'Man, it makes you feel alive to be told you’re dying’
Wilko Johnson, the guitarist and co-founder of Dr Feelgood, in the grip of terminal cancer, has never felt worse. Or better
Wilko Johnson is dying. There is no escape, and he knows it.
Posted by Jill Fallon at July 1, 2013 9:17 PM
“I asked how long it would be before the cancer really hit me and the doctors said six months or so,” he says. “My six months are up.”
The lump in his stomach is a sign of cancer of the pancreas. There is nothing the doctors can do to save him. He may get very sick any day now. He may not survive the summer.
But Wilko loves life. “Man, it makes you feel alive to be told that you’re going to die. How many years ago did I last feel like that? The ecstasy of youth, the joy of existence. I have felt like that again.
”He’s a poet, a painter, an astronomer and an actor, but Wilko also happens to be one of the great British rock guitarists, acknowledged by his peers as among the most influential.
A founding member of the band Dr Feelgood, he is known for his machine-gun guitar sound and wild-eyed, manic intensity on stage.
“I can’t do any more shows in my own right, you know? But it’s OK to make an appearance at a festival, because if I’m not fit to play, the show will still go on,” he says.
Arms wide open and eyes burning, he told how his death sentence had given him a sudden, shocking appreciation of the joys of living.
“When I walked out of the hospital into the sunshine, suddenly I felt this elation. I just felt so alive. Everything was tingling. By the time I got home, I was almost euphoric.”
“Anybody who walked around like that for any great length of time would be gaga,” he says. “I am a miserable so-and-so, I have been all my life, but I felt so high. I thought it was a kind of shock reaction, but it went on for weeks. It was sometimes so good, I almost felt glad it was happening.”
Then it faded? “I’m not walking around with a blissed-out smile on my face. Gradually, you come to accept the situation and return to a normal consciousness. I have never plunged into despair about this. I’ve had a good life and made it to my old age pension, who wants to grasp for more?
“Everybody lives with the fear of their own mortality, but for me that question is answered. It’s not an issue to puzzle over any longer.”