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Jason Crigler: Hope And Recovery

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Jason Crigler: Hope And Recovery

Jason Crigler: Hope And Recovery

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This is All Things Considered from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

(Soundbite of song "The Bush and The Tree")

Ms. AMY CORREIA: (Singing) I'm hiding in the bush, and it won't fit you. I'm hiding in the bush, and it won't fit you.

SIEGEL: This song is from a new CD called "The Music of Jason Crigler." There are many different singers on the disc. In this case, it's Amy Correia.

(Soundbite of song "The Bush and The Tree")

Ms. CORREIA: (Singing) I'm hiding in the bush and it won't fit you.

SIEGEL: All of these songs were written by Crigler, who is a 38-year-old guitarist. And just for the variety of style and performance, the natural fit you often hear between singer and song, the CD is worthy of attention. But the story behind this recording, which was nine years in the making, goes beyond music. It is equally a story about illness and recovery, about the devotion of family, about coping with health insurance and Medicaid and hopeless prognoses from doctors.

Jason Crigler is missing a year and a half of his life. Between the time that he recorded several tracks of this CD and the time it was finally produced, he experienced a calamity that's described in the documentary film "Life. Support. Music." It began when he was performing in a New York City club in 2004.

Mr. JASON CRIGLER (Guitarist; Composer): I was on the stage, and I had all this crazy stuff happen in my head and I ran off stage. And Monica, my wife, was there and got an ambulance, and that was it for a year and a half. I don't remember anything. And I had a AVM, arterial venous malformation, a bursting of blood vessels in my brain. And I went through all kinds of stuff and doctors saying I wouldn't do this, I wouldn't do that. And I had to relearn how to walk, relearn how to speak. I was in a coma for a period of time.

I mean, it was just, you know, it was a dark time, you know, and it completely sucked a year and a half away from my life and my memory, during which time my daughter Ellie was born. So, it was quite a bump in the road, you know. I was in the hospital as an in-patient for about a year straight, and I got home in August of '05. And about six months later, I started this record up again, you know, and it was sort of a way for me to kind of begin to return to my life as a musician.

SIEGEL: Now, back to that missing hole in your life. We can see in the documentary, we get a sense from the outside of what was happening to you. There's a point in it where we hear your sister reading from her journal that she kept of the days after this happened.

(Soundbite of documentary "Life. Support. Music.")

Ms. MARJORIE CRIGLER (Actress): September 17th: Jason has pneumonia and may have appendicitis. His eyes are open, but he's not responding. September 21st: A nurse saw him move a leg. A nurse saw him move an arm. He moves his mouth a little, he yawns. October 1st: Jason stuck his tongue forward a little. He is responding to the command "blink." He is communicating with eyelids.

SIEGEL: We are looking at you - I wish I had words to convey how different the picture of you is from those days.

Mr. CRIGLER: Yeah.

SIEGEL: And today. Obviously, you've seen the documentary.

SIEGEL: Your recollection of that time - it's a...

Mr. CRIGLER: Nothing. A blank slate. I don't remember it at all. I see that footage of myself at Spaulding and it's - I have no memory of doing those things.

SIEGEL: Spaulding Rehabilitation.

Mr. CRIGLER: Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston. You know, you see clips of me trying to put a cone on a pole, and trying to choose the yellow cone, and trying to walk down a hall in this big harness contraption. And I mean, I have maybe the vaguest little shards of memory of little pieces of that time. But I don't have any clear recollection of that.

SIEGEL: Yeah, there's a clip of the doctor from Spaulding at that point in the documentary saying, Jason's not there. He's not home in some ways. He's not connecting. And in a way that's - what he's saying is obviously correct, you weren't - at some level you weren't there.

Mr. CRIGLER: At some level, I wasn't. But as my family points out, and my dad specifically, in the film, they knew that I was there somehow. They could see me in there. And that was really the key to my recovery. One of the keys was my family involvement and, you know, how much they believed in me.

SIEGEL: We see in the documentary by Eric Daniel Metzgar, we see you, as you've said, trying to put a plastic cone on top of a pole and getting it right. And to think that you went from there to relearning the guitar is astonishing to me, I mean, the level of complexity that's involved. As you were picking up the guitar again, is it there a matter of your body remembering all these things that it knew all along, or you...

Mr. CRIGLER: No, I knew it all. I knew what to do. I just couldn't physically do it. It was painful because my hands were so tensed up, like claws almost. And I'm still working to get that open all the way. But I knew mentally what to do. And I could hear what to do. It's just physically doing it was the issue, you know.

SIEGEL: Getting from the mind to your hands.

Mr. CRIGLER: Exactly, exactly, yeah.

(Soundbite of song "The Books on the Shelf")

Mr. CRIGLER: (Singing) The books on the shelf, Some straight up and down.

SIEGEL: "The Books on the Shelf" is the one track on the new CD, "The Music of Jason Crigler," that you yourself actually sing.

Mr. CRIGLER: That's true, that's correct.

(Soundbite of song "The Books on the Shelf")

Mr. CRIGLER: (Singing) Fingered but left untouched. Fingered but left untouched.

Mr. CRIGLER: This was the first song that I wrote after recovering. This was important to me, this song, because it was really sort of my - you know, there was so much, aside from physically relearning all the things that I had to relearn, there was the emotional baggage of can I do what I used to do? Can I play guitar? Can I write songs? There's a lot of insecurity and emotional stuff. And this was the song that really helped me to break through a lot of that and make me realize, you know, OK, you know, I can still do this. And that was just a great feeling to have.

(Soundbite of song "The Books on the Shelf")

Mr. CRIGLER: (Singing) I lost my voice in the forest. I fell down on my knees trying to make a sound.

SIEGEL: The questions of whether we're present, in addition to being alive - what it means to be aware or conscious, who we are, what we remember - this is kind of some of the basic philosophical stuff that artists chew on and write about and think about. To what extent does it now inform your creative process?

Mr. CRIGLER: That's a question that's hard to answer in a way because it's like - I don't want to dwell on it, you know. And I've learned that dwelling on it doesn't really get me anywhere, you know. I've definitely spent time dwelling on the whole thing, and I've thought about it from lots of different angles. And I've felt angry and sad. And right now, I just feel grateful to be alive and happy to be alive and happy to be working at things I love to do.

SIEGEL: The CD is called "The Music of Jason Crigler." The documentary film that we were talking about is called "Life. Support. Music." Jason Crigler, thank you very much for talking with us.

Mr. CRIGLER: Thanks very much, Robert. I've enjoyed being here.

(Soundbite of song "Through Tomorrow")

Unidentified Vocalist: So, whisper secrets, and I'll send some back your way. Get me through tomorrow, through today.

SIEGEL: You can hear more songs from Jason Crigler's new album at

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