In early 1992, my friend Page insisted I listen to a tape of a band called Lenny from Athens, GA. She knew I would love this music and the singer, one Elissa Hadley, was a personal friend of hers. They were coming to play at The Loft here in downtown Columbus, about 3 hours south of Athens. I loved the music instantly and was mesmerized by Elissa's vocals. My friend David nailed her vocal style very eloquently in his estimation of the luminous, ethereal quality of her voice by stating that it "...sounds like a candle glowing in a dark room." I am hard pressed to identify any other singer who could match the softness of Elissa yet still be as strong. It isn't just the voice that is so phenominal, it's what she did with it that made her so extraordinary.
I met Elissa and her bandmates when they showed up to play the Loft for the first time, we sat together and got acquainted while drinking hot tea to calm her sore throat. She was completely charming and witty and enchanting on every human level possible, even seamlessly moving past all of that in undetectable ways into something quite otherworldly to me, a quality I don't find in many people. Elissa had a way about her that made her both tough and fragile at the same time. She had a softness and vulnerability that kept you wondering just how thick the exterior was, and you couldn't help yourself - you wanted something from her, she lingered with you long after she'd left the room. She had every reason in the world to be bitter and jaded in recent years, but that wasn't in her nature. She had this childlike sense of forgiveness, everything was always about being in a moment and getting caught up in it - but not so far that you lost yourself completely, just enough to be reminded that you're really living. It's really hard to imagine her holding a grudge. You couldn't resist the need she stoked in you to want to know her and be her friend. In the small handful of time I got to spend with her discussing music and what inspires us, she spoke with no authority or pretention whatsoever and made it clear that taking oneself too seriously made you boring.
And that voice, that amazing, enthralling way that she could sing which also seemed otherworldly and completely out of place on such a relatively small little auburn haired thing. She'd stand in front of a microphone and banter with the audience, but once she began to sing she completely commanded your attention. It was almost a religious experience hearing her perform live and eyeing the crowd of people around you, each staring back at her on center stage in a way that children do when viewing magician's tricks for the first time. Elissa's vocal talent was alchemy at it's finest, her intonation and technical abilities were nothing short of miraculous. To this day there isn't a single person I can compare her style to, it was singular and magnificent and with Page as the catalyst I got to experience it a few times in person and for thousands of hours on a single independently released cassette tape.
It isn't often you get to experience music that upon successive listenings makes you realize that you'll never be the same again having heard it. This ten song cassette tape signified that for me. I went to record stores in Athens and Atlanta and bought every copy available for friends I knew would appreciate it and mailed copies of it all over the place. Over the years I've lost touch with many friends I had then, and I've long since been without a copy of the Lenny tape. I have every single lyric and note from each individual instrument committed to memory, and always lamented the fact that it was only available on cassette. Now and then I'd try to track the music down of try and find Elissa to see what she was doing these days, knowing that in her I'd reconnect with her magic and the soundtrack for many of my joys and sorrows. I thought up until the end of last weekend that I was getting close to locating her, and then no sooner was I posting about it again did I get the email that she was gone. Her heartprint is left everywhere, even for me, having only spent time with her maybe on 4 or 5 occasions.
The timeline from when she began getting sick is astonishing and frightening:
- November, 2005 - Elissa has a pap smear which turns up nothing out of the ordinary
- February, 2006 - First cervical cancer diagnosis, begins 6 weeks of chemotherapy.
- May, 2006 - Elissa is declared cancer free.
- July, 2006 - After symptoms reappear, Elissa goes back into the hospital. Her cancer had metastasized and begun spreading to other organs.
- August, 2006 - The cancer is declared inoperable, two days later she enters hospice.
- August 27, 2006 - Elissa passes away at 1:30AM, only 8 days after entering hospice care.
I want everyone in the world to listen to her music (Breathlanes/Lenny/Nectar) and appreciate what a tremendous loss to all of us this is. I want Elissa's life and talent to mean as much to everyone as it did to me, and I want everyone who loves anyone to go through the resources listed below and start getting proactive with their own health and the health of others. Demand that all of the women in your life get regular OB/GYN exams to not only include pap smears but HPV tests as well. Talk to your doctors about HPV and cervical cancer, there are many types of HPV and while some put women at a higher risk for the development for future cervical cancer, the test can detemine your own level of risk. Men can carry HPV and transfer it to their female sexual partners without knowing THEY are infected as well. Also, QUIT SMOKING - women who smoke have a 50% higher chance of getting cervical cancer than women who don't smoke.
- Genital HPV Infection - CDC Fact Sheet
- Cervical cancer vaccine changes 'the talk' for many parents
- Cervical cancer - MayoClinic.com
- National HPV and Cervical Cancer Prevention Resource Center
- ACS Cancer Statistics
- NCS Cancer Statistics
- Cancer - Prostate - A Decision Guide
- American Cancer Society
- Susan G. Komen Foundation
- St. Jude's
- Alex's Lemonade Stand
- Quit Smoking
- Why Quit
- The Stop Smoking Center
- National Center For Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion: How to Quit Smoking
- The HPV Test
- Facts About Cervical Cancer
- National Cervical Cancer Coalition
- The Breast Cancer Site
- Cancer Information & Prevention
- National Cancer Institute's factsheet on the risk of HPV
- Relay For Life
- Causes & Risk Factors
- Tests & Diagnosis
- Cervical Cancer Vaccine Gets Injected With a Social Issue - Some Fear a Shot For Teens Could Encourage Sex - this is an absolute outrage! Let Focus On The Family and the Family Research Council know where you stand on this issue! More can be found here on this controversy, and info on the HPV vaccine on the Wiki
This post is made in love and honor of Elissa Hadley and the wonder and magic she brought in her short time on earth; Mr. & Mrs. Hadley and all of their family, friends, and loved ones; Monica, her husband, and their beautiful babies; Newt and his family; Page for introducing me to Elissa, Lenny, and for growing up with me; David, for everything he's becoming to me; Tom, for his thoughtfulness; Tracy, for reaching out to me; Jimmy/Arcadia, for also understanding it perfectly; Erin, for the effort to get me in touch with people I needed to talk to; the former members of Lenny and all musicians, actors, and friends who were ever graced by Elissa; and to the giant hole in the world that has been created in the wake of this horrible and tragic loss.
Thank you for everything in life that you complimented for me. I will never be the same, and I will always feed the ghost.
Here's what will appear on your LiveJournal/blog/website:
Someone you love may be dying as you read this, much sooner than you think or are ready to deal with.
They could be silently suffering RIGHT NOW and not even know it.
It doesn't have to be that way.
DO something - make a difference - declare your love.
Don't wait until there's no choice, do it while you have one.
There is no excuse.
Celebrate Elissa's life and musical legacy. Save someone YOU love.
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