Joe Ascione and His Brave New World
AAJ: That's for sure.
JA: We do it because we love music, and we love the interaction with our instrument. I have a pamphlet I keep with methe title is "But You Look So Good." A lot of symptoms they call "invisible MS," because you can't see my numbness, you can't see the tightness. It feels like I have wax all over my body, and tourniquets that are tightened. That's what it feels like, constantly.
JA: It's not painful, but it's like Chinese water torture: it's uncomfortable. So that's real, it's very real, and the reason why I take time to rest, and to keep my head together. If you do party, and get that lack of sleep, then you don't have the mental strength to cope with it, and that's how it can get to you.
I have to really...watch. And I'm a pretty sensible person. Just like when I knew we were getting together, I had to finish the gig, come down, get a grip. I have to always stay focused and stay in the moment to keep it together, much more than I normally would. That's what the MS is, in a nutshell.
AAJ: Wow. That's quite a nutshell.
JA: Yeah, it is. But there's blessings in it too, becauseit sounds so damn clichéyou really see what's important. And I get such a kick out of...whether it's being on a bank line, and people are trying to hurry up, or coming off the elevator on a cruise, and somebody doesn't get on, and they get upset. Little things are so insignificant.
And you see how resilient the human body is, and how fragilethe juxtaposition of those two things. They say when you conquer your biggest fears, then you conquer death. So when I first found out, I had a few fearful, panic-attack-like things. I didn't know anything about it. Am I gonna die? Am I gonna play drums? Oh...what's going to happen next week? Next year? Two years? After being on the other side of that now, there's more breadth and space and years in front of me.
My immediate goalI'm 43is to be 50, and still be able to walk, and still be able to walk to a drum set, and still play. That's my immediate psychological goal.
AAJ: (we clink water glasses to that thought)
JA: Mazel tov. I can tell that year to year, it's getting a little worse. I can see it progressing.
AAJ: Yet I'm seeing someone who's come to terms with it, and has it mapped out. I'm not seeing the person who's just heard, and is freaking out.
AAJ: So of course I'm very impressed with the way you're handling this.
JA: What you just heard me verbalize is what I'm continually aspiring to. But I forgot who I was just tellingFrankie Capp, I thinkevery two or three months I go to my drum studio in midtown and I don't beat the drums up, I beat up the drum cases. Literally. I think of it as a relief valve, because sometimes I get so angry and frustrated that it just gets to me. So I allow it to. I won't cover it, I won't mask it, because it's bigger than I am.
When mypardon my Frenchwhen my nuts are twisted, and I'm at that pointif I disappear, it's because I'm in a funk, and I gotta deal with me, with it, by myself, and get through it. And I let that black cloud come, and I deal with it, and just like any colored cloud comes, they go. So I go to my drum studio and I beat up my drum cases, And I beat 'em up.
AAJ: Not the one from Buddy Rich's snare?
JA: Not that one. The flight cases, 'cause they can take a pounding. And after about an hour and a half of cursing and kicking and screaming, I get it out of my system, I sleep it off, and the next day is a better day. Then I'm good for a couple of months.
But every time I'm ready to feel sorry for myself, I see someone in a wheelchair, or someone who can't walk. Like my grandmother used to say, "I used to complain that I had no slippers...then I met somebody who had no feet."
AAJ: Yeah. (laughs, a little)
JA: There's always something to shake you out of it, and say OK, stop doing any kind of pitying thing. While I allow myself to get frustrated, I still have to negotiate the anger, because 100% of me is not admitting the reality of it. But I'm seeing, day to day, month to month, year to year, the slowly debilitating situation, and it's cause for concern. It's real. It's very real.
But I digress. I aspire to what I quote, mapped out, but I'm constantly working to keep it together. It takes a lot of time, it takes a lot of energy, and you put it on every day. You don't see people for weeks and months and they change haircuts, and marry and divorce, this, that, and the MS is still there, and you're dealing with it. It's a constant. So you have to be in it for the long haul.
AAJ: What choice have you got?
JA: You don't. That's probably the best choice: to just pace yourself and cope, and learn how to negotiate. But you know what? The MS doesn't have me. I still have my brain, I still have my sense of humor. It just has one aspect of the neurological situation.
AAJ: I suspect you have a lot of friends...
JA: Yeah. I have great friends, I have great family. A day at a time. Then you hear about guys like Brian Ogilviehe was in Scotland last month, 47 or 49, and he died. He went over for a jazz festival, played his music, and he died. So...like. ta-DAH! It's crazy, you know? Or look at James Williams. That made me sick when I heard that. So it's all perspective; you don't know what's going to happen.