Joe Ascione and His Brave New World
JA: Seven-zero. Sometimes up to 90, all types of different food supplements. Because people with MS have low B12, we have less calcium; we need many things that the average person might not. So he's always checking my urine, my blood. He has an electron microscope, he's got the screen in his lab, and I spend two or three hours with him, we work together. He's keeping me healthy, and he's trying to help me neurologically, so I take a lot of flax seed oil and essential fatty acids, all the omegas, primrose oil, a lot of stuff.
I'm trying other things. Maybe I'll try electromagnetic therapy, where they basically plug your brain into a Tessler coil and light you up like Frankenstein.
AAJ: You would probably like that (smiles).
JA: Yeah, I think I'm going to get a kick out of that (smiles back). And they want to do bee stings: you get five live bees a day, and you sting yourself, because that gives off natural cortisone. Maybe that can help. I tried synthetic steroids last January, which is how I got so fat (slaps stomach). I blew up. I gained like 15-20 pounds and I can't get rid of it. So it's not just regular fat. It makes you feel good, it's like Popeye eating spinach, but it doesn't fix anything, and it's horrendous for the system.
So I'm trying to keep everything natural right now. Will there be a point where I think I need DRUGS, maybe? I hope not. But I'm also a realist. We'll see. I'm not convinced yet to take them.
AAJ: And the changes in you?
JA: It's made me confront anger more, it's made me not sweat the small stuff. It's made me pace myself, take a day at a time. Musically, the comfort level is really not what it was. If you speak to any musician, whether it's a horn player, or a guitarist or drummerwhen the instrument and you feel one, you feel comfortable, and you're in it. It feels good to execute a play, it's very fulfilling musically. I never have that anymore, because it never feels comfortable to me, holding the sticks.
AAJ: Is it like a detachment, or separation?
JA: Yes. Because how do you play? When you hold a drumstick, you don't squeeze, but there is pressure. So I'm holding onto the stick and I guess the motor skills are such that, after doing it for many years, that I know the pressure.
AAJ: But you don't feel it?
JA: I don't feel it. I hold the stick, but it's not comfortable in my hand, so I won't twirl it. Little thingsif I go to a cross-stick, back to the traditional riff, I'll place it there, rather than just flip it and do it. Because I can't feel. Sometimes I put my hand in my pocket and I don't know if it's the drum key, a quarter, or a pack of Juicy Fruit And when I grab, I grab like a babyyou know, you get whatever you grab. So when you're paying the toll at the Midtown Tunnel, they want their money quickly, and I'm there scuffling.
So I have to plan everything accordingly, and map out my time in doing the simplest things. Tying my shoes. Getting ready for a gig. I'm trying not to wear collared shirtswe'd both miss dinner if I had to button this right nowI can't feel to execute it.
And sometimes I still can't believe it. Like if I'm in my room, and I forget about it, and then I go to do something and I see I can't, I'm like, "Oh. Yeah. Wow, that's MS. That's something." So it's revealing itself in many ways.
I can ride a bike, I can balance that way, but I can't run, literally can't make the strides. Walking in New York City, because the roads are bumpy and there are a lot of potholes...and the sidewalk...that's difficult because balance is a problem, and the lateral motion. You know in New York people come at you, and you gotta negotiate your way, and I can't step to the side quickly because I'm off balance. So a lot of little things mess with me. But I would take all the physical problems with the MS if I could feel normal when I play drums.
AAJ: But you sound normal.
JA: Thank you...thank you (quietly). It doesn't feel that way. Normally I'd be able to get into something musically, any gyration, and technically be able to pull something out. But now, I think a lot of my playing is challenged. I'm a function of my mistakes. If I feel something slipping up, it challenges me to execute something I hear, so whatever comes out (claps), that becomes the new musical idea. So to me now, playing is constantly negotiating and re-negotiating.
AAJ: Patching up what you just did, and making it work?
JA: Yeah. Patching up, and making it work, and keeping my relationship to the music and making music. I still try to stay in the moment, and create, but I'm much more aware of things I would normally do, that I can't.
A lot of drummer friends have said, well, you're fortunate that you have so much facility as a drummer, so if some of it's not there to your liking, it's not noticeable. You get by. And I tell all my musician friends, if you hear me starting to sound poorly, let me know. Either it's just a bad dayeverybody has bad days, musicallyor...
But the day I know that I can't do what I need to do, I wouldn't do it. Because the joy gets ruined. That's what happens. And ask any jazz musicianwe don't do it for the money.