Singing to the Face of the Reaper

By Paul Moffett

If you were to learn, convincingly, that you had six months or less to live, what would be the most important thing you would want to get done before the end came?

The answers for performer and songwriter Linda Gower, who has an aggressive and terminal illness, are these: arrange for her daughter's wedding, prepare for her own funeral and push hard for the completion of a CD project, featuring her original songs.

"I don't want to waste the lyrics," she explained between sips of oxygen. "I think they should be recorded and not lost."

Linda Stone Cushing Gower played music under several of those names - primarily as a soloist - for many years, sometimes working in restaurants playing covers of Jimmy Buffett, James Taylor, et al tunes, but she wrote and played her original material wherever she could.

"I decided to quit playing cover tunes one day," she said, because it was the writing that seemed to be more important, and learning and playing the cover material interfered with that.

So important was that writing that throughout the medical procedures and arrangements and emotional upheavals and all the dreary taking care of details that dominate preparations for our individual passing, she thought of those songs and the words and realized she had to "get them down." She needed help, though and found it in violinist Peter Rhee.

Rhee, who performs regularly with Tim Krekel and the Groovebillies and sits in frequently with other acts, knew Gower from her days running the open stage at the Air Devils Inn, where he often went to jam with the players who came in. He knew her music, liked her songs and agreed to help her get them recorded.

He began enlisting help: rain chorus vocalist Kellie Wilkinson; drummer Dave Marasco; bassist Jim Baugher; guitarist John Burgard and Howie Gano at Mom's Recording Studio in the project. Rhee set about to arranging the songs, with regular consultation with Linda, then getting them recorded, organizing the sessions, asking for favors, calling in favors, doing what was necessary to get the words and music recorded.

Tentatively titled The Age of Innocence: A Tribute to Linda Stone Cushing Gower, the project is nearing completion. The final list of songs has not quite jelled, for reasons familiar to anyone who has every made a recording, but will include, among others, "Jack Fry's Cooking on the Mason-Dixon Line," "Mama's the Baby Tonight," "Cold Kentucky Heart" and "Missing You More and More." Some of the songs will be earlier recordings that Gower has made.

The project goes in fits and starts, with Rhee pushing ahead as fast and hard as he can, but Gower's failing health both slows him down and amplifies his sense of urgency. She smiled wanly at the thought and said:

"He comes in and say I got to do this and I got to do that and I say, Peter, slow down, let's see if we can get one thing done and if I can breathe today."

Rhee thinks he can get the last bit of recording done by the middle of January. Gower has heard all that has been recorded up to now and likes the music. Rhee has burnt several one-off CDs for her, so that she can listen when she wants to.

"I my not be at my own CD release party," Gower, "but I hope so. I'd be a shame not to be."