has ramifications extending beyond Gulf War veterans to other military, and beyond military to civilians.

New life has breathed into Gulf War research in the last few years, via the Department of Defense's (DoD) Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program on Gulf War illness. This has enabled many qualified researchers with good ideas, not just those with >5/8 VA appointments, to strive to understand this condition. 

Disclosure: I am a recipient. My group, for instance, has shown that affected veterans have altered lipids, and defective production of cell energy - dysfunction of “mitochondria," and that their symptoms and function improve with coenzyme Q10, a dietary supplement that supports energy production. Our current projects follow-up on these, assess effects of treatments tried, and look at genetics of antioxidant toxin protection.

In my view, and the view of many veterans, the DoD is making more progress in less time with far less money, by coupling a will to understand the issue with an approach that actually heeds the input of those with the greatest stake – affected veterans – in funding decisions. “Relevancy review” by Gulf War veterans complements the separate scientific review – something I think should be required for all funding programs.

These veterans’ service came at a great price. Those who might wish to help affected Gulf War veterans can do so in several ways, by helping in research, e.g. as healthy control subjects, volunteering, or donating to help defray costs for veterans’ participation in, or travel to, research.

Those who might wish to help, or learn more, can call 858 558-4950 x201.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

EXCLUSIVE: The Powerful, Untold Story Of Personal Triumph For 2016 World Series Star Anthony Rizzo

Anthony Rizzo, a winner on and off the field
The 2016 World Series is already being hailed as one of the greatest Fall Classics of all time, with easily the finest game seven in recent sports history. But for me, at the heart of this epic, hard-fought battle between the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians is a powerful, poignant tale of personal triumph that has almost nothing to do with baseball.

Anthony Rizzo, the Cubs' soft-spoken slugger, is a household name now. But not a lot of folks know what Rizzo is really made of, and what he's really been through off the baseball diamond. 

Anthony has faced real adversity in his life. At age 18, he was told he had Hodgkin's lymphoma. Naturally, cancer rocked his world. But he never gave in. He never gave up. And since he completed his chemo and was told he was in remission, he has quietly become a deeply committed advocate for his fellow lymphoma patients, especially the kids.

I was honored to be among the first and only writers to talk to Anthony in great depth about his battle with Hodgkin's lymphoma. The interview was for my book, "Hope Begins in the Dark: 40 Lymphoma Survivors Tell Their Exclusive Life Stories."

The book takes an unflinching look at how these folks, including many celebrities who rarely talk publicly about their cancer, fought and beat various types of lymphoma, one of the fastest-rising cancers in the US and across the globe. 

I've battled the disease three times myself in the last 20 years, and now I'm in my fourth battle. The lymph nodes are stable, but they are there. They could start growing at any time. Meantime, I try to make the best of every day.

When I was diagnosed with stage IV follicular non-Hodgkin's lymphoma 20 years ago this month, I desperately wanted to read a book with stories of people who survived lymphoma. But that book didn't exist. So I wrote it.

And among all the inspiring and heroic folks I met while writing the book, Anthony was and is one of my favorites. 

Tough but humble, passionate but soft-spoken, intense but amiable, he is of course a gifted athlete. And I wanted people to know that even the strongest, most able-bodied people in the world can get cancer. It doesn't discriminate. 

Anthony seems to live by Teddy Roosevelt’s motto, “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” I his case, of course, it's a bat. 

An old-school, aw-shucks kind of guy, a throwback in the best of ways, Anthony was tearing it up in Triple A when he was called up in June 2011 to the big-league San Diego Padres. He was subsequently traded to the Chicago Cubs – big mistake, Padres! - and he’s been punishing opposing pitchers and making spectacular catches at First Base ever since.

He’s obviously one of the Cubs’ leaders and best players and one of Major League Baseball’s newest and brightest superstars. But what impresses me most about this stoic young man is his kindness off the field.

Anthony has spent a good portion of his time since he battled and beat lymphoma visiting sick children in hospitals and cancer clinics. 

In 2012, he founded the Anthony Rizzo Family, a non-profit organization benefiting cancer research and the families fighting the disease. 

