Prism: Near-Death Experience
Sep 27, 2016
Is there an element of danger in the world of concert touring? Aside from the calculated risks of any long distance travelling with increased frequency, yes. While Prism has a fairly unique archived incident of a death-threat chronicled elsewhere, once upon a time the risks encountered were mainly highway accidents, where Prism and, under our former monicker Seeds of Time, managed to walk away from total wreckage on a number of occasions.
But modern touring is exclusively by air travel, including the summer of 2016 as bassist Tad Goddard flew home to Kelowna from a Prism show on July 24, when the plane was struck by lightning. Aside from passengers screaming in fear, the incident was serious enough that the aircraft abruptly returned to the airport of origin, for surveying of possible damage. This was a portent of what was to follow.
With our summer schedule the busiest time of the year, I sometimes calculate how many hours we spend on airplanes versus on the ground, which can be a surprisingly high ratio. On August 19 the band was flying to a show in Ottawa, with another booking in Halifax the following night.
During the flight drummer Gary Grace experienced increasing chest and leg pains. Long hours in flight were among the first causes that came to mind, but during soundcheck for the evening's performance, the pains were worsening. At the dinner break his leg visibly swelled up, and while the band had little choice but to perform the show, Gary was hospitalized in Ottawa immediately after Prism's set.
A massive blood clot was quickly diagnosed, with fragments having already travelled to his lungs. That he had played drums vigorously during the evening and flown six hours that day meant it was a miracle he was still alive. Prism's lead vocalist Ron Tabak had died of the very same form of blood-clot-induced anneurism in 1984. The doctors informed Gary he was not to leave the hospital for five weeks.
Meanwhile the band had no choice but to travel to Halifax early next morning for the large outdoor Weir Rockin festival, albeit without a drummer. The old vaudvillian slogan that the show must go on sometimes takes on ominous tones when the possibility seems unlikely, with an equally unlikely Plan B. There's no pickup-style jamming through an elaborately orchestrated concert show. As it happened, co-billing with Harlequin and their heroic, talented drummer AJ Chabidon saved the day for Prism, as he agreed to perform a heads-up, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants edition of an abbreviated Prism set. A local rock band, brought in at the last minute to fill the time slot on the day's billing also joined us onstage to create a party atmosphere. As the audience did a shout-out to hospitalized Gary Grace in Ottawa, the feeling of a community coming together washed over the crowd and performers alike, creating a successful event.
Arrangements were made to fly Gary home a few days later, amidst warnings of the dangers involved. I booked special seating on his flight, with Gary himself instructed to self-inject massive doses of blood thinners to survive the flight. Soon home, he lay still under his own physician's care for a full month, while former Trooper and Sweeney Todd drummer Frank Baker, himself an alumni of Prism tours past, did a splendid high-energy performance on Prism's Deerfoot Calgary concert August 27th.
One month and five days following the Ottawa incident, Gary Grace returned to the concert stage at Edmonton's Century Casino Showroom to a deafening welcome from the sold-out crowd. It was perhaps a meaningful and certainly heartwarming coincidence that the co-billing was none other than Harlequin with their celebrated drummer AJ.
From life-threatening to life-reinforcing, it appears classic rock bands will traverse the country for a long time to come in a spirit echoing fellow Canadian Red Green's statement, "we're all in this thing together!"