The coronavirus has required daily adjustments to our lives. A dose of resilience and optimism helps, as does taking an occasional break from our various news portals. These uncertain times are even tougher for those of us with the additional burden of negotiating illness, treatment and recovery.
Singer-songwriter-guitarist Mike Daly of Mike Daly & The Planets has had to battle a recurrence of cancer of the lymphatic system during the pandemic. And despite social isolation and locked venues, music has kept him moving forward creatively. His latest song, the powerful “This Is My Life” — submitted to NJArts.net’s Song to See Us Through series — resonates for those of us suffering with medical issues, coping with loss and worrying about the fragility of life. (see video below)
“It’s a song about the unstoppable force of time, how it’s affected me and the world around me,” said Daly, who lives in Hawthorne.
He added, “I heard a Tom Petty song on the radio last summer, and it reminded me that he’s gone, at far too young an age. And we had just gone through this period where several musical icons had passed, most of them in their 60s. I thought to myself, ‘All of my heroes are fading away,’ and that was the jumping-off point.”
All of my heroes are fading away
And I’ve seen too many friends reach the end of their days
Lately time has been traveling a little too fast
I guess this is my life now, I hope that it lasts.
My long-ago places have all disappeared
The people I met there are no longer here
And my most beloved memories are fragile like glass
I guess this is my life now, I hope that it lasts
Daly recently had undergone four months of treatment for non-Hodgkin lymphoma, “and though I was in remission, the physical and emotional toll still weighed heavily,” he said. “Because I generally work from personal experience and as therapy, several people I know had encouraged me to write about that. It fit with the theme of ‘things that make me feel old,’ so my cancer battle became part of the narrative.”
Daly and his bandmates (lead guitarist John Reynolds, drummer Jim Smith and bassist Jim Van Sickle) recorded the song last fall, but did not release it until this month. Early this year, Daly’s cancer recurred, and he needed surgery to remove a tumor from one of his lungs. “But because of COVID-19,” he said, “it would have to wait a bit, because other than treating patients with the virus, the medical centers weren’t doing any surgeries that weren’t absolutely necessary.”
Daly remained in quarantine until he had his delayed surgery in April, along with additional treatment.
At the same time, he said, “people I knew were sick and even dying from the virus. Add in the isolation, and having all my gigs cancelled, and reading on social media on how the ‘lockdown” was affecting people I knew, and it was quite an emotional time.”
He said that while he was preparing to release the song, “the civil unrest in our country reached a boiling point. The question then became, ‘Is it inappropriate to try and promote your music while all of this is going on?’ But I knew that many people are currently going through the kinds of things expressed in the song, and at this unique moment, I felt it was especially relevant and relatable.”
After he references his cancer diagnosis in the song, he and his bandmates bring energy to his soulful and relatable words: “I feel like I’ve got something to say, I’ve got miles to travel and music to play, but there’s no way of knowing what will come to pass.”
With the future of our nation uncertain due to the election in November and the unknown trajectory of the coronavirus, Daly’s lyrics speak to our universal concerns.
In the song, Daly optimistically sings “if you have to have cancer, I got the right kind.” He explains in our interview that it is “not particularly aggressive, and considered very treatable. I was asymptomatic for all intents and purposes when it was diagnosed. It apparently should have presented itself with a chronic cough, but it didn’t. It was unmasked in the summer of 2018 when I went to an emergency room for a very painful kidney stone. Lucky break. Of course, I had hoped to stay in remission longer after the first round of treatments; it recurred a little over a year after that. But that’s why they do 6-month checkups.”
In the 1990s, Daly led the New Jersey-based alternative rock/power pop group Every Damn Day, which released two full-length albums and several EPs. Mike Daly & The Planets have released two albums, an EP and several singles since forming in 2010.
“I go back with these guys 30, 40 years or more,” Daly said. “We’re all in our 50s and 60s, but I’m still writing, and they’re still fans of what I’m doing, and apparently confident enough in me to follow my lead, trusting that I won’t lead them off a cliff.”
He added, “While I generally hear the entire arrangements of my songs in my head, they each add something uniquely their own to every one we do, so that trust goes both ways. We have a little studio in the basement of my house, and we record on an old desktop PC — nothing fancy.”
I asked if he misses his bandmates during this period of physical distancing and he replied, “yes, I miss the hell out of them, and I hate not being able to play with them in front of a real audience.”
Daly also works as a freelance writer and publicist. He and Jay Lustig, NJArts’ founder and editor, were co-managing editors of the The Aquarian Weekly (then called East Coast Rocker, and based in Montclair) in the late ’80s. Before the virus raged, he was performing standards at senior living complexes. “All of those gigs got cancelled, as well as several band gigs,” he said.
During the pandemic, he has filled his time with not only creating, but also appreciating others’ work. “Usually once a day, some artist or song creeps into my head, and having all this extra time allows me to indulge,” he said. “Yesterday I thought of ‘Five Years’ by David Bowie, and that got me listening to the whole Ziggy album. And then the closing track, ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide,’ reminded me of an old friend who had passed two years ago, almost to the day, so that led me to reach out to his family to let them know I was thinking of them. That’s just one example of the rabbit holes music has led me down on a regular basis lately. (Also, I think the new Jason Isbell album is, as the young folks would say, pretty dope.).”
He adds, “As far as my health right now, other than tiring fairly easily, I’m feeling well, thank you. I’m having immunotherapy, using medications that train the body’s immune system to fight the disease. It’s nowhere near as taxing as chemo, so I’m leading close to a normal life.”
I expect we will be hearing a lot of Daly and his band. As he told NJArts.net in a prior interview, “I can’t not play. I took a few years off and, you start to ask yourself why you’re so miserable, and then you realize that one of the reasons is that you’re not doing something that you really love. You’re not being creative, and you’re not being musical, and you’re not getting feedback.”
To support Daly, visit mikedaly.com.
NJArts.net’s Songs to See Us Through series is designed to spotlight songs relevant to the coronavirus crisis and encourage readers to support the artists who made them (and won’t be able to generate income via concerts at this time). Click here for links to all songs in the series.
We encourage artists to email us submissions (newly recorded, if possible) at email@example.com. Please include links to sites such as Patreon and Venmo. Readers can also make suggestions via that email address.
CONTRIBUTE TO NJARTS.NET
Since launching in September 2014, NJArts.net, a 501(c)(3) organization, has become one of the most important media outlets for the Garden State arts scene. And it has always offered its content without a subscription fee, or a paywall. Its continued existence depends on support from members of that scene, and the state’s arts lovers. Please consider making a contribution of $20, or any other amount, to NJArts.net via PayPal, or by sending a check made out to NJArts.net to 11 Skytop Terrace, Montclair, NJ 07043.