Every December, legendary punk band X is usually in town for their celebrated run of west coast holiday shows dubbed “The Family X-Mas Tour.” But this time around, the privilege of pogoing around in packed, sweaty crowd during “Johnny Hit and Run Pauline” is merely an added bonus to the fact that the band’s guitarist Billy Zoom will be back on stage, flashing his signature smile once more. Over the past several months, Zoom’s life has been turned upside down by a bladder cancer diagnosis over the summer that threatened to keep him off the stage for good.
Fortunately for the 67 year-old blond axeman, the punk community wouldn’t take the news lying down. A Go Fund Me campaign started by Sweet Relief Musicians Fund raised over $98,000 (almost double the original goal) to help alleviate Zoom’s medical expenses and help him get the care he needs. That combined with Zoom’s fighting spirit gave the guitarist a real chance at recovery, to the point that now he’s rejoined the band on stage for a weekend at the Roxy and soon another show at the Coach House on Dec. 11. We recently got a chance to speak with Zoom about his cancer battle and how he’s managed to brave the worst and come out grinning on the other side.
OC Weekly: Describe what was going through your mind when you realized that after facing one cancer scare five years ago you had to go through it all over again? When did you realize you needed to see a doctor?
Billy Zoom: It scared me at first. It proved that the first one wasn’t just a fluke, and there will probably be more in my future. Symptoms of bladder cancer are personal, but I was in a lot of pain, among other things. It came on fast and it was obvious that I needed to see a doctor.
Describe the early days of your diagnosis and what you had to go through in terms of treatment. Were you able to play guitar at all during that time?
I had surgery five days after seeing the Urologist. I was scared and on a lot of pain meds. I didn’t really think about the guitar at first, but we played four nights at the Observatory in Santa Ana a week after my surgery, and a few days before I started Chemo. Thankfully, it was close to home and I didn’t have to hang around long before or after the shows.
What was your initial reaction to the amount of support you got from people as news spread of your condition?
Absolutely overwhelming. Hardly anybody knew about my first bout with cancer. There was a press release, but it was about the same time that Exene was misdiagnosed with MS, and that was the story that got picked up. Thanks to Facebook, word got around quickly this time, but the amount of support and concern from our fans was unexpected, and very much appreciated. I don’t know what we’d have done without them.
What has given you the most happiness or strength during your recovery?
My wife, my kids, and my faith.
How did your bandmates support you during this time? Can you give a couple examples?
When I couldn’t do the last tour because of Chemo, they hired a sideman to fill in, and they still paid me for the tour. They also sold a ton of those Support Billy Zoom T-shirts and the profits went towards my medical bills.
Your supporters raised a lot more funds than were requested for help during the Go Fund Me campaign, where does that extra money go now or where has it already gone?
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It didn’t go straight to me. It’s handled by Sweet Relief, a non-profit organization that helps musicians in distress. They have it in their fund, and they pay my bills, etc. If there’s any left over, it will stay with them to help other musicians, but understand that I’m scheduled for 18 months of Chemo and may even need more surgery. This is going to be a long haul. Bladder cancer is very tenacious and often comes back.
How did you feel going into your first couple shows on the X Mas tour? Were you nervous at all? How did the crowd react to your return?The crowd went crazy when I walked on stage. I had a great time. I had a technical issue with my guitar the second night which was annoying, but it was still fun.
What is on your mind in terms of future projects and opportunities now that you're in recovery that motivate you to keep moving forward?
This has made me very aware that I already have far too many unfinished projects going, and that I need to finish them while I’m able.
X continue their Family X-Mas Tour at the Roxy this weekend and will also be playing the Coach House on Dec.11. For full details on all of their shows, click here.