Another thing that impresses me about Anthony is his inner strength and positive attitude. 

He told me that he never believed that cancer would defeat him. Yes, he was concerned, because he is human. But he always believed he would play baseball again after his cancer treatment concluded. 

The term “role model” is overused in professional sports, but this guy is one.

When we talked, Anthony told me about how Jon Lester, the former Boston Red Sox ace who is now Rizzo's teammate in Chicago, helped Rizzo when he was first diagnosed. Lester, too, is a lymphoma survivor.

So is Larry Lucchino, the former CEO of the Red Sox who is also profiled in our book. So is Dave Roberts, the former Boston Red Sox player and now manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers. And so is John Farrell, the Red Sox manager. Unbelievably, all are lymphoma survivors. 

Below is Anthony's story, excerpted from our book:

"My name is Anthony Rizzo. I play first base for the Chicago Cubs. I was raised in South Florida in a suburb of Fort Lauderdale called Parkland. I have one older brother, he doesn’t play baseball, he’s a working man. I’ve played baseball most of my life.

"When I was 18 and playing Single A ball for the Boston Red Sox organization in Greenville, Southern Carolina in the Atlantic League, my legs began to swell, and I started feeling super tired. I didn’t think much of it at first and didn’t want to say anything, but these symptoms didn’t go away. I was swelling pretty badly in my legs, and I gained 15 pounds in a week. That was a real red flag to the trainer on staff, and eventually the Red Sox flew me to Boston and ran some tests. 

"That’s when I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. It was a shock. When we found out I had lymphoma, Larry Lucchino (CEO of the Red Sox and a lymphoma survivor himself who is also profiled in this book) sent me a letter in the mail expressing sympathy. Jon Lester helped me out, too. 

"Jon is a pitcher for the Red Sox who is also a lymphoma survivor who won a World Series game after his treatment. Larry and John both prepped me on what to go through, what to expect, and how to handle everything. It helped to have people who worked in professional baseball to support me, people who had already been through it

"I was inspired by their words, but the truth is I was really focused on myself and just getting through it.

"When I played for the San Diego Padres, Dave Roberts, who was also a Red Sox player before becoming a Padre and is a lymphoma survivor, and I shared stories about our lymphoma. But he and I are alike in the sense that we are just happy to be back on the field.

"The most inspirational people in my life would have to be my grandparents. They were always there for me, along with my brother, and my mom and dad. My grandparents were so close to us, they were always there. My grandmother was battling breast cancer at the time, but you could never tell even though I know she was in great pain.

"The lymphoma diagnosis changed me as a person in the sense that it made me realize that you can’t take anything for granted. You can be playing this game one day and then the next day it can all be taken away from you, just like that. That thought of never playing again, well, yes, it crossed my mind, but as I tell everyone, I knew I’d be back. I knew I’d play baseball again.

"Having lymphoma really has taught me to never, ever take things for granted. And the thing is, what I went through was easy compared to what others are going through. I’ve visited lots of kids in hospitals and elsewhere, kids who have autism and kids who are handicapped. What I went through was easy compared to what they go through.

“I had what was called ADBVD chemo. It wasn’t fun. I had it every other week, every Tuesday, and for the next five of six days after each treatment,

"I was pretty much totally out of commission. I’ve learned a lot about myself and about life since my diagnosis, and about lymphoma. l had no idea about lymphoma before I was diagnosed, I knew the word, but that’s about it. I didn’t know much about cancer or chemo, I had no idea about how any of that went.

"I was very fortunate. I had some of best doctors in world. I was treated at Massachusetts General Hospital. I was also fortunate that the Red Sox helped me out so much. They even set me up with a Florida doctor. He’s still my oncologist. My home is still in Florida, but I love Chicago and I love being a Cub.

"My words to live by are simple: live strong. I’m a big believer in the philosophy of Lance Armstrong’s foundation. I wear the yellow wristband every single day, on the field and off the field. I also really appreciate the fans. The fan mail was great even in Single A, the Red Sox nation really supported me. Padre fans are great, too. They know my story and they tell me congrats and really support me. It’s really comforting.

"Now my goal is just to stay healthy and help my new team win baseball games. I definitely want to talk to kids more, I want to continue reaching out to them and give them some hope and some inspiration and tell them there is always light at the end of the tunnel. Because there always is.

"After I got healthy again, I remember the first time I stepped back into the batter’s box, it was in an instructional league, at the end of 2008, in Fort Myers. When I walked out there and got my first hit in the league, and heard the fans cheering, it was a great feeling. But playing in Spring Training the following season, that’s when I really felt like I was back. And now that I’m in the Big Leagues, I hope I’m here to stay.

"If there is one message, one piece of information, that I would want readers of this book to know, it’s that I want you to go out and enjoy life. I know it’s a cliché term, but you really don’t realize how good life is until something like cancer happens, you learn to appreciate the tiny little things.

"I want to have a family some day. Cancer was a shocker for me, but no matter what I was going through, I always reminded myself that someone out there has it worse, no matter how bad I was feeling. I really focused on the kids out there who are suffering, and I want to continue to inspire them."

Sunday, October 30, 2016

FBI Director James Comey Channels His Inner J. Edgar Hoover

FBI Chief James Comey, possibly napping
Those who defend FBI Director James Comey’s decision to notify Congress that his bureau is investigating newly discovered emails related to Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while at the State Department insist that he is simply doing his job. They say Comey's just doing what he's required to do.

Actually, the very opposite is true. Releasing a breathless statement to Congress just days before a presidential election about emails linked to one of the candidates that he admits may or may not even be new or significant evidence in a closed case is a violation of ethics, decency and law.

I've been highly critical of Clinton on several fronts, from her untenable downplaying of the deep-seated problems at the Department of Veterans Affairs to some of her shady benefactors at the Clinton Foundation. 

But she was spot-on this week when she said that it's "pretty strange to put something like that out with such little information right before an election. In fact, it’s not just strange. It’s unprecedented, and it’s deeply troubling.”

Comey admitted this week that he doesn't even know what he has here. Maybe nothing at all. He said the bureau is simply reviewing this to see if there is anything worth pursuing. Good. Fine. That is his job.

But it's unconscionable for him to notify Congress less than two weeks before a presidential election about this "new" information, with no specific charges or even a clue whether there is anything to this.

It's an egregious violation of the Hatch Act, which was passed almost 80 years ago to prohibit civilian federal government employees of the executive branch from engaging in certain political activities, such as influencing elections.

Comey, who up until recently, at least, was a registered Republican, knew full well when he notified Congress that it would become an A-1 story in a heartbeat and that it would indeed influence the election. 

He also knew that many of Clinton's detractors would make immediate hay, even though to date there's no fire amid all the smoke.

This was a cynical, foolish and I believe very personal move by Comey, who's been described as self-righteous, and worse. He said recently on the record that he has gotten a lot of negative comments for exonerating Clinton. 

His apparent response to all the criticisms for his decision not to prosecute Clinton? Calling this really unfortunate, J. Edgar Hooveresque audible, which he and the country will regret for a very long time.

Hillary’s Opponents Are Having A Field Day

Naturally, Donald Trump is thanking his lucky stars for Comey's missive. Trump is of course mischaracterizing it as a bumper crop of new evidence. This just isn't the case. In fact we won't know for many weeks whether there is any "there" there.

The point is, what Comey has done is unheard of in American politics.

I’ve already stated my feelings about the emails "scandal." It’s much ado about very little. I just can’t get too worked up over it. It ain’t Watergate. It’s not disqualifying for the presidency, unlike the 25 or 30 things that disqualify her opponent.

The outrage many are expressing over the emails debacle is predictably selective. Where's the outcry over the fact that the George W. Bush administration deleted 22 million emails from private email servers? 

Several Bush staffers, including Karl Rove, reportedly used private email servers. As Newsweek recently noted, many of these deleted emails were written during the time when Bush and his staff were telling lies about weapons of mass destruction to get the public to support the Iraq War, which of course turned out to be the biggest mistake this nation has made since Vietnam. This is far more troubling than anything we have learned about Clinton and her emails.

Those Bush-era emails on private servers were also deleted during a time when multiple US attorneys were fired simply because they were not doing what Rove wanted them to do.

While many but not all of those 22 million emails were found, they’ve still not been made public. Neither President Obama nor any federal law enforcement officials have pushed to see them. I sure would like to see them, though, don’t you? 

As for punishing folks for stupidity, I don't think either Clinton or anyone at the Pentagon or elsewhere should be jailed for years for honest mistakes regarding the handling of classified material. 

Yes, laws prohibiting folks from disclosing classified documents are of course there for a reason. There should be care when handling them and punishment for mishandling them. But it's all about the intent. Stupidity and duplicity are two very, very different things.

Some Agreement On Both Sides Of The Aisle

Good folks in both political camps agree that Comey’s actions this past week are unethical at best. 

Larry Thompson, a deputy attorney general under Bush, and Jamie Gorelick, a deputy attorney general under Bill Clinton, said in a joint statement that the Department of Justice for many, many years has limited disclosure of ongoing investigations, especially in a way that might be seen as influencing an election.

Thompson and Gorelick noted that, decades ago, the DOJ decided that in the 60-day period before an election, "the balance should be struck against even returning indictments involving individuals running for office, as well as against the disclosure of any investigative steps."

The obvious reasoning, they said, was that "however important it might be for Justice to do its job, and however important it might be for the public to know what Justice knows, because such allegations could not be adjudicated, such actions or disclosures risked undermining the political process."

They added that Justice allows neither for "self-aggrandizing crusaders on high horses nor for passive bureaucrats wielding rubber stamps from the shadows. It demands both humility and responsibility. As former deputy attorneys general in the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush administrations, we are troubled by the apparent departure from these standards in the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s email server."

They concluded that Comey "put himself enthusiastically forward as the arbiter of not only whether to prosecute a criminal case — which is not the job of the FBI — but also best practices in the handling of email and other matters. Now, he has chosen personally to restrike the balance between transparency and fairness, departing from the department’s traditions. As former deputy attorney general George Terwilliger aptly put it, 'There’s a difference between being independent and flying solo.'"

CNN legal analyst Paul Callan also weighed in this weekend, calling for Comey to resign. 

"The FBI virtually never announces the commencement or termination of ongoing criminal investigations or the discovery of new evidence," he wrote. "Such inquiries are often conducted in relative secrecy, enabling a more efficient investigation."

Callan added,"Trashing the Justice and FBI rule books in the interest of 'openness' is likely to put the FBI front and center in one of the most contentious presidential races in recent US history. J. Edgar Hoover loved to influence elections, but he had the good sense to keep quiet about it."

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Kennedy Center Dishonors: Where Are The Rest Of The Eagles?

Bernie Leadon, Glenn Frey, Don Henley, Randy Meisner. Don Felder
The Kennedy Center Honors, which considers itself the arbiter of who is and who is not worthy of a lifetime artist achievement award, recently announced its 2016 honorees. They include actor Al Pacino, pianist Martha Agerich, singer-songwriter James Taylor, rhythm and blues singer Mavis Staples, and the Eagles, one of America's most popular bands.

The three current members of the Eagles - Don Henley, Timothy B. Schmit and Joe Walsh - along with Glenn Frey, who died earlier this year, will be honored December 4. President Obama is scheduled to attend the ceremony and will also receive the honorees at the White House. And as always the event will be nationally televised on CBS on Dec. 27.

But Eagles co-founding members Randy Meisner and Bernie Leadon and longtime Eagles member Don Felder, all three of whom had an enormous hand in developing the band's sound and legend, were not invited. 

This despite the fact that all three of these men were rightly inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as Eagles.

A petition to add Meisner, Leadon and Felder was initiated by Eagles fan Brandon Butler on more than a year ago. It was submitted recently to the Kennedy Center Honors with more than 12,000 signatures. But the final decision by KCH regarding keeping Meisner, Leadon and Felder out in the cold has been made. 

This is what was shared with the petitioner in an email forwarded to The Reno Dispatch:

From - Deborah Rutter, President of the Kennedy Center Honors:   "The KC [Kennedy Center] consulted with the Eagles and through that discussion it was determined that the four band members who 'carried the torch' Don Henley, the late Glenn Frey, Timothy Schmit & Joe Walsh - will be awarded the Honors. We appreciate that there will be some debate about who constitutes the Eagles. This determination does not discredit the contributions of former band members."

Yes, folks, the Kennedy Center "consulted" with the current members before making its decision. In other words, the Kennedy Center didn't make its own determination, it was guided by the existing members of the band. How preposterous is that? In the bio of the band on the Kennedy Center website, Meisner, Leadon and Felder are not even mentioned. Are you kidding me? 

Since the Kennedy Center announcement was made that the Eagles would be honored, hundreds of Eagles fans have emailed and called me expressing anger and frustration with the executive committee of the Kennedy Center’s Board of Trustees, who in God-like fashion ultimately decide who is honored each year.

The Eagles actually were to be honored last year but postponed the appearance after Frey was forced to miss the ceremony due to health issues. Sadly, Frey later died.

The announcement of the Kennedy Center's final decision has stirred the pot again, and many longtime Eagles fans are saying it's simply inexcusable and unethical for the Kennedy Center Honors to make this arbitrary decision to keep three three hugely important pieces of the Eagles puzzle off the board.

Bill Aliff, 49, from Jacksonville, Fl, told me it would be a "travesty" if these men were not included in the ceremony. "Meisner and Leadon are founding members," he said. "I understand the adversity and lawsuits due to decisions concerning business, but the most important aspect of all this is the music."

Aliff said he and the other "passionate fans" from one of Meisner's fan pages on Facebook did everything they could to "make their inclusion a reality."

Lisa Hamilton, an IT executive and longtime Eagles fan, said that not including these guys "is just an injustice to them. It is outrageous. Longtime fans of the band don't understand how you can possibly honor the contribution the Eagles have made to American music and leave these three guys out. This is just wrong."

So just who is KCH disrespecting? 

Randy Meisner:  Singer-bassist-songwriter Meisner was in Poco and Rick Nelson's Stone Canyon Band before founding the Eagles with Henley, Frey and Leadon in 1971. Randy appeared on every Eagles album until leaving after Hotel California was released in 1977. Meisner was a huge part of the Eagles' harmonies and sang and co-wrote such hits as "Take it to the Limit" and perhaps the band's most underrated gem, "Try and Love Again." Full disclosure: Meisner sang backup and harmony vocals on a few of my songs about a decade ago and is one of the kindest people I've met in the music business.

Bernie Leadon:  Hugely talented if rather reclusive multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Leadon, who has virtually no online presence, is also a founding member of the Eagles along with Henley, Frey and Meisner. It was Leadon who  gave the band its country sound. This omission makes even less sense because it appeared as if Bernie had made peace with the existing members. He actually appeared with the band on recent tours.

Don Felder:  Lead guitarist and songwriter Felder, a gifted musician and writer who joined the band to give them more rock and roll cred', co-wrote the band's staple classic, "Hotel California" and is, too, a huge part of the band's legacy. But Felder's bitter feuds with Frey and, to an only slightly lesser degree, Henley, are part of rock and roll lore. Clearly, Henley and Eagles manager Irving Azoff told the Kennedy Center Honors not to include Felder.

Meisner, Leadon and Felder absolutely deserve to be part of this increasingly dubious Kennedy Center Honors gala. There is no real and comprehensive salute to the Eagles without including two of the band's four founding members and a guitarist who contributed so much to the band's sound.  

As for Schmit, who is a fine singer and bass player and seems like a nice enough guy, how do you include him and not Meisner? Schmit played on just one album during the band's heyday in the 1970s. 

I urge everyone who reads this story to contact the Kennedy Center at its toll-free number 800-444-1324 and voice your displeasure with this absurd decision to keep these seminal artists out of the proceedings. These three musicians were good enough to be inducted, as Eagles, into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but not the Kennedy Center Honors, whose arbiters aren't even musicians? Um, really